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.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 31st, 2014 @ 5:48am

    Welcome to the toxic employer culture - where it doesn't matter if you're good at Customer Service, it's all about the Benjamins.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 31st, 2014 @ 6:02am

    Re:

    It has always and ever only been.... about the Benjamins.

    Would you work without them?

    I am very pro Capitalist, but there is one thing that needs to be in front of all other benchmarks for a corporation to be allowed to operate.

    Profit should be motivation #2 for every business... #1 should have been and should always remain... Providing a good service to the community. The moment a business goes Bank of America on the community or becomes too close to a monopoly it should be dissolved. I would normally say that market forces would take care of this, but unfortunately due to those same market forces many are overtly stuck without recourse.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
    icon
    William Conlow (profile), Jul 31st, 2014 @ 6:03am

    There's a reason they make you call in to cancel your service when it would be easier for everyone to do it online. They don't want to make it easy.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
    identicon
    Michael, Jul 31st, 2014 @ 6:13am

    Re: Re:

    Every great company leader knows:

    Providing a good service to the community IS great for your profits.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
    identicon
    Michael, Jul 31st, 2014 @ 6:15am

    Re:

    They could put this service online, but since they cannot offer the service in a "hyperspeed" lane, it would be painfully slow.

    Call your congressmen now.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
    identicon
    Michael, Jul 31st, 2014 @ 6:21am

    The first software company I worked for just out of college was a tiny little vertical market company and we had no sales people. It was just support engineers and mass mailing.

    What worked best for our sales was to provide great support. Very few calls went to voicemail, we were or had better engineers than the ones using the software (it was civil engineering software), and while there were complaints about the software somewhat regularly, I cannot remember anyone ever complaining about the support they got from us. Once we solved a problem for a customer, we would try to pitch upgrades or, if they were in a hurry, send them fresh mailers with new products and upgrades.

    It was so easy that the software basically sold itself.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
    icon
    Jay (profile), Jul 31st, 2014 @ 6:36am

    Be real

    Comcast isn't too big to fail. Neither is it too big to succeed.

    It's too big to function.

    You literally have all of these workers that have nothing to do but be glorified sales reps. No expansion of service, no focus on what communities need, no true way to answer any questions about this scandal, nothing.

    This its just the same as GM making 28 million cars but having to recall 27 million. Yet those cars KILLED people... And we expect that a few more sales and profits for the CEOs is going to make this all better?

    It's time to bust Comcast down to size. Smaller internet companies and not massive unwieldy behemoths which take value from the communities they leech off of.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 31st, 2014 @ 6:59am

    Both stories essentially stem from a supposed customer service rep behaving more like a used car salesman

    The customer service rep has one huge advantage over a used car salesman, when the customer is trying to cancel a service they can't just walk away, like they can when a used car salesman becomes annoying.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
    icon
    justok (profile), Jul 31st, 2014 @ 7:25am

    Canada

    If you're in Canada, replace Comcast with Rogers

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 31st, 2014 @ 7:36am

    And this is why competition is needed. It's the practical monopoly that Comcast has that allows them to focus on getting you to not cancel instead of improving your service. Cutting the cord, rather than going with a competitors service, is their biggest vulnerability, until more competition arrives in town. But hey, I'm sure competition will improve if you just let them buy another company with the profits they made from overcharging for underperforming service...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
    icon
    PaulT (profile), Jul 31st, 2014 @ 7:38am

    Re: Be real

    Size has nothing to do with it. The word is monopoly. They know they can treat people like this because there are limited options.

    So, customer service means nothing. Oh, you don't want cable? We're your only choice if you come back. You're moving to an area not serviced by us? Well, if we treat you like crap it doesn't matter, and if you come back to an area we service, you can't go to the better competition so the memory of how we treated you means nothing.

    So, smaller companies might be an idea, but it's not likely to change the experience until each area has real competition. If they have someone you can take your business to next month, they'll probably be better at treating you while you're there.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
    identicon
    Baron von Robber, Jul 31st, 2014 @ 7:50am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Providing a perception of good service to the community IS great for your profits.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
    identicon
    Michael, Jul 31st, 2014 @ 7:50am

    Re: Be real

    You literally have all of these workers that have nothing to do but be glorified sales reps.

    Selling something that people essentially need that have no other viable option for purchasing it.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
    identicon
    Michael, Jul 31st, 2014 @ 7:52am

    Re:

    just walk away, like they can when a used car salesman becomes annoying

    Clark Griswold would disagree.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
    identicon
    Michael, Jul 31st, 2014 @ 7:53am

    Re: Canada

    Let's just replace Comcast with ANYTHING ELSE please.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 31st, 2014 @ 8:15am

    Re: Online cancellation

    If they wanted to put it online, they could just follow the CIA FOIA model. It's technically available online, except all those times it is down for no good reason, and no one seems to have a record of why.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
    icon
    jupiterkansas (profile), Jul 31st, 2014 @ 8:19am

    Re: Re: Be real

    Nobody needs cable. Internet on the other hand...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
    icon
    Jay (profile), Jul 31st, 2014 @ 8:21am

    Re: Re: Be real

    That always struck me as one side of the equation. What people forget is how hard these corporate conglomerates work to *eliminate* competition to their money source. The fight against piracy is the same way. Instead of coming to the rational conclusion that legal access lowers demand for digital goods, we have people chicken hawking about how consumers cause lost sales.

    We would have to train people on better broadband access. We'd have to cut down on expenditures by taking public funds away from the monopoly.

