Comcast Cares -- But Only About People Like You

from the @techdirtcares dept

You might've already heard about the Twitter account @comcastcares. Run by Comcast employee Frank Eliason, its purpose is to find upset customers before they even know they're looking for help. I'd heard of Eliason's project, but had completely forgotten about it when, on Sunday, I found my HD service mysteriously missing and broadcast my frustration to the Twitterverse. Frank's immediate Twittered response was unexpected and reassuring. When the next day's service call proved fruitless, he asked me to email him. Within a few hours I had received phone calls and emails from three different smart and seemingly concerned Comcast employees, and by the evening my problem was solved. I had been prepared to settle in for a weeks-long fight with the cable company. Instead, Frank's quick intervention left me feeling oddly positive about a company that I had long considered to be more or less the embodiment of of malevolent, slothful incompetence.

I'm not the only one who's noticed Frank's project, of course. Mike Arrington wrote about a positive encounter with @comcastcares earlier this month. And although Dave Winer remained peeved by his cable internet woes, it's clear that he found @comcastcares helpful and worthwhile.

It certainly is those things. But is it anything more? Arrington is right, of course, when he says that more brands should be using Twitter as a buzz monitoring tool. But we should all keep in mind that the sort of concierge-style customer support offered by @comcastcares is unlikely to ever scale beyond the size of a PR exercise.

In this case Twitter's chief virtue is its userbase: a collection of highly-wired early adopters whose online complaints about cable provider malfeasance frequently find their way into press accounts and Google results associated with the company. As handy a notification system as Twitter is, it's not as if it offers a technological breakthrough that suddenly makes competent customer service possible: there's been nothing preventing Comcast support from answering email, or getting on IM, or even just using a phone system that calls clients back rather than making them sit on the phone until they hang up or are driven mad by the hold music.

The reason Comcast and companies like it don't do those things is simply that providing high-quality, personalized support is expensive. Providing high-quality support to influential users is expensive, too, but there are many fewer of them and they make a lot more noise, which makes it a better investment. I'm sure Frank isn't undertaking his project cynically, but it's hard to see how Twitter can change the economics of tech support.



Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Matt Bennett, Apr 25th, 2008 @ 12:15pm

    I hate comcast to such a large degree I'm willing to pay for Tivo rather than use their DVR. The DVR would be significantly cheaper but I refuse to give them one more dime than I have to. I don't have any other options for cable, obviously.

     

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  2.  
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    Khylek, Apr 25th, 2008 @ 12:29pm

    I don't fundamentally disagree with anything you said. But I do think that there is a place between PR campaign and expensive customer service that companies can exploit.

    And for the record, Comcast isn't the only one monitoring the twitter-shpere. DirecTv followed my tweet to a blog post I did about problems with their Customer Service. They called me about an hour after reading the post. And (for now at least) I'm still a customer.

     

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  3.  
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    Ima Fish, Apr 25th, 2008 @ 12:37pm

    This is nothing but a PR stunt. If Comcast really wanted to help people they'd help the people calling their support phone lines instead of searching for people to help on Twitter.

    What they're really doing is attempting to stamp out publicized problems people are having with Comcast all while ignoring the vast majority of other problems people are having.

     

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  4.  
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    James, Apr 25th, 2008 @ 12:56pm

    Re:

    and this is different from any other company how? They dont want bad publicity, so resolve the ones that take action...

     

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  5.  
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    Ima Fish, Apr 25th, 2008 @ 12:59pm

    Re: Re:

    "and this is different from any other company how?"

    I never said or even implied it was different.

     

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  6.  
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    Comcastic fan, Apr 25th, 2008 @ 1:42pm

    Mr. T

    Of course comcast cares. It has an aging copper network that fills the needs of people at home.

    I never thought I would see the day that I could reply to a blog post while shopping.
    Hey, sale on Newman's Own tomato sauce is on sale at safeway this week...

    News Flash: copper = fixed.... Read about it online.

     

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  7.  
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    Texas Idiots, Apr 25th, 2008 @ 1:50pm

    If everyone hates comcast and the likes so much, why bother having tv at all?

    Get your fix on the intertubes!

     

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  8.  
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    Ajax 4Hire, Apr 25th, 2008 @ 2:01pm

    My Comcast service is ok...

    I have internet and HDTV box.

    The internet service is good because I have not had a problem in months. When problems do occur Comcast is usually quick to fix it, especially since I insist on refund of lost service.

    The HD side, the Motorola box is terrible. Slow to channel change, it rattles, the fan on the bottom is broken, it just doesn't work well. Comcast installed a used box for HD service. I am working myself up to not liking Comcast again.

    The CableModem Internet is good and I am happy.
    Internet down and I am mad, not that mad lately.

     

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  9.  
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    Chronno S. Trigger, Apr 25th, 2008 @ 2:01pm

    Re: Mr. T

    "News Flash: copper = fixed.... Read about it online."

