The Customer Service Survey

Money vs. Attention

by Peter Leppik on Wed, 2014-11-19 15:40

Techdirt ran another article about Comcast's reputation for poor customer service today. In it, the author repeated a common conclusion which I think is probably wrong:

 
...Comcast has no meaningful competitive incentive to change, and therefore simply refuses to spend the money necessary to fix the problem.
 

He's right that Comcast has no competitive incentive to change, but wrong in assuming it's all about not spending money.

Here's the thing: it's possible to spend money on customer service efficiently, and it's possible to spend money on customer service inefficiently. If you have bad service but spend the money well, then spending more money is likely to improve the service.

But if you're spending the money poorly, then spending more won't get you better service, just more bad service.

The kinds of complaints you see about Comcast have all the hallmarks of money being spent very badly.

For example, take the complaints about very long hold times. While occasional long hold times can be caused by a surge in calls, the hold queue costs money. All those people sitting on hold are tying up phone ports and running up long distance charges. Sure it's fractions of a cent per person per minute, but it adds up. And if those people don't get through today, they're calling back tomorrow, and if they don't call back tomorrow they're probably taking their business elsewhere. Persistently long hold times are a symptom of a company digging itself ever deeper into a hole of unresolved customer problems.

And it's very expensive when a customer talks to a rep but doesn't get his problem fixed on the first call, because that customer is calling back and it's going to cost twice as much. Complaints about poor resolution rates and having to make many calls to solve a problem mean that the company is wasting money by not taking the time to fix problems properly the first time.

But even that's nothing compared to the money Comcast wastes when they have to send a truck to the customer's house multiple times for the same problem (or when they send a truck for something the customer could have fixed herself).

I have no inside information, but my gut tells me that Comcast is actually spending far more on customer service than they should have to. The problem is they are wasting most of the money by delivering very poor service.

My guess is that if Comcast got its act together, it could deliver much better service and save a ton of money. But that would require an upfront effort to (a) train agents better, (b) allow support reps to spend more time with each customer to solve the problem on the first call, (c) empower reps to solve customer problems, and (d) allow different parts of the company to coordinate better.

The irony is that this investment would primarily be in the form of management time and attention, not money. The savings would probably start rolling in pretty quickly.

So to me (as an outsider looking in), the real problem is not that Comcast doesn't want to spend the money to fix its service. The real problem is that the senior leadership doesn't want to pay enough attention to the problem to get it fixed.

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