• August 1, 2007
  • By Donna Fluss, president, DMG Consulting

A Weak Connection

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I've been a loyal Comcast customer for more than a decade, including cable and Internet service. We've had some problems, including frequent service disruptions; servicepeople not showing up; and being told that my service is working when it's not. I've tolerated all of this because other Internet service providers seemed no better. Recently, however, Comcast shut off my outbound email capability--twice!--with no notification whatsoever. Not only did the company not warn me of or explain the shutoff, but its security department also kept this information to itself, rather than sharing it with its own customer service division. After suffering through the absence of weekend live support, I finally gave up and called the Comcast corporate office. I explained my problem, and what I had done to diagnose it (without any support from Comcast). I was told that I'd hear back within 24 hours--another delay. Fortunately, a Comcast security person called me within two hours. He restored the outbound email service while I was on the phone and explained that it had been suspended because my address appeared to be sending spam. When I asked why I hadn't been notified, he informed me that Comcast has 14 million subscribers and cannot possibly alert all customers when service is turned off. (Surely whatever process "flagged" my account and locked its outbound abilities could have sent me an email explaining what was about to happen to me, and--more important--providing me with some kind of remedy.) The story doesn't end there; my service was turned off again the following weekend. I left a voicemail on Saturday, and on Sunday received a return message from a real person--with unhelpful information. I placed four calls to the corporate office on Monday and finally reached a security person who explained that my PC was sending a large volume of email and was likely infected with a "spambot" virus; he told me that I could address the problem by changing my outbound email port. The fix took minutes, not days or weeks. I understand the need to be proactive with security, but how could Comcast not prepare for the possibility that an innocent customer would get swept up in the process? This decision affected arguably the company's single most customer-centric function: my ability to communicate with the outside world. By taking actions that directly affect the consumer--without notifying that consumer or sharing basic information with the employees she might contact--Comcast runs the risk of alienating customers. But in this age of commoditized products and services, customer service matters very much; countless studies have shown it's often the only differentiator. Ignoring customer needs is extremely shortsighted and expensive; failing to prepare for a clearly foreseeable problem caused by the company itself--well, that's unacceptable, under any circumstances. Comcast security did not communicate its actions to its customer service department, so the customer service staff was unequipped to resolve my complaint. Companies need a unified servicing platform to address concerns. Without it, the result is frustrated customers. Calls from stymied customers are unnecessary, time-consuming, and unpleasant interactions--and in the majority of cases could be avoided with a simple, inexpensive email notification or outbound call. Live support, shared information, and proactive notification may not be cheap--but they're a lot less expensive than handling irate and repeated calls from frustrated customers or, worse, losing customers entirely. Even with 14 million customers, losing one at a time will eventually hurt Comcast's bottom line. (To say nothing of the bad word of mouth that inevitably follows.) According to Gartner, it costs eight to 10 times more to acquire customers than it does to retain them. If Comcast invested even some of its customer-acquisition dollars in improving its customer service, it wouldn't have to work so hard to replace the unhappy customers it loses. Donna Fluss is founder and president of DMG Consulting LLC, a firm specializing in customer-focused business strategy, operations, and technology services. Contact her at donna.fluss@dmgconsult.com.
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