Exec Formerly Known As “Comcast Frank” Has Some Tough-Love Advice For Company

Once upon a time, Frank Eliason was better known Comcast Frank, heading up the cable company’s Digital Care team during a time when people began to realize that complaining on the Internet could get results. He left Comcast in 2010 to take his social media and customer service skills to Citigroup, but his legacy of giving a damn about customers remains. So after months of seeing Comcast make one huge goof after another, Frank apparently felt compelled to pen an open letter to his former employer with some good advice.

“I have had the privilege of working for the company,” Eliason writes in a lengthy post on LinkedIn, “and I consider many who work there to truly be family, but today I have to say I am disappointed.”

Though we take issue with his assertion that Comcast customer service complaints had quieted in recent years — we can testify that they have not — we agree that the last year has been one disaster after another for the company.

There was the Aug. 2014 incident in which a desperate Comcast retention specialist desperately demanded that writer Ryan Block provide a reason for canceling his service.

Comcast apologized profusely for that incident and insisted that this wasn’t how employees were trained, though employees told us differently, and an in-house Comcast memo acknowledged that the employee was doing “what we trained him to do.”

“I have no doubt that the corporate office did not realize that employees were trained this way,” writes Eliason, “but I am confident that the customer service representative was doing what he was taught — up-selling, or retaining, rather than risking the loss of a subscriber. In any job we strive to perform according to how we’re measured. And for most companies, employees in a retention department are measured on the number of customers they save from closing an account.”

The Ryan Block call was followed by other high-profile customer service disasters like this one, and this one, and this one — and let’s not forget about the customer who was fired from his job at a Comcast vendor after complaining about thousands of dollars in overcharges for service and equipment.

And 2015 has not gotten off to a great start, with the most recent cock-up — the customer whose name was changed to “A**hole Brown” by someone at Comcast.

“From what I have seen, Comcast has been handling this in the best manner you can expect,” writes Eliason. “They have offered the Customer credits for multiple years of service and they have privately and publicly apologized.”

He says he agrees with Comcast Senior VP Charlie Herrin, who wrote in response to the incident that “we need to show them respect, patience, and enthusiasm to provide them with an excellent experience.”

But Eliason questions what it is about the employee culture at Comcast that is still allowing for these sorts of gaffes to occur.

“How can this happen today?” he asks. “Why do we not hear many incidents like these from other companies? Companies do implement technology solutions to prevent these type of things, which Comcast has stated they are working on, but often other companies do not have the same issue because they hire people to fit within their company culture.”

Because human customer service is a huge expense for businesses and doesn’t directly generate revenue, companies have both been trying to automate the process, removing humans from the equation whenever possible. And for those times when you must use actual people, businesses are more frequently going the cheapest possible route while also turning frontline customer service reps into de facto salespeople, argues Eliason.

“Call centers tried to shift to become sales centers,” he explains. “This is why any time a customer calls, they’re pitched everything under the sun instead of actually helping you with the reason why you called in the first place. We have been in a age of outsourcing, and finding the cheapest means possible to provide customer service. Comcast has become the poster child for this shift in company thinking.”

Eliason believes there is something wrong with the inside culture at Comcast that allows bad behavior to persist.

“The reason you tend not to hear about incidents like this from other companies is because people within the company would be horrified if they heard of such a thing, and they can easily escalate the situation to higher levels,” he writes. “How would you react if you worked for a company and a customer pointed out that the company changed a customer’s name to a–hole? I personally would hit the roof.”

But as happened in the A**hole Brown story, the customer claims she appealed to both the local Comcast office and the regional office to no avail. It wasn’t until she reached out to journalist Christopher Elliott that she finally got anyone to care.

“In my view it should have been able to be handled by those in the store,” contends Eliason. “They should have had the ability to escalate the situation to the senior leaders who could find a reasonable solution to a very unreasonable situation.

“I am sure Comcast will be reviewing the entire situation,” he continues, “and I hope they not only look into why the first person thought this was okay to do, or that they could get away with it (although they may have intended to go out in style too), but why others were not completely horrified by it and yelling from the rooftops for all leaders to hear? This is where culture comes into play and it should not have taken public shame to do the right thing.”

Eliason concludes his post with some actionable advice on what Comcast could do to improve its customer service and minimize the likelihood of high-profile errors:

1) Hire a Chief Customer Officer to represent the views of the Customer in everything the company does…

2) Simplify pricing strategies instead of forcing people to threaten to cancel service just to get a better rate. Stop creating situations where customers have to fight with you.

3) Review current customer service staffing and consider moving roles back to the US (please note, in my view and experience this incident was most likely done by someone in the US), where at least the service personnel can relate to what it is like to being a Comcast Customer.

4) Actions speak louder than words, so no more apologizing, but instead doing.

5) Live up to being the Philadelphian that you already are. We will support you, but you need to support us too. Treat us in the same manner you would want to be treated.

While these are all valid points, what Eliason — who supports Comcast’s pending acquisition of Time Warner Cable — glosses over is one of the main reasons that people hate their cable and broadband providers so much: lack of choice.

It’s one thing to get bad service from a company. It’s another when you have no other option for that service. Even those who get their pay-TV service from satellite or who don’t watch TV at all still rely on cable companies for broadband.

Imagine being publicly called an “A**hole” by your supermarket and then having to go back to that same supermarket because you’re simply not allowed to shop elsewhere. Then you’ll understand why consumers hate Comcast and the few remaining cable companies out there.