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.