July 17, 2014
Comcast PR Disaster Follows Simple Request To Cancel
Eric Hopton for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
What should have been a straightforward customer service procedure could have turned into a public relations disaster for one of America's largest cable service providers. The incident is a lesson for businesses everywhere, both large and small. The power of the internet and global networks have changed the way complaints are heard and dealt with forever and can have consequences far beyond individual cases. The potential for something seemingly simple to go viral gives the consumer a whole new way of challenging any perceived service failure, and this is exactly what happened when Comcast customer Ryan Block and his wife tried to cancel their contract.Block is a technology journalist and had been with Comcast since 2005, but when he decided to switch to Astound he expected to be able to telephone Comcast and end their current arrangement with a short call. What followed has become an internet sensation. Block's wife made the initial call but, as her husband listened, the Comcast representative became increasingly aggressive. He insisted on asking repeatedly why the couple were leaving Comcast. According to Block, they provided what they thought were adequate explanations for cancelling but this was not enough for the "customer retention" man at the other end. What the rep did not know was that around 10 minutes into the call Block, frustrated and angry with the way it was going and seeing his wife "visibly upset," decided to take over the call and record the rest of the conversation on another phone.
Later, he decided to post the final 8 minutes of the disastrous interaction on SoundCloud. The post immediately went viral and at last count had picked up over 4,700,000 hits and a lot of comments. In his post Block describes the Comcast rep as oppressive, condescending, and unhelpful. Listening to the recording, it is hard to imagine how Block kept his cool. Customer representatives and salespeople are of course trained to handle objections and try to win or retain customers as much as possible. This is standard business practice, but in this case the rep just would not take no for an answer.
The resulting publicity saw the story picked up by the press which only increased the pressure on Comcast to respond. On July 15th Tom Karinshak, Senior Vice President, Customer Experience at Comcast Cable, made an abject public apology and promised a quick investigation and action. He also stated that Comcast would contact their "ex" customers to make a personal apology.
What the people are now asking is whether such an apology from a top executive would have been forthcoming without the whole thing going viral. What will the long term impact on Comcast's public image be? Perhaps even more damaging, as the Washington Post points out, is the potential impact on the proposed merger with Time Warner Cable. Time Warner itself is being linked with a merger bid by Rupert Murdoch's giant 21st Century Fox. The Block's experience and the empowerment of customers via the internet could have repercussions way beyond that simple call as one over-zealous rep could have done a lot of damage.