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September 26, 2014
By Charles Ellison

It’s no secret that, at the moment, Comcast is clearly associated in popular opinion with bad customer service. So bad has the reported level of service been that when the Philadelphia-based cable company attempted a partial rebrand to Xfinity in 2010, the change was seen more as a move to repair a damaged reputation than to roll out a new line of services. 

Several years and several iterations of Xfinity later, Comcast is still getting beat up. The general public didn’t seem to catch on to the Xfinity brand revamp, and embarrassing audio appears to define the company. Comcast itself can’t help but acknowledge it, responding to the crisis head on by launching a spate of slightly self-deprecating TV ads.  A recent YouGov consumer attitude survey found “[w]ord of mouth levels for Comcast have increased since the beginning of the year and have stayed elevated. However that word of mouth is predominantly negative: Comcast and Time Warner Cable in particular have spent most of this year with far more negative perception levels than other cable providers, and at generally worse levels than before the merger announcement was made.”

A Reuters/Ipsos poll in March wasn’t too far behind, discovering that 52 percent of Americans were skeptical about the proposed Comcast-Time Warner merger.

Comcast, however, is not alone in its bad customer experience, or CX, nightmare. Americans in general are hating on their cable companies. Reasons range from bad customer service to the perception that the companies charge high rates or have too many hidden fees. A cg42 survey found 73 percent of Americans felt cable companies were predatory—and 53 percent would stop subscribing to cable it they had that choice. This is highly problematic for Comcast from a regulatory standpoint as the company drives the proposed merger through Washington, hoping to persuade Congress that a merger is good for the industry. Yet, even though Comcast has one of the biggest and most influential lobbying forces on Capitol Hill, it’s still facing rounds of incessant grilling from members of Congress getting pressure from constituents. 

But those perceptions are also shaped by the disruptions of digital business, expectations of customer experience and the demand for innovation. Customers are demanding higher quality in service from cable providers, yet “[s]ervice execution has varied among wireline telecom providers, with several lagging in customer support and implementation,” notes Gartner’s Danelli Young.

Forrester’s John McCarthy explains that “[t]hree-quarters of global business and technology decision-makers assert that improving the experience of customers is a critical or high business priority, making it one of the most important drivers of business success. But it's no longer enough to simply meet a customer's needs with an effective experience.”  

As a result, McCarthy continues, firms like Comcast are relying on technology and new innovations to provide that experience and much more “turn[ing] to software product development specialists … for a hybrid approach. These firms have an experience architecture vision but need outside engineering talent to make it a reality.”

However, is the extent of good CX a strong technology initiative? Is the key to such challenges simply finding the right staffing that can pay attention to customer needs? Having the skillsets internally or farming out for them to drive good CX is probably a bit closer to what an organization in that kind of spot needs. Or, perhaps, in the highly digitalized Age of the Customer, it’s a blend of both where one model really can’t do without the other. For firms like Comcast, they may find some reprieve in retaining vendors that recognize that and can strike that perfect balance for them.

Charles Ellison is a senior analyst relations strategist for TEKsystems. He keeps close tabs on changes and public policy shaping the innovation space. He is also a former congressional staffer, senior aide to state and local elected officials and an expert advocacy strategist. You can reach him with questions and comments @twoARguys via Twitter.  

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