Teachers, don’t let your students become so blinded by a script that they lose all other skills and humanity. That’s what happened at Comcast Cable, and now it’s the butt of every customer service joke.
Earlier this month, AOL executive Ryan Block tried to cancel his Comcast account. I dealt with similar trials and tribulations when my family tried to get Comcast to fix problems related to our switch to its services. But we didn’t have the genius idea to record eight minutes of our numerous phone conversations and then put them online for all to hear.
Judging from the conversation recorded and my own experience, it seems like Comcast has been training customer service reps to be so formulaic in their replies that their soft skills — being able to establish a relationship and understand a customer’s needs — have not been cultivated. They may have been taught the basics of creating rapport, but it’s all too easy to fall back on a pre-arranged script. Anyone with access to such a handy tool would probably use it as often as possible, especially in a job as pressure-filled as Comcast call center worker.
Block spoke to a Comcast employee with a zombie-like persistence in sticking to the script. Instead of moaning for brains, however, he had to find out why Block was cancelling. Only then could he move forward in the interaction, but Block’s refusal to play along meant he was stuck in an infinite loop akin to Abbott and Costello’s“Who’s On First.”
Similarly, when my family dealt with numerous Comcast employees, everyone we talked to started the conversation by saying they were glad we had called and they would do their best to fix our problem, chiefly a DVR that wouldn’t record “Master Chef.” We ran through the rigmarole so many times that we could say the words verbatim.
In response to the recording, Comcast’s COO Dave Watson issued a response saying the service rep, who spent most of the conversation repeating the same question “Why do you want to cancel your subscription?” without listening to his customer, “did a lot of what we trained him and paid him — and thousands of other retention agents — to do.”
Today companies have to offer some workforce development, but handing employees the exact words to say doesn’t teach them how to be better customer service representatives. That snazzy script works to placate some unhappy customers, but it’s not going to prepare representatives to move up the ladder into leadership positions or even perform better in their current jobs.
Of course, I’m assuming Comcast cares about improving its relationship with customers. Maybe it embodies the same spirit as Lily Tomlin’s Ernestine the Operator: “We don’t care. We don’t have to. We’re the phone company.”
From the response Watson gave, however, Comcast is interested in improving how it trains employees. In the memo he released, he addressed the inequity between selling and listening, and said that training needed to change to teach employees that the art of customer service lies in balancing both.
“When the company has moments like these, we use them as an opportunity to get better, and that’s what we’re going to do,” Watson wrote. “We will review our training programs, we will refresh our manager on coaching for quality, and we will take a look at our incentives to ensure we are rewarding employees for the right behaviors. We can, and will, do better.”
This could be just lip service. No matter how bad its customer service can be, Comcast is a cable company that people subscribe to because they have to if they want TV and Internet, the lifeblood of a modern American existence.
But wouldn’t it be great if Comcast actually did change its training to be more well-rounded and sympathetic to the consumer? In that case, it will have proved the Tomlin theory wrong and shown that it does care, both about its customers and its employees.
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