Working for Comcast, we heard many of the frustrations that customers had. Many were avoidable issues or issues that could have been solved quickly with the proper know-how. But there were so many problems taking shape and it put a strain on both the customers and the phone agents and that is where most of the problems came from. One of the most common thing frustrated customers said was that for a communications company Comcast did not communicate very well. It was true.

There was no getting around how many customers would call. It was always frustrating to walk in and see 100 calls on hold and the longest waiting was nearly 30 minutes. The fix to this was simple, hire and retain more people. When I went into training in 2006 the leader said it would take six months to get comfortable and a year to become proficient at the job. Most new hires didn’t last three months (and a lot just worked long enough to be eligible to go on disability which was frustrating for all) so people were constantly in training and turnover was high. Of course with seemingly fewer and fewer agents on the phone more calls were in queue leading to longer wait times and more customer frustration.

That did not stop the company leaders from increasing our area of responsibility. When I was hired we handled the Baltimore Metro area, the Western Shore of Maryland, the Eastern Shore of Maryland, the southern two counties of Delaware and the Richmond area. That gradually expanded. First it was Carroll County in Maryland when Comcast bought Adelphia out. Then operations merged with the Washington DC call center so now Northern Virginia was in the mix. Gradually more areas were added in Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia. When most of these new areas were added we were told there would be minor increase in call volume but those minor increases add up. Comcast tried a lot of things, including training all of its agents in all of its services for one stop shopping with tech support. It wasn’t much of a problem with the internet and phone services but each county had its own cable system. The codes that controlled each system varied, sometimes greatly and what may work in one county would not work in another. The system was far more complicated than it needed to be as a result of Comcast buying out smaller cable companies.

My biggest frustration with Comcast was the changes they made and how they went about letting everyone know. There would be a change in procedure, you know, now you had to call department B about a problem that you had normally called department A about. Or it could just be a functional change to the website. The change would go through but you would continue on ignorant of it until a customer called. You would say there wasn’t a change to the website and you would sound like an idiot and lose all credibility with the customer. Or you would spend the next 10 minutes trying to find out who you were now supposed to call to fix the problem, all while the customer is on hold. The best part was that two or three hours into your shift you would get an email saying something like: As you may be aware we have changed procedures. You will now do X rather than Y. All you could do was think why couldn’t you have sent this out before everyone began for the day?

Another one of my frustrations with Comcast was that each division was allowed to function essentially as its own company. They had their own policy and procedures. This led to a number of ideas to try to reduce call volume but no standard procedures. At our call center a second tier was created to handle anything that needed to be escalated and provide customer follow-up. A good idea in theory but the people picked for that group had to have their shift scheduled during certain hours to qualify for the new group, from about 9AM to 9 PM. The problem was that most of those people were the ones who tended to be promoted. I was not one of them, I preferred to work off-hours to avoid traffic and get the shift differential. One by one they were promoted or moved on until that group, which was originally about 40 strong was down to 10. It was taking now nearly an hour to get a hold of this group leading many customers to hang up and call back, defeating the purpose of the new tier. The problem was management would devise something but would not modify it and as things went wrong would simply scrap it rather than make changes to the model.

Another frustration amongst many of the phone agents was figuring out which department did what. When I started the only transfer option that I had was to what was known as Enterprise. We were told that for any issue other than what we handled the customer would be transferred there. The problem was that Enterprise was sales. A few of their agents had been trained for cable TV support but few of them had billing experience (which was a whole separate department). Those customers would just bounce around until they finally got where they needed to go or they just hung up. We could answer simple billing questions like how much a customer owed or what needed to be paid to have services resumed but we couldn’t set up a payment plan or anything like that. One would figure that someone had to be aware of this nothing was done about it for years.

For many phone agents the biggest headache was calling the dispatch office. They had all of the power and they knew it. If they didn’t want to send a tech out or have a tech return they wouldn’t. If a customer called in to ask when their tech was going to arrive we were supposed to forward it to dispatch so they could contact the customer. Did they? No, they said we were supposed to check back and we were supposed to contact the customer. A strong leader here would clearly define the roles but we didn’t have a strong leader. And if a tech left and the problem returned, good luck getting the tech back. This was the number one reason a customer asked for a supervisor with me, and the worst part was when the supervisor asked the tech would return. It got to the point I just started asking my supervisor to ask or just said I was calling for them. We also could have a tech come out for certain things that day if it was scheduled early enough in the day (usually before 11:00 AM). Baltimore County was divided into four zones and each closed for new appointments at different times. I scheduled a same day appointment once in an open zone and got an angry email from the dispatch office back saying I couldn’t do it. But the zone was still open I replied. It didn’t matter, once one closed, all were closed. All you could do is just shake your head sometimes.

We always enjoyed dealing with the outsourced agents. For whatever reason they would call our line up and dump their problem on us rather than dealing with it themselves. When an agent would call they were always calling from “THE call center” which I always found funny. I learned talking to one that Comcast did not provide the same suite of tools to them that they did for us. What that leads to is one agent putting a customer on hold to fix an issue that another can just do right there. It made no sense but then some of the things Comcast did made no sense either.

This was some of the things I had to deal with during my time at Comcast. It made my job harder and certainly did not help the customer’s experience. There is a reason Comcast, now Xfinity, has such a bad reputation and it was deserved. We could have had the best people working the phones, and we did have many very good people, but leadership provided so many roadblocks that failure was almost assured. The guys who were in leadership were guys I’d like to have a beer with but it didn’t seem like they were all there when it came to running the call center efficiently and it did not seem like the corporate bosses really cared either.

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