Media attention and fallout from Comcast’s viral customer service missteps continue to plague the country’s largest Internet service provider. First there was Ryan Block’s ludicrous cancellation call, then Comcast refused to refund invalid fees for Tim Davis until he caught the company in a lie, and then Comcast kept Aaron Spain on hold for three hours, long enough for the customer service lines to close and leave Spain in limbo.
Each instance has been met with a swift response from Comcast’s PR group after going viral, but quick, reactionary responses don’t do anything to fix the underlying problems. Leaked documents obtained by The Verge (full PDF) paint a portrait of exactly how broken things are in Comcast call centers throughout the country, and the documents confirm what current and former Comcast employees have been saying for the past few weeks: selling services is a required part of the job, even for employees doing tech support. Comcast did not immediately respond to our request for comment.It’s all part of "S4," a "universal call flow" for Comcast call center employees. Those four letters stand for "start, solve, sell, and summarize."
Enlarge / At Comcast, coffee is for closers.
"I don’t want any of our employees to feel that pressure to go through and sell… or feel like they’re going to get fired," Comcast SVP of Customer Experience Tom Karinshak previously told The Verge. Karinshak’s statement must be viewed through the lens provided by the S4 training material, which explicitly states that 20 percent of a call center employee’s rating for a given call is dependent on effectively selling the customer new Comcast services.
The language of the document is gussied up with MBA-friendly acronyms, and it reads like training material from any other sales-focused organization. There are pages of materials on "probing" customers to ferret out upsell opportunities, as well as on batting aside customer objections to being told they need to buy something. "We can certainly look at other options, but you would lose which you mentioned was important to you," the guide suggests clumsily saying to an angry customer who doesn’t want to buy any more Comcast services.
If Comcast had its way, each customer service call would play out like an elaborately choreographed dance, with the Comcast agent leading the customer through a series of steps designed to both fix the customer’s problems and extract additional revenue out of them. The call flow matrix instructs the agent to greet, empathize, and take ownership of the call; tellingly, although the "solve" portion of the call flow chart is weighted heavier than the "sell" portion (27 percent versus 20 percent), it contains fewer steps—and one of those steps is "Build Value/Enhance/Promote." Which, of course, is just a lead-up to selling.
On the back of a successful "solve" and with a supposedly grateful customer in hand, Comcast technicians are supposed to take what they’ve learned from being empathetic and "building value" to get the customer to buy some stuff. Notice the customer doesn’t have cable TV service? Pitch some service. Customer only likes Netflix? Pitch faster Internet service to make Netflix better. Customer doesn’t seem receptive to upselling? Ask if their spouse or kids or relatives like faster Internet and then sell on their behalf.
There are a few things customers can do, per the document, to avoid the sales plays: one of them is to flat-out instruct the agent to not attempt to sell you services. "Customer volunteers a 'Don’t sell to me' statement" is explicitly listed under the section titled "Transition to Offer is Not Applicable in the Following Scenarios." Also free from the upsell treatment are customers who are delinquent on their bills, customers who are "irate," and customers who already own the highest tiers of service on every "LOB" (line of business) sold by Comcast.
The company’s choice to transform what is traditionally a non-revenue-generating area—customer service—into a revenue-generating one is playing out with almost hilariously Kafkaesque consequences. It is the nature of large corporations like Comcast to have dozens of layers of management through which leadership instructions and directives are filtered. The bigger the company, the more likely that members of senior leadership (like Tom Karinshak) typically make broad policy and leave specific implementations to lower levels. Here, what was likely praised in the boardroom as an "innovative" strategy to raise revenue is instead doing much to alienate customers and employees alike. Karinshak’s assurances that he doesn’t want employees to feel pressured to sell in spite of hard evidence that Comcast demands just that are hard to square with the content of the document.
Although Comcast’s executives are publicly quite sorry for the ongoing high-profile issues, and although the company has promised to review its procedures, the likelihood of real change seems small. In most of Comcast’s service areas in the United States, it is the only realistic option for low-latency, high-speed Internet access—and that means the next viral customer service debacle is just around the corner.
Update: Ars has spoken with Comcast, and a representative for the company confirmed that the training materials appear to be genuine, to the best of their knowledge. The representative also delivered the following statement:
Customer service is our number one priority. We have said that when our company has moments like these, we use them as an opportunity to get better, and we are doing that. We are changing our training programs, refreshing our managers on coaching for quality, and looking at our incentives to ensure we are rewarding employees for the right behaviors.
