CHICAGO -- INTX -- Comcast is a strong candidate for the most-hated company in America, and if it doesn't take top honors, it comes pretty close. So what does one of the most despised organizations in the country do to improve its reputation? It turns customer service into a product, and it spends lots and lots of money.
While Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) has made promises to improve customer service before, there are signs that this time is different. Beyond a fancy new Tech Tracker app and its Uber-ization of truck rolls, the company is planning to hire 5,500 new customer service representatives over the next few years, starting with a staff of 2,000 for three new call centers in Albuquerque, New Mexico; Spokane, Washington; and Tucson, Arizona. The money for those new employees comes out of a $300 million budget Comcast set aside for Executive Vice President of Customer Experience Charlie Herrin in 2014.
CEO Brian Roberts said the company is also hiring hundreds of additional technicians and investing in intensive training for 84,000 Comcast employees. Starting in the third quarter, the operator's goal is have 100% on-time performance for customer service visits, and if a technician is late, the customer will automatically receive a $20 credit on that month's bill.
Company executives also made the point to reporters that customer service at Comcast has gotten better recently even outside of the new initiatives just announced. Herrin cited figures in a presentation showing that the company has reduced late appointments by 29% over the last three months, received 2 million fewer support calls year over year thanks to better product reliability and improved phone call response times by 18%.
President and CEO of Comcast Cable Neil Smit also addressed a direct question about how Comcast can repair its relationship with former customers who got fed up with poor service. (See Comcast X1 DVR Goes on the Blink.)
"I think we need to win back their loyalty," said Smit. "And I think that perceptions are lasting, and we have to take every opportunity and every point of contact with the customers to get it right. So whether it's a simplified bill, or the convenience of us calling you, or a great repair in your house if it's necessary. We have to prove ourselves every time, and every transaction. And I think over time we change perception and we win back customers' loyalty."
Unsurprisingly, additional questions came up round whether poor customer service contributed to regulators' decision to quash Comcast's acquisition of Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC). Roberts said he didn't know, but that if he had to guess, he'd say it probably wasn't a determining factor.
Perhaps ironically, however, Roberts also acknowledged that without the deal, Comcast now has more resources to dedicate to improving its own business performance.
"One other silver lining is there was a lot of planning for the deal, integration, months and months of work," said Roberts. "All that work, all that energy, how we were going to do it, is all now being applied to our own systems. So I think the rate at which we will improve is even faster."
— Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, Light Reading