Comcast wants to fix its notoriously poor customer service. No, really this time.
“Empirically, we’ve been on track, in the right direction,” CEO Brian Roberts told a roomful of journalists in the company’s new “Studio Xfinity” retail store in downtown Chicago. (The press event took place just hours after Roberts unveiled a slew of new products and customer service initiatives during a keynote speech at the INTX cable television conference.)
The 9,000-square-foot space, which will open in June, is a prototype store Comcast is testing. Instead of bullet-proof glass and long lines, the design idea here was more “Apple-esque,” as one Comcast exec put it. (Fun fact: the general manager of the new store is a former Apple retail employee.) The soon-to-be-opened location will include demonstration booths where customers can try out new products, like the company’s recently-launched live streaming service, Share. Notably, Comcast is also taking a page from Apple’s “Genius Bar”–an area where customers can go to for troubleshooting assistance. There will also be more employees than regular Comcast stores and online appointment scheduling tool that the company says will cut down on wait times.
There’s more. Comcast (CMCSA) is adding three new call centers in the coming month while hiring 5,500 new workers over the next three years. The company says it has already earmarked $300 million for overhauling the “customer experience” beyond the new hires. Other initiatives include an Uber-like app that lets customers track and rate technicians, and a $20 credit when a technician is late or doesn’t show up.
Perhaps most importantly, Comcast plans to retrain 84,000 employees to become more customer-centric and to change the way it incentivizes workers who deal directly with consumers. It’s not clear exactly what this will entail, but it’s an ambitious initiative for a company that has earned the (very well-documented) ire of customers time and time again.
This is not the first time Comcast has said it is going to make customer service a priority. But the stakes are getting higher this time around. Less than two weeks ago, the company’s $45 billion bid for Time Warner Cable collapsed. Roberts has said the company is “moving on” multiple times, but the wounds–at least in terms of the public’s perception–are still fresh. And because regulators have shown they are not going to allow the company to easily expand by merging with another large provider, Comcast has to rethink its strategy for long-term growth. Add to the mix the increasing choice consumers have at their disposal (at least when it comes to how to feed their Game of Thrones addiction), and you’ve got a company that also needs to rethink how it attracts and retains customers.
Driving those kinds of changes will take time, though today’s announcements have clearly been in the works for months. The company is looking at making massive internal changes that could take several years — if it’s serious about change. Adding more people to the mix won’t solve the larger problem, although it could help reduce the amount of time customers are subjected to Muzak while on hold. Neither will shiny new stores — that is, if people still have to wait in line to drop off a set-top boxes. Real change, as the cliché goes, comes from within. And it takes a long time. Most likely, that costs more than $300 million.
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