Monday, November 16, 2009

Sometimes even the best customer service comes up short.

It’s probably no surprise that the great brands are able to combine excellent products and services with a superior level of customer service. After all, it’s this magic combination that makes them great brands in the first place.

Go to an Apple store to purchase their (in my opinion) superior products, and you get service from friendly, helpful sales reps who truly know and love their stuff. I’m also a big fan of Credo cell phone service. Not only does part of my bill go to worthwhile social causes, every time I talk to customer service I find their reps are some of the nicest people in the world.

Then, there are certain products or services we use and like in spite of their customer service. Like the cool hotel on the beach, with the nice rooms and fantastic ocean views, but the less than accommodating staff. Or the pizza joint with the best pies in town and the never-on-time delivery.

But what about the opposite scenario. Can great customer service overcome a product or service that is lacking or deficient in some way?

Regular readers of this blog already know where I’m going with this: right to my television set and Comcast. On these very Web pages, I recently wrote about my efforts to get my hands on a digital converter box from Comcast in order to receive a couple of channels that had dropped off my set.

You see, back in April, I was informed that I needed to pick up a digital converter to continue receiving MSNBC and AMC. But after going to my local office, I was told, “we’re out of them, come back in January”. A 9-month wait. After checking back in September, I received several conflicting responses, and after a lot of back-and-forth, I was led me to believe a converter would be sent to me in two weeks.

Fast forward to September 26th: two days after my last Comcast blog entry was posted, I received an online reply from ComcastMark of Comcast National Customer Operations. After answering a few questions, I was turned over to ComcastMike (or was it ComcastRich?) who e-mailed me with a few more questions. He, in turn, had a Comcast customer service rep named Cynthia call me.

I wish I could tell you the story had a happy ending, that Cynthia stopped by in a Comcast van to hand-deliver the converter box to me, and I was now writing this from my bedroom office, Countdown with Keith Olbermann playing in the background. But no such luck.

You see, instead of bringing me good news, ComcastCynthia reverted back to the original story. She told me there was in fact a 9-month wait for the digital converters, due to a delay by supplier Scientific Atlanta. She would call me as soon as they came in, probably in January.

To me, a 9-month wait to get the converter box means that someone in the offices of Comcast had really dropped the ball. A 9-month wait means these devices must be in demand. Yikes, can’t Comcast put a little pressure on Scientific Atlanta to ramp up production? After all, in my town, a place where Comcast had a monopoly for many years, their share of market has dropped below 50%. Surely, there had to be a quicker way, Comcast. You’re bleeding customers!

It got me thinking about a recent post by Chris Brogan who pointed out that when a customer service rep tweets “some kind of comforting or informational note to someone who’s having a problem in real time, this information doesn’t exactly travel (easily) through the rest of the system to the people most likely to be directly in front of that person.” Or, in my case, to Cynthia, my designated Comcast rep.

Yet, I don’t really blame ComcastMark or ComcastMike or even ComcastCynthia. Sure, I was passed down the line once, twice, but that’s okay, as they all got back to me in a prompt and courteous manner. Cynthia also gave me the straight story, contrary to my previous encounter with a Comcast rep who said I’d have the converter mailed to me in a couple of weeks.

But despite their best efforts, I’m still in the same place I was back in April, before the Comcast National Customer Operations crew got involved—in essence, waiting 9 months for a part. (Which makes me glad I didn’t lease my car from Comcast.)

It just goes to show you that all the great customer service people in the world often don’t translate into happy, loyal customers—unless you have an organization behind them that gives them the tools, and great products and services, to back them up.

Note: This article was originally published on the Loyalty Truth blog on November 5,2009. A day or two after being published, I received a follow-up reply from Frank @ComcastCares, followed by phone calls from 4 different Comcast reps, local and national, some calling multiple times. Needless to say, I had a service guy at my door a few days later, new boxes in hand, who got me all squared away (for free). So there was a solution out there, it just took the right people to find it. Not sure what the learning is from this beyond the old adage, “the squeaky wheel…”

Tom Rapsas is an independent Creative Director/Writer/Strategist. He can be reached at and via Twitter @tomrapsas.


  1. It's sad to me that you have to post something on the Internet to get a response. I just had an awful experience with Comcast where I asked the rep in the chat room a question about my bill, his response was "I'm sorry" and then he left the chat.

    I think that a lot of companies still don't realize the power of social media and word of mouth marketing.

    Thanks for your post!


  2. Thanks for your response, Maeve. One thing I have discovered is that the savvier companies are out there listening--and responding. (I saw the same thing with recent posts on GM/Saturn and Allstate.) The question then becomes how deep is the commitment to good customer service within the organization, especially when you get past the service reps on the front line. I think we've both found that with Comcast it's a hit-and-miss situation.