Comcast startles customers with cyberteam help

Thu, 10/23/2008 - 8:20am
Deborah Yao, AP Business Writer

PHILADELPHIA (AP) – Jordan Goddard was irritated when his Internet access started fading in and out. It had been down for hours the day before. When his cable TV went out, too, he fired up his blog.

“Dear Comcast,” the West Virginia University senior wrote. "You suck."

When a member of Comcast Corp.'s new cyberteam called a few days later, Goddard assumed the company was threatening a lawsuit. But the worker was calling to apologize and offer help. Goddard was amazed.

"That's honestly the first company that contacted me like that without me going to them first," Goddard said.

Known for ranking at or near the bottom of its industry in customer service surveys, Comcast formed a team last winter of seven employees at its Philadelphia headquarters who scour Web postings, which are public, for complaints and try to resolve them.

The effort has led some customers to view the company more positively — like Goddard. But it's an uphill climb: Comcast still ranked near the bottom in customer satisfaction among residential TV providers in a survey released this month by J.D. Power and Associates.

In addition to blogs, the team checks tech Web sites, Twitter and other social networking sites, consumer sites and even YouTube — where disgruntled customers might post videos kvetching about their cable service. The Comcast reps track down customers by matching clues in postings to the company's internal database of customer phone numbers and e-mail. If they can't figure out who posted a given complaint, they may post a note directly in a blog.

"I hire people who are passionate about customer service," said Frank Eliason, senior director of digital care. "I want them to be jumping up and down and saying, `We're wrong here.' ... I don't try to toe the company line."

The team succeeds in reaching only 10 percent of customers who complain online, the company said -- which may help explain why it hasn't had more of an impact.

Bob Garfield, a Comcast customer who happens to be a columnist with Advertising Age, softened his view of the company after the cyberteam started. He was so angry at Comcast's customer service last year that he set up a Web site called Now he's handing off the site, which will expand to include complaints about other companies, under a new name.

"My work is done," Garfield said. "They're discovering it's to their benefit in many ways to try to start conversations instead of dictating the terms of service."

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