    You might have to elaborate on that so we can read about it online.

     

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  10.  
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    lmertz, Apr 25th, 2008 @ 2:18pm

    Comcast is fine by me

    I have relocated to the real world from Alaska where everything takes forever and is very expensive. Signing up for Internet service, setting up my account and scheduling my installation was easy and well done. OK, they can still screw up by not showing next Saturday, but that is yet to be seen. Having followed the posts on this site and read other articles about issues with Comcast I am waiting for another shoe to drop, but so far so good.

     

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  11.  
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    Jon, Apr 25th, 2008 @ 2:25pm

    When you have a choice

    Where I live I acually have 2 cable service providers and let me tell you comcast cannot compete with this smaller service as in prices, let me say that a different way they won't compete. For what I was paying with comcast and I had every pay channel and hd I paid about 190 a month with this other company name Mellinium cable I pay 67 a month for the same package. The only downfall is the internet is a bit slower but have had zero problems with customer service.

     

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  12.  
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    Jessie X, Apr 25th, 2008 @ 3:39pm

    Verizon Fios watched my Tweets

    I tweeted yesterday about how slooooow my FiOS service had been of late. Bang! I got a "how can I help you solve this tweet" from @cz, who works at Verizon FiOS. Have yet to follow up with him, but I will. Pretty cool.

     

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  13.  
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    Peter, Apr 25th, 2008 @ 3:50pm

    Auto-callbacks

    re: "even just using a phone system that calls clients back rather than making them sit on the phone until they hang up or are driven mad by the hold music"

    When I call Comcast and the wait is going to be more than about 2 minutes (well, I'm not sure what the cutoff is), they offer me a call-back.

    On the other hand, I'm not sure you can get a call-back from anyone but first-line support, and since their procedure is "read the script that says: unplug your modem, bypass your router and plug in a Windows XP box" it's not all that useful.

    They also do some automatic troubleshooting before connecting you to a(n apparent) human - checking response and rebooting the cable modem.

    Something I've wanted for a while is a way to bypass all these "dumb" responses - I've tried them already by the time I call. So having a separate support line for "technical" users seems helpful, or at least not _unhelpful_.

    What would really be helpful though is not to have to sit there lying to the support staff in order to get any help - I've had technicians *hang up* on me when I explain that I don't have Windows. So now I lie: "Yes, I've got the control panel open. Okay, clicking on Network Connections. TCP/IP? Ok, here we go..." as I type 'ifconfig -a'...

     

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  14.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 25th, 2008 @ 6:02pm

    Wow - in order to get customer service I need to subject myself to the likes of malware ?
    No thanks

     

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  15.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 27th, 2008 @ 2:21am

    Re: Mr. T

    Comcast != Copper. That is too general of a definition. Comcast = HFC. Read about it online.

     

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  16.  
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    Andrew Feinberg, Apr 27th, 2008 @ 2:24pm

    Have you actually talked to Comcast about their plans?

    I did. I tracked Frank down a week or so ago and spent about 30 minutes talking to him about how Comcast is expanding their tech support efforts beyond the idiotic hold times and phone support. He's actually leading what he hopes will be a team of twitter-ers and others being pro-active about support. It's easier to fix a problem before it becomes a PR nightmare, and surprise! Comcast wants people to not hate them, so when that third pipe becomes available, noone will care.

     

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  17.  
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    Overcast, Apr 28th, 2008 @ 7:12am

    Well, it's nice to see they take care of certain customers they consider 'select'. Too bad for the rest of the grunts.

    Thankfully, I don't have them. And with any luck, it will remain that way. I will be free to use whatever ports I like, not that I use Torrent much - but if I used Comcast I may or may not have been able to download various service manuals and tech bulletins for my car this weekend, as the site that put up these freely distributed (legally) documents is now using torrent. Tech service manuals get somewhat large for PDF files.

     

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  18.  
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    Jamie, Apr 28th, 2008 @ 9:52am

    Sky

    Sky TV in the UK have a 'higher tier' service which they give to celebrities and other people who can exert 'influence'. This gives them access to a different support and billing centre with better staff and lower response times. I really don't see this being any different. Unfair - but commercially pretty clever.

     

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  19.  
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    Spike, Apr 28th, 2008 @ 10:06am

    Is Anything Really Better?

    For some reason, I get quick response from Comcast, they even sent out a tech when they could have told me what I needed to do.

    But I had AT&T in my current place for one week, the internet I paid for was 3mb, but they told me they could only deliver 384k. I cancelled. I received my refund check last week for service cancelled on November 15, after approximately 20 calls and huge amounts of wait time for the last five months. They even told me they wouldn't refund my service because I had it for five days, which I finally convinced them was stupid. On top of that, it took them two weeks to find the modem I sent back a few months earlier.

    So it's not like one utility is really any better than any other. They are what they are, which is customer-unfriendly.

     

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