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Susan DeMatei
July 30, 2013 | Customer Support | Susan DeMatei


Sorry, for the long blog post, but, I need to vent.

At the risk of being cliché, I feel the need to use my recent interaction with Comcast customer service as a cautionary tale to anyone who sells, and provides service to customers.

The day started innocently enough.

We had a two-hour appointment window – between 12-2pm – to install my mother’s TV, internet and phone.  The Comcast automated system even called us to confirm the day prior.  We were at the house (still being worked on by contractors and not lived in) thirty minutes early at 11:30, just in case. We even had a contractor there to drill holes and thread cable through walls since this house didn’t have a basement.

And, then it went downhill. 

We waited in an empty house.  The three of us waited two and a half hours. Ten minutes before 2pm, we called.  Somehow we got through in eight minutes, and were informed that ‘they weren’t late” yet because they still had two minutes.  We were to call back if they were officially “late”.

Annoyed, but sure the van would be there eminently, we waited another half hour, and called again at 2:30.  This time, the hold was 22 minutes.  The “Customer Care” rep told us that they had  no visibility into where the tech van was, but that they’d submit a request for the technician in the van to call us.

We waited another hour, and called again (hold time 27 minutes).  This time we were told the same thing.  No visibility into where the van was, but they’d submit a request to call us with an ETA.

Finally, at 4pm we got a call from the regional manager of the technical support in our area.  The van would be there at 5pm.  No apologies or information except 5pm.  At least we had a time.  Hungry and hot, we decided to run out for some food since we had a quick window.  We all made sure we were back at the empty house at 4:50.

Can you guess what happened next? 

Nothing.  At 5:30 we let the contractor go home.   Since the regional manager had called our cell phone, we had his direct number, so we called him back.  He seemed shocked and annoyed that we called him directly at 5:30 on a Friday, and had no recollection of calling us 90 minutes earlier.  As I read our name and zip code again to him, I could hear the agitation in his voice as he looked up the account.  “You’ve been canceled”, was all he said.  Holding back the stream of obscenities, I simply asked how…and why…and by whom.  “I can’t see that information”, was all he said. “You’ll have to call 1-800-Comcast.”

My cell phone was dead at this point.  And, so were we.  At 6pm we get back to my house.  I pour a glass of wine,  grab the house land-line phone and get situated on my deck for another long hold.  After 17 minutes I get through to someone who agrees this is a mess, but they can’t help.  They recommend I call “Customer Retention”, because this is the department who handles angry customers and they’ll have the most information.  I ask to be transferred.  I am on hold another 10 minutes…until it disconnects me.

I’m now on a mission. 

I call back at 7pm and try different buttons in the phone tree.  I say I’m cancelling service so I can get to the “Retention” department.  I get someone who listens to my story and says that because we’re not technically a customer yet, he can’t do anything.  They are only able to assist customers, and since we’ve yet to be hooked up, there is no help to be had.  But, he cheerfully tells me we have a window scheduled between 12-2 on the 31st to get our cable hooked up.  Guaranteed.

Here’s what could be applied to wineries, or anyone’s customer service.

Arm the Front Line

If you’ve ever gone through a seminar or training at Walt Disney as to how they create “The Happiest Place on Earth”, it boils down to one thing – empowerment.  Each employee is empowered with information, and the authority to help any customer with anything.  If a janitor emptying the trash at a theme park see’s a child drop an ice cream cone and start to cry, this janitor has the approval to stop what he’s doing, go over to an ice cream vendor and get that child a new cone.  No questions asked.

Yet, each time I called Comcast, the “Customer Care” representative had no information, no notes, no authority.  Not one person in all the calls could simply call the technician and find out where the van was.

If you’re going to have people on the front line – on the phone, answering emails, tweeting or in a tasting room – make sure they have access to the information they might be asked by a customer, and either have the authority to fix problems or an identified escalation path.  If a customer tweets they got a corked bottle, can your Social Media person send them a new one?  If you get a bad Yelp review, or have an angry customer on the phone or in the tasting room, does the staff have approval to “make it right”.  Make sure they do, or you’re not being fair to your customers or your employees.

Validate, Then Solve

We realize people on the phone are human and are just answering the next call in line.  They aren’t responsible for how long you’ve been on hold or that the van didn’t show up.  But, Comcast has such a reputation for being so horrible, that the beaten-down Customer Service reps are highly skilled at handing out wrote platitudes.  “I know that must be frustrating”, “I’m sorry that happened to you”, “I would be upset as well” are all very nice and validating…but any customer service training will say you validate and THEN SOLVE.  All Comcast did was validate.  While it is nice to train your staff to be empathetic, not combative and calm under pressure, it rings hollow when there is no solution to be had.  We needed a solution, not a therapist.

Know Your Phone Tree

We were setting up a new service, but the first thing the Comcast phone option asked for was an account number.  We didn’t have one yet.  While we never did figure that out, the next decision tree asked if you needed technical help, or wanted to upgrade or cancel.  Um, none of the above, we needed scheduling.  It got worse from there.  As the day went on we’d play games hitting buttons to see what might get us through faster.  I actually got hung up on three times by the automated system.

This is not isolated to huge telecommunications conglomerates.  I worked with a small winery in Napa with a very simple phone tree, which, on the weekend, would send customers in a circle, because the main reception line wasn’t answered, but would send you back into the queue saying no one was there and you needed to go to reception.  The winery didn’t realize this until I actually called it, and diagrammed out the options.

Everyone should do this – don’t think because customers have not complained you’re fine.  Customers may not complain because they can’t get through, or are too annoyed.  It isn’t their job to QA your phone system.  Call your main phone, right now. Try all the options, call it again during closing hours, listen to your hold music.  Is everything up to date and reflecting the brand of your winery?

Communicate so Your Customer Doesn’t Have To

This is where a CRM system comes into play.  How could Comcast not know who, why, or how, our order was canceled.  Shouldn’t that be documented?  If you’re winery has more than 3 people in it, chances are you need to take notes on who said what, to whom, and when.  Customers shouldn’t have to repeat themselves, and should be able to pick up the conversation where they left off.  Also, how are you to know if you’re talking to one of your best customers, or a chronic complainer that is scheming for a discount if you don’t keep records of conversations?

Make Sausage in the Back, Sell it in the Front

When I finally did talk to “Retention”, the scrip changed from “I understand that must be frustrating” to “I hear this all the time, you’re not the first person this happened to”.  I know they were trying again to validate my frustration, but it didn’t make me feel better.  It actually made me feel like an idiot for assuming we’d be successful.  If you do have habitual issues, that for some reason or another you can’t solve, it is OK to empathize with the customer but don’t attempt to justify them by saying the problem is a known issue.  It doesn’t make them feel any better and it makes you look incompetent.

I still don’t know what our account number is, who to call, who scheduled, canceled or rescheduled our appointment, or how they can offer a “two hour window” guarantee if no one takes responsibility for it.   We spent over 7 hours waiting, and lost almost $600 for a contractor waiting.

In no way do I mean to compare you to Comcast, dear reader.  But, I refuse to say I wasted a day, and at least wanted to get some leanings documented from the day to pass along.

Anyone want to bet me that Comcast will actually show up on the 31st?  Didn’t think so.



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