BUSINESS
07/22/2014 01:33 pm ET Updated Jul 22, 2014

Comcast's Nightmare Customer Service Agent 'Did What We Paid Him To Do,' Says Exec

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Comcast isn’t surprised one of its customer service agents went off the rails in an attempt to hang on to some cable subscribers.

A recording of that agent verbally sparring with two customers who wanted to quit Comcast went viral late early last week. Now a top executive at the cable and media giant is offering a tepid defense for what happened:

“The agent on this call did a lot of what we trained him and paid him -- and thousands of other retention agents -- to do,” Dave Watson, Comcast Cable’s chief operating officer, said in the email, which the company shared with The Huffington Post on Tuesday. The memo was first posted on Consumerist.

Comcast earlier apologized for its agent's behavior and said it was “embarrassed” by the call, which it found “unacceptable and not consistent” with customer service training.

In the memo, Watson admitted “it was painful to listen to this call, and I am not surprised we have been criticized for it.”

“I know these retention calls are tough, and I have tremendous admiration for our Retention professionals, who make it easy for customers to choose to stay with Comcast.” The bolded bit, emphasis ours, was apparently written with little self-awareness.

The agent, who was not publicly named, spent nearly 20 minutes on the phone with writer Veronica Belmont and her husband Ryan Block, a product manager at AOL (HuffPost’s parent company) to prevent the couple from disconnecting their service.

The aggressive tactics seem to be working. Early Tuesday Comcast reported nearly $2 billion in profits in the second quarter, a 15 percent increase from a year ago. The company boasted that it only lost 144,000 video customers -- below the 162,000 in the same period last year -- bringing the total count to 22.5 million.

Comcast typically loses a chunk of video subscribers during the second quarter as college students graduate or disconnect for the summer months, and customers who spend winters in warmer southern states migrate north for the summer.

Jennifer Khoury, Comcast’s senior vice president of communications, said improved product offerings drove growth and downplayed the role of retention agents.

“It’s so much more than retention, which is a sliver of the business versus all of these things that we think are driving our better customer numbers,” she told HuffPost. “There’s nothing different about the retention queue today -- the incident that happened with that customer is an isolated incident.”

Comcast, considered one of the most hated companies in America, is awaiting a green light from regulators to merge with its chief rival, Time Warner Cable -- a move that many say would be disastrous for customers.

Read the full memo below:

You probably know that there has been a fair amount of media attention about a recording of a phone call between one of our Customer Account Executives (CAEs) and a Comcast customer. The call went viral on social media and generated news headlines. We have apologized to the customer privately, and publicly on Comcast Voices, making it clear that we are embarrassed by the tone of the call and the lack of sensitivity to the customer’s desire to discontinue service.

I’d like to give you my thoughts on the situation.

First, let me say that while I regret that this incident occurred, the experience that this customer had is not representative of the good work that our employees are doing. We have tens of thousands of incredibly talented and passionate people interacting with our customers every day, who are respectful, courteous and resourceful.

That said, it was painful to listen to this call, and I am not surprised that we have been criticized for it. Respecting our customers is fundamental, and we fell short in this instance. I know these Retention calls are tough, and I have tremendous admiration for our Retention professionals, who make it easy for customers to choose to stay with Comcast. We have a Retention queue because we believe in our products, and because we offer a great value when customers have the right facts to choose the package that works best for them. If a customer is not fully aware of what the product offers, we ask the Retention agent to educate the customer and work with them to find the right solution.

The agent on this call did a lot of what we trained him and paid him – and thousands of other Retention agents – to do. He tried to save a customer, and that’s important, but the act of saving a customer must always be handled with the utmost respect. This situation has caused us to reexamine how we do some things to make sure that each and every one of us – from leadership to the front line – understands the balance between selling and listening. And that a great sales organization always listens to the customer, first and foremost.

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. We will review our training programs, we will refresh our managers 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.

Thank you for your support, and many thanks to the thousands of exceptional employees all around the country who work so hard to deliver a great customer experience every day. I am confident that together we will continue to improve the experience, one customer at a time.

Dave Watson

Chief Operating Officer, Comcast Cable

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