    Even then, there are other pitfalls and possibilities that won't surface until we see what's going on with municipal broadband. We can't just rely on competition to save us when a monopoly worlds to maintain its position.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
    icon
    art guerrilla (profile), Jul 31st, 2014 @ 8:54am

    Re:

    what a bizarre bidness model: you make products that work and people need, and they buy it and you support them...
    how do they expect to make money doing THAT...

    everyone knows you only make money by threatening people, extorting money for useless products, gatekeeping 'intellectual property', and collecting rents for merely existing...
    *sheesh*

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
    identicon
    Michael, Jul 31st, 2014 @ 8:56am

    Re: Re:

    you make products that work and people need, and they buy it and you support them...

    It's a crazy world out there.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
    identicon
    Michael, Jul 31st, 2014 @ 8:57am

    Re: Be real

    I've been told that size doesn't matter.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
    identicon
    Michael, Jul 31st, 2014 @ 9:08am

    Re: Re: Re: Be real

    Nobody needs cable

    Then why do your tax dollars pay for it to be in all of the prisons?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
    icon
    jupiterkansas (profile), Jul 31st, 2014 @ 10:29am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Be real

    Prisons provide other luxuries as well.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
    icon
    Mason Wheeler (profile), Jul 31st, 2014 @ 10:34am

    Re: Re:

    I agree entirely. The FCC has asked people to weigh in on the proposed Comcast/TWC merger, and what I've been saying is Comcast doesn't need to get any bigger; they're already infamous for abusing their market power and need to be broken up.

    Sure, they probably won't listen to me, but if a million people start saying it, then things begin to change.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
    icon
    Padpaw (profile), Jul 31st, 2014 @ 10:53am

    All Comcast has to do is start bribing holder and the DoJ like all the other too big to fail corporations and they can screw over the little people as much as they like with no need to worry about laws.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 31st, 2014 @ 10:54am

    Re: Re: Re:

    "Sure, they probably won't listen to me, but if a million people start saying it, then things begin to change."

    You have: one million people who agree with you.

    They have: lobbyists and multi-million dollar campaign contributions.

    You lose.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
    identicon
    David, Jul 31st, 2014 @ 11:25am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Those multi-million dollar contributions come from you, the consumer, paying for Comcast. Cut the cord. Starve the beast.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 31st, 2014 @ 11:40am

    Reminds me of AOL in the 90's

    There are probably still recordings of people's attempts to cancel floating out there.

    I think the Attorney General of several states sued them.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 31st, 2014 @ 12:40pm

    Share and Enjoy

    The Complaints Division is the largest and only profitable division of the company. The division is so large that it takes up all of the major landmasses on the first three planets in the Sirius Tau system. The theme song for the Complaints division is Share and Enjoy, and has since been adopted by the company itself. The main office building and headquarters for the company was originally built to represent this motto, but due to bad architecture it sank into the ground, killing many talented young complaints associates. In addition to a large Workers' Compensation lawsuit, the downside to this is that the building now read, in the dialect of the planet it was on, "Go Stick Your Head in a Pig." It is now lit only on holidays.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 31st, 2014 @ 1:27pm

    Re:

    Presumably you could cancel by fax; or, if not, by registered mail.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31.  
    identicon
    phils, Jul 31st, 2014 @ 2:04pm

    "a supposed customer service rep behaving more like a used car salesman"

    Tim, you should apologize to used car salesmen for this insult.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32.  
    icon
    beltorak (profile), Jul 31st, 2014 @ 2:37pm

    Re: Re: Online cancellation

    The FOIA model? So I would have to sue to get my service cancelled? And there would be a "reasonable" disconnection service?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33.  
    icon
    beltorak (profile), Jul 31st, 2014 @ 2:39pm

    Re: Re: Re: Online cancellation

    ** "reasonable" disconnection service charge.

    *sigh* this forum software needs an update.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34.  
    icon
    JBDragon (profile), Jul 31st, 2014 @ 3:00pm

    Re: Re:

    If These Cable company's weren't a Monopoly in every city, this wouldn't be a issue. If you could pick from TWC or Comcast, now you have Competition. Comcast and U-Verse is really not competition. Cable Internet is a whole lot faster.

    If Comcast was crap, you could switch to TWC or whoever else. If enough people jumped ship, things would change! I had it with Comcast. The service was pretty reliable. When I canceled in person they were friendly to me. Now I have U-Verse for Internet only. I pay $135 less per month now. I threw up a large Antenna and get most of my programs that way. It's been great and I no longer have that $170 a month cable big every month. No premium channels either. Just Internet and a duel HD DVR tuner. It was just ME living there at the time. I love how things are now. U-Verse is a lot slower, but I can still stream Netflix in HD, Online gaming, download more then fast enough so it's good enough.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  35.  
    icon
    JBDragon (profile), Jul 31st, 2014 @ 3:02pm

    Re:

    AOL was the same way, and many company's today are the same. They make it really a snap, Easy to sign up Online, but to cancel, You have to call and then go threw the whole cancellation speech while they try and talk you out of it. Some people just go at it stronger then others.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  36.  
    icon
    That One Guy (profile), Jul 31st, 2014 @ 4:02pm

    Re:

    What makes you think they aren't already, I can't remember the last time the DOJ actually went after a major company for anything serious enough that it could lead to an exec(rather than a scapegoat) finding themselves behind bars.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  37.  
    icon
    KevinEHayden (profile), Aug 6th, 2014 @ 6:24pm

    Re: Canada (Rogers)

    No. Better to just replace Rogers (or Bell) with a small local ISP (Acanac, Teksavvy, etc). It worked for me. Faster downloads, no caps.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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