Back in May 2015, at INTX in Chicago, Comcast unveiled a bold and sweeping customer-service overhaul.
The effort was nothing short of a top-to-bottom makeover: an ambitious three-year plan to spend more than $300 million on new customer call centers, hire more than 5,500 new CSRs and implement technology to make its service technicians more efficient and customer-friendly.
More than anything, Comcast wanted to impress its customers with functionality and services that go above and beyond the norm.
“As we improve the service and offer more and more products, customers are saying ‘Gosh, I didn’t know I could do that,’” chairman and CEO Brian Roberts said at a kickoff event for the initiative in 2015.
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Today, deep into the project, Comcast has so far delivered on its promises. It has built five state-of-the-art call centers in Fort Collins, Colo.; Spokane, Wash.; Albuquerque, N.M.; Tucson, Ariz.; and Charleston, S.C., and has hired more than 5,500 CSRs across the country.
But Comcast probably made its boldest move when it named Charlie Herrin, previously senior vice president of product design and development and one of the executives responsible for the X1 platform, as executive vice president of customer experience. Herrin didn’t have any customer-service experience but he knew the product on which Comcast had placed the biggest bet for its future, and that has been the difference.
Fixing a Broken Experience
“Customer service is what happens when the experience breaks,” Herrin said in an interview. “When you think about the experience, that’s the interaction you might have when shopping — that’s how you unbox the product, how you use the product.
“If the product is working well, for the most part you don’t have customer-service issues,” Herrin added. “That’s why I thought when they first asked me to do this, it’s kind of a brilliant way of looking at it. Because I think it’s an acknowledgment that our product can do more to help customers to avoid the need to call into a call center or feel like they have to go somewhere to get help.”
That ability will be tested again as Comcast comes out from under two of the most powerful storms in U.S. history: Hurricane Harvey, which caused massive flooding and damage in its Houston market; and Hurricane Irma, which ripped through Comcast markets in southern and western Florida.
Repair efforts are underway but are reliant on power being restored and flood waters to recede to allow crews into storm-damaged areas. In the meantime, Comcast has provided free WiFi service for all people in the affected communities. Comcast corporate has also donated about $1.5 million to help local Harvey efforts, and its NBC broadcast network aired a telethon (Hand in Hand: A Benefit for Hurricane Harvey Relief) that raised millions of dollars.
Herrin lauded the efforts of employees in the regions affected by the storms, adding that it is part of the inherent culture of the company.
“We do these things all the time, a testament to the character of the company,” Herrin said. “The leadership in those markets is astounding, and it’s times like this you see how fantastic they are.”
That innate sense to go to the heart of the problem is one of the defining features of Comcast’s X1 platform, which is also a tool to diagnose network and service problems before they happen.
Comcast Beltway Region senior vice president Mary McLaughlin, responsible for a market that includes Washington, D.C.; Maryland; Virginia; West Virginia and Delaware with about 2 million customers, said Comcast’s decision to change its focus on the overall customer experience was a game-changer for the company.
“One of the best evolutions in customer service, and I have been running cable systems since 2000, was looking at the customer experience as a product,” McLaughlin said. She said she credits X1 with changing the face of TV-watching forever, especially with regards to customer experience.
“If you want to turn on closed captioning, you merely need to speak into your voice remote,” she said.
But not every customer has X1. Currently the platform is rolled out in about 55% of Comcast’s footprint.
X1: The Linchpin
Comcast has always considered X1 to be the “the heart of the home,” as well as the foundation for additional products, Herrin said. X1, he said, can serve not only as a messaging tool for a customer’s entertainment package, but also to monitor and control their entire home through products such as Xfinity Home and other features, like voice control and the overall user interface.
“The challenge I have is making sure that our team thinks about the customer service experience all the way through,” Herrin continued. “Not just when it’s working, but when it breaks, what is that experience like as well?
“The last thing I want to see is, ‘Sorry your [service] is broken, call 1-800-COMCAST,’” Herrin added. “That shouldn’t be the message we put up. It should be, ‘We see you have this issue, we’re going to fix it and we’re going to let you know when it’s done.’”
Part of that effort, he said, is to allow the customer to control as much of the service experience as possible. In one current trial, Comcast is testing a technology that, when it determines the signal to a particular customer’s home isn’t quite right, would notify the subscriber of the issue and allow them, through a series of drop-down menus, to pick a convenient time for an appointment and schedule a truck roll.
“It’s a completely touchless transaction, but if you think about the data behind it, it was the product that was doing all the work there,” Herrin said. “When I talk about a proactive experience with customer service baked into the product, that’s what we mean. Where the product is essentially monitoring your experience and essentially letting you know something need to be fixed or a cable needs to be tightened.”
Comcast also introduced an Uber-like app a few years ago that allows customers to track the progress of their technician before he or she gets to the house, and sends a picture so they can identify the tech when he or she arrives. Besides cutting down on phone calls to the call center, the feature also adds to the customer’s peace of mind in what can normally be a stressful situation.
“One of the challenges we have is just making sure that customers realize all the value that they get with their subscription,” Herrin said. “It’s pretty significant. And are they availing themselves of all of it? Are they using Stream to be able to watch their shows when they’re on the go or watch their DVR content? Are they using WiFi hot spots when they’re out? Are they upgrading to the newest and best home entertainment system we have with X1?”
Putting Passion Into Play
McLaughlin said the strategy is to create “Passionistas” in the field, representatives that are passionate about the company and its products. That enthusiasm, she said, can be infectious.
“On the customer-service side of the house, it’s really my job to make sure people are picking up the phones and, when we have a customer call in, we are able to support them quickly and we’re able to solve their problem easily, so it becomes a no hassle experience,” McLaughlin said.
One of the things Comcast is focused on is making sure customers know what digital resources are available.
“If you just changed your plan or purchased a new product, how are you being educated on all the benefits that come along with that?” Herrin asked. “I think customers in this day and age really demand a digital model for that. You’re going to see us invest in that and really reach people in more digital ways. If we can deliver a timely message to a mobile or personal device you prefer, you’re going to pay attention to that.”
The sheer number of new-product rollouts helps Comcast in terms of customer perception, but it also highlights the need f or deeper education efforts.
“What it does mean is we have to make sure we’re doing our job so the customer can discover that on their own and we’re not reliant on our call-center agents,” Herrin said.
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