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Comcast is trying to fix its customer service problems (again)

September 27, 2014, 12:03 AM UTC
Cable Giant Comcast To Acquire Time Warner Cable
POMPANO BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 13: A Comcast truck is seen parked at one of their centers on February 13, 2014 in Pompano Beach, Florida. Today, Comcast announced a $45-billion offer for Time Warner Cable. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
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After years of customer service complaints, Comcast said Friday it is appointing a new executive to fix the problem.

In general, cable companies have a pretty terrible reputation for customer service, and almost any subscriber can readily supply a personal tale of misery. Technicians routinely fail to show up when they’re supposed to. Callers are put on perpetual hold. Service gets cut off without any warning or apparent concern.

Now, Comcast is taking action – allegedly. Neil Smit, CEO of Comcast Cable, said the division has named Charlie Herrin as its senior vice president of “customer experience.” Herrin, who was previously worked in product design and development, is being asked to “reimagine the customer experience and ensure that we are delighting our customers at each touch point,” Smit wrote in a blog post.

This year, Comcast (CMCSA) has managed to stand out for bad service by failing to live up to the already low expectations of its customers. In one case, a customer recorded a Comcast representative refusing to allow him to disconnect his service. The recording went viral this summer and, in turn, prompted others to record their own agonizingly frustrating interactions on the phone.

More recently, Comcast reportedly hit a Chicago customer with a $1,000 early termination fee when he canceled his frequently malfunctioning service. After unflattering headlines, the company ultimately resolved the problem.

Comcast executives, over the years, have repeatedly apologized for the company’s customer service. Following the viral telephone recording this summer, Tom Karinshak, Comcast senior vice president of customer service, issued a statement saying the company was “very embarrassed” and that executives would reach out personally to the customer in question.

“While the overwhelming majority of our employees work very hard to do the right thing every day, we are using this very unfortunate experience to reinforce how important it is to always treat our customers with the utmost respect,” Karinshak said at the time.

Both Karinshak and Herrin now have senior vice president titles involving customer service. How they’ll divvy up the duties wasn’t made clear.

Earlier this year, Smit echoed his predecessors by calling improved customer service “a top priority,” which he reiterated in his post on Friday. That’s a different tune from what Smit’s boss, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts, had to say about the company’s poor reputation for customer service. Last year, Roberts said that the high number of complaints was a byproduct of having hundreds of millions of interactions with customers.

“You get one-tenth of one-percent bad experience, that’s a lot of people – unacceptable,” Roberts told Marketplace “We have to be the best service provider or in the end, this company won’t be what I want it to be.”

Of course, Comcast has had plenty of time and resources to figure out its customer service woes. The Philadelphia-based company has been around for five decades and it ranks 44th on the Fortune 500 with almost $65 billion in annual revenue. What’s more, Comcast will only have more customers to interact with in the near future should the company’s planned $45 billion takeover of Time Warner Cable receive government approval. If that deal goes through, then Comcast would control almost 30% of the pay TV market.

Unfortunately, even Smit doesn’t sound particularly optimistic that Comcast’s customer service issues can be resolved anytime soon.

“Transformation isn’t going to happen overnight,” he wrote on Friday. “In fact, it may take a few years before we can honestly say that a great customer experience is something we’re known for.”