Comcast spared the electric chair

Bob Garfield declares victory against Comcast from his ComcastMustDie shock & awe. What, so he installed Verizon?

No, he points to stories in the Times and Post about the new Comcast attitude and praises Comcast for having…

…institutionalized the practice of listening, in live forums around the country but especially on the internet, to resolve individual problems and learn about the (many, gaping) holes in its customer-service operations.

Does this solve the biggest part of their structural problems? No, not by a long shot. They acquired cable systems too fast and have been inexcusably slow in building network-wide infrastructures for installation, repair and the most rudimentary customer-relations management. In short, they still totally suck. (As Comcast quality czar Rick Germano euphemistically frames the situation, “There’s a lot of upside for us.”) But they are investing a lot of money to build those very structures, and have turned a corner in corporate culture.

Glad he pointed that out. The only real solution to bad customer-service and public-relations problem is to have a great product and service. No — no — cable company is there yet because I argue that they are still built around telling us what we cannot do (no, you can’t watch what you’ve bought whenever and wherever and on whatever you want; no, you can’t just plug in your expensive and sophisticated TV but you have to put this clunky, stupid box inbetween you and the world of possible entertainment and information; no, you can’t host anything to the world because we don’t think you’re creative; no, you can’t download that much; no, you can’t upload that much; no, you don’t have a life and so you have to wait all day for the cable guy). Cable companies are still built on fucking us. But at least now they’re grinning while they do it.

Nonetheless, give credit where it is due: Comcast has made a number of important changes in its relationship with its now-empowered customers and, like Dell, it has benefitted as a result. They also vow to take a next step and within a year play host to a ComcastMustDie on their own. But why wait a year? In the spirit of cooperation, I’ll suggest that they can do it now with GetSatisfaction.com — which they apparently are using, with Comcast employees interacting there — and with an equivalent of MyStarbucksIdea and Dell IdeaStorm — where people can make real suggestions.

In any case, the cause of vendor relations management marches on.

  • http://www.comcast.com Jenn Khoury, Comcast

    Thanks for recognizing that we are listening. We are listening to our customers and responding, but our work online just scratches the surface of what’s been going on at Comcast. We are investing in and creating innovative products and have rolled them out very quickly. The result is that customers tell us they love our products. The flip side is that we need to improve the customer experience. We are well aware of this, and the entire company is focused on it.

    We are taking huge steps to improve customer service, but big change takes time, and it will take time for everyone across the country to feel these improvements. There are more details from our new head of customer service on our site http://www.comcast.com/Corporate/Customers/customercare.html, which also has a place for customers to give us direct feedback. These are just a few examples of the massive effort we are undertaking. As for the changes we are making online, we will provide customers with a new place to talk with us directly, and it be up in months, not a year. In the meantime, we’ll keep listening and improving.

  • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

    But here’s the problem with this: She doesn’t address one of the substantive issues I/we still have with cable companies and their economic structure. It’s cant. A script.

    That feedback page to which she links: It invites us to send an email to the exec. It’s not in public, so we can’t see the critical mass we gather. It’s still in their control.

    Bzzzzt. You fail the bullshit test. Sorry.

  • http://www.comcast.com Jenn Khoury, Comcast

    I agree with you on the feedback email. Yes, it’s definitely better to do this in a public forum. But until we get that up and running (which is going to take a few more months) the email Frank’s team are ways that customers can give us feedback, or get help – and they ususally receive it quickly.

    I disagree that our model prevents people from doing what they want, whenever they want. With VOD and video on the Web, there are more options, not less. Same thing with Internet speeds, boxes and user-generated content. And in a few months it will have changed again. I think it keeps getting better.

  • Tree Frog

    Why does it take a few months? I could give a knowledgeable nerd a 6 pack of Red Bull and 50 dollars, and he’d kludge something workable together in two nights.

    It doesn’t have to be beautiful, but it does have to be real.

    Nobody loves Comcast. They love what Comcast facilitates: actual content. You guys (cable companys all over the US) are the complete opposite of Google and have been screwing us over for years.

    I can tell you stories of techs sent over with the wrong equipment, to the wrong house, cable box cut-outs for no good reason and x number of problems. There’s millions of people like me.

    I hope your facetious company teeters and utterly collapses when content finds alternate delivery methods.

  • Marissa

    Love the corporate initiative.

    But less about Comcast, more about that American Apparel ad. Wow.

  • Liz

    JJ likes the ads.

  • Tree Frog

    Still can’t get over the Comcast rep talking out the side of her mouth thing. Heck, look at what Showtime did with community participation:

    http://www.wikinomics.com/blog/index.php/2008/07/10/showtime-presents-the-ultimate-20-fan-experience/

  • http://www.comcast.net Scott Westerman

    Hi Jeff!

    I’m proud of the corporate initiative that Jenn mentions. We want to do it right and understand that it will be an iterative process. In the meantime, you’re welcome to check out how we’re testing the concept on a smaller scale in my Albuquerque market.

    A wonderful woman in our town started up a social network on Ning. http://www.dukecityfix.com, that has gained a lot of traction as a gathering place for locals. We’re engaging there, totally in the open and I’m the guy who is listening and interacting. Here’s how to find it.,

    http://bit.ly/uj11Z

    Is this a bit closer to what you envisioned?

    Scott Westerman
    Area Vice President
    Comcast Southwest
    @ComcastScott on Twitter / identi.ca
    scott.westerman@comcast.net