I work at a call center that handles money issues. Going into further detail could give enough information to identify me, so let's just call me Refundamentalcase.
Anyway, this lovely story just happened moments ago. A caller calls in and I could tell immediately that she was going to be a problem from her sucking teeth, saucy sassy attitude, and the fact that she kept cutting me off at every turn to interject. I hate being interrupted, it's rude and it ruins my day reminding me of the worst days I've had when I was still teaching.
Me: Hello thank you for calling the (Department). My name is (suchandsuch) How may I help you?
Her: My name is (I like to call her Snappy Bitch)
I wait for a second. I think back and realize I did ask how I could help her. Tempted on clapping and saying 'Good job you know your name.'
Me: Alright Ms. SB, what can I do for you, do you have your case number?
Her: Yes. It is (number)
Me: Alright, let me look at this file...it says here that...
SB: Let me stop you right there, I sent an application for a refund three years ago and I want my money. Why aren't you sending me my money.
Me: Well now that I know that ma'am let me look up that information. (I do so). Ok it looks like all we need to do is request another application to be mailed to you. Then you fill it out and send it b----
SB: Let me stop you right there. Why do I need to fill out a new form? I want my money. I filled one out with my ex and don't live with him anymore. Give me my money.
SB: Why can't you take it over the phone?
Me: Because we need something in writing identifying that you are you and that your address is yours. We have to follow proced---
SB: Let me stop you right there.
At this point I'm getting really annoyed and flip off the phone. Pointless but hey, it kept me from shouting.
SB: Here's my address.
Me: Pardon, but let me ask you to hold on until I can get the request form---
SB: Ok do it.
Me: *glares* Ok, ~Now~ I'm ready for your information.
SB: Ok here's my address. (She reads it, and I confirm with an Mmhmm to signal she can go to the next part. Half way through she says:) "You know you sound really condescending."
Me: Well I apologize if you feel that---
SB: Good you should apologize.
Me: *wishes he had mind bullets, then says through clenched teeth* "Please continue."
The rest of the call goes through without a hitch.
Me: Thank you for being patient. The application should arrive in the next 14 business d---
SB: Ok bye. *hangs up*
I worked in a call center for 8 years. I got so tired of people calling in with things like, "I'm Beth Smith and I want to know the balance on my account."
"Okay, ma'am, I need your account number or zip code or some other information to identify you..."
"Well good LORD, why do I need to give you that information? How many BETH SMITHS could there be in your little thingie there?"
*Me, typing away...* "Eighty-seven, ma'am, and if I expand the parameters to include all the Elizabeth Smiths and hyphenated last names, I have over 235."
*silence at the other end, then a quietly muttered zip code....*
Yes, my dear, you are NOT as unique and special a snowflake as you thought you were....
I've had people call driving, while grocery shopping... I had ONE call me from a restaurant drive through. Bathrooms. Eating. Popping their gum. Oh, and screaming babies or blaring music/TVs - those are AWESOME. Really, the call can wait, pick your kid up and find out why he's screaming like he's got a broken limb.
And for gods' sake, if you're one of those women who hyphenated your name (which is cool... more power to ya), can you please REMEMBER WHAT NAME YOU USED?!? When I directly support 3+ million customers, how am I supposed to know "Beth Smith" is actually Jessica E. Smith-Jablonsky, because obviously you've used your middle name since elementary school... and I would KNOW THAT!
This story was originally posted on June 11, 2011
I put her on hold before she can utter a word and call the manager’s desk and lo and behold, who do I get, but Mr. AwesomeDude himself!!! The very same manager she had talked to that gave her the discount in the first place and put up with her before.
I explain the situation to him and he says that yes, I am correct that she does not get any credits at all and no more credits without a valid documented reason with manager approval. He even went so far as noting her account in the notes to that effect. He asked me to go ahead and put her on.
I go to connect her and she’s hung up! I tell him she’s hung up and while I am noting the account I see a new note pop in…she’s hung up and called into another rep who’s noted she’s already back it and asking for a manger!
I told Mr. AwesomeDude that I’m going to put a stop her once and for all and took his manager’s note from the notes section and put it as a permanent notation that will pop up in a window with huge bold and black text every time she calls in to warn the rep about her that says no more credits due per management without manager approval. Mr. AwesomeDude agrees with me and signs off on it.
I watch the account the rest of the night and she calls in three more times….
….and was denied by every manager she spoke with for more credits until she finally stopped calling around 7:00 PM.
Credit Rat : 0
*does the Tail Wagging Dance of Happiness*