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Comcastic journalism

Posted by bcopple on November 15, 2009

comcastmustdieThe Chicago Tribune takes on Comcast today in its ‘What’s Your Problem’ column. My problem is this pathetic attempt at journalism. The column’s author (who normally does a decent job) gets rolled by the cable company, spitting out a story about how hard it is to be a Comcast customer service agent, how much training these people get and how they’re really very decent, hard-working folks — they are “your mother, your sister, your family.”

No shit. We all know the operators we deal with at Comcast and other big companies aren’t the problem. It’s not their fault their employers provide lousy service, charge too much, screw up our bills, deploy incompetent technicians and generally leave us feeling frustrated, outraged and impotent.

And  yet the Trib’s Jon Yates sits in on a training session at a local Comcast call center and learns that customer reps are taught to be, above all, empathetic. He is overwhelmed by Comcast’s show of humanity — its employees learn to put themselves in their customers’ shoes, and to coo “I understand,” “That does sound frustrating,” and “I do apologize for that.” (The Trib’s video is even more maddening; we see a customer rep being taught to say “I see” instead of “Ok.” This is apparently the difference between good and bad service at Comcast.)

What Yates should’ve realized is that the emphasis on empathy is part of the problem. Comcast would rather apologize for its mistakes than invest in preventing them.

At least, that’s my guess. If a reporter wanted to really dig in to Comcast’s customer service problems, he wouldn’t just take the PR flack’s invite to visit the customer service center, then write about what he saw. He’d investigate the link between customer service and profit. Good customer service is expensive. Investing in network improvements, training techs and operators, responding quickly and effectively — these things cost a lot of money. It’s much cheaper to just teach people to say sorry or to open a Twitter account.

In other words, Comcast probably chooses to have shitty customer service. I bet there is a calculated corporate analysis that tells company brass what level of service they can get away with, taking in to account the high cost of better service, the limited competition and the relative shittiness of its competitors’ service.

Last year, amidst a raging recession, Comcast pulled down $2.5 billion in profit. Think about that the next time you’re on hold for 15 minutes waiting to get the cable back on so you can watch the ballgame you’ve been waiting for all week. Comcast could cut that hold time by hiring more operators. Or by better-training the ones it has, or by improving its network so your cable didn’t go out in the first place.

But that would eat in to the $2.5 bil. I suspect the higher-ups at Comcast know that. A good reporter could prove it.


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