At home, I get my Internet service from Comcast. In my neighborhood the only other major option is CenturyLink, which is slower but cheaper. I've had this cable modem service for well over a decade (it started out as Roadrunner, but that's a different story), and since I rarely have needed to call for service or support, I am an extremely profitable customer. I would guess that over the years, I have generated in excess of $5,000 in profit and free cash flow for my cable modem provider.
Here's a set of step-by-step instructions Comcast could follow to lose my very profitable business, if they wanted to:
- Upgrade the network to all-digital, requiring subscribers like me to get a digital adapter for our basic cable subscriptions.
- Send out a letter informing me that I need to get a free digital adapter. Provide a web site and code to use.
- Ensure that no matter what I do, entering the code into the website generates an error.
- Ensure that the "online chat" for support on the website doesn't work.
- Send another letter a month later. Make sure the web site and chat still don't work.
- In fact, send out four or five letters at roughly one month intervals to make sure I have a stack of them for reference while the website remains broken.
- When the deadline gets uncomfortably close and I decide to brave phone support, hang up on me when the system tries to transfer me to an agent.
- When I persist and finally get through to an agent, make sure that the agent cannot help because the account is in my wife's name and she's not home at the moment.
- After hanging up with the agent, call me back for an automated survey. Make sure I have to wade through over five minutes (twice as long as the customer service call itself) of robo-questions before being allowed to leave a message describing my actual experience. Do everything possible to ensure I have zero confidence anyone will listen to my message.
So I haven't left Comcast yet (but I am exploring options, which I haven't done in years).
But things like this continue to happen at big companies all the time. These systems and processes are clearly broken, almost comically bad. They not only frustrate customers (and put significant amounts of revenue at risk), it's significantly more expensive to provide service this way. What should have been a simple self-service transaction costing Comcast almost nothing has evolved into a lengthy multi-step process involving multiple letters, web site visits, phone calls, and now (with this blog entry) bad publicity.
The prescription for a company like this is at once simple and difficult: pay attention to your customers. I have to assume I'm not the only Comcast customer in this situation, yet there are no signs that anybody at the company is paying the slightest bit of attention to everything I've been going through. The signs are all there, if they would only choose to look.