Behind The Veil: Comcast Techs Detail How Customer Service Is Really All Just 'Sales'
from the confession-time dept
By now you’ve surely heard the story of Ryan Block’s recorded attempt to cancel his Comcast service, which resulted in one of the most infuriating 3rd person experiences I’ve ever witnessed. On top of that, we wondered recently whether some of the claims made in the call, chiefly revolving around Comcast’s status as the speediest internet provider out there, might land the company in legal trouble. Both stories essentially stem from a supposed customer service rep behaving more like a used car salesman than anything remotely resembling an agent that might assist with the cancellation of service. The problem with these kinds of stories is that they’re usually written off as one-time occurrences, with the company in question insisting this isn’t how it typically does business. Comcast did just that, suggesting they might need to re-train some employees at some call centers to get them back on the company line.
Fortunately for us, there are enterprising journalists like the folks at The Verge, who put out a call for current and former Comcast employees to tell the story behind the veil. The result is pretty much what you’d expect: Block’s call wasn’t a deviation from company policy, it was just the application of company policy on steroids. There are several examples here, with a promise of more to come, but they pretty much tell the same story.
Mark Pavlic was hired as a customer account executive at Comcast in October 2010 after graduating from a technical institute. He figured he’d be troubleshooting TV, phone, and internet service, but most of his month-long training focused on sales. Every day when he walked into the call center, he’d see a whiteboard with employee names and their RGUs, or revenue generating units. Pavlic’s call center in Pittsburgh is operated by Comcast, but the company also uses third-party and international call centers. Exact training and incentive structures vary by call center, and on whether employees are working on business services or residential services. Our interviews revealed a common thread across facilities: what often started out as a carrot — bonuses for frontline employees who made sales — turned into a stick, as employees who failed to pitch hard enough or meet their quotas were chastised, or worse.
Worse meaning getting fired, basically. Such was the case with Brian Van Horn, who had been hired by Comcast to be a billing specialist and had been employed for 10 years. He detailed how the culture and policies he was tasked with changed over the years, getting more aggressive and less cooperative with cancellations. Eventually, he had scripts designed to overcome objections, repeatedly, rather than comply with the customer’s requests. Despite his being good at the aspects of the job he’d actually been hired for, things didn’t go well.
Van Horn says he “couldn’t sell water to a man dying of thirst in the desert,” but his other metrics were good: he had high scores on “first call resolution,” meaning that customers’ issues were often fixed in a single call, as well as “attaboys,” where a customer asked to speak to a supervisor in order to compliment him for a job well done. But after repeated reprimands for low sales, Van Horn was fired.
These stories aren’t just coming from former employees who were fired or quit, by the way. Current employees, including at least one from the same call center than handled the infamous Block call, weighed in as well.
[The rep who spoke to Block] was placed on leave, pending investigation. His desk is still set up, which means he still works for us. Yes, he is a good salesperson. I mean if you don’t have stellar numbers, you get fired. One of the issues with [the recorded call] is he actually did his job, just went WAY overboard with it. According to our retention handbook, he did not violate any of the things that can end your employment.
-Retention supervisor, 2012-present, Colorado
So much for all of this being some overly zealous employee going rogue. The question that arises with this kind of thing, particularly with Comcast operating a multi-tiered group of call centers, some outsourced, some not, is whether the company has become too unwieldy to actually meet customer requests. It’s fine for a company to work to retain customers, but that’s typically done by providing great service, not irritating the shit out of anyone who doesn’t think your company’s poop doesn’t stink. Far from too big to fail, Comcast, recently in massive merger discussions, may be getting too big to succeed.