Can Customer Service Go Too Far?

PencilBreakBy now you’ve probably listened to Ryan Block’s excruciating attempt to cancel his Comcast service with a customer service representative “gone wild.” (If not, you can listen here). The recording starts already 10 minutes into the call. In this case the representative, known as a “retention specialist,” tries to force Mr. Block into explaining why he’s canceling his service, even as Mr. Block repeatedly declines to do so. The recording has gone viral and Comcast has admitted it’s “embarrassed by the call.” In a recent apology issued by Comcast, Tom Karinshak, SVP, Customer Experience, said the way in which the representative communicated was “not consistent with how we train our customer service representatives.”

Really? Just listen to the call. It’s obvious this rep has received quite a bit of training. He’s knows the services Comcast has to offer and how to position these services against the competition. He’s also quite careful with his language. At one point the rep starts to say “My job is to have a conversation with you about dis… I mean, about keeping your service.” He’s been coached to turn the phrase “discontinuing your service” into “keeping your service.”

So what went wrong? Training can only do so much. If your organizational culture and the reward systems you have in place to incent employees do not support the same behaviors you’re trying to teach, you may as well save your money and cancel all the classes. Quality customer service happens when your corporate culture, management support and incentive programs align with your training. Here are some questions you can ask to see if this is true in your company:


Is training aligned with the corporate culture? Do you treat both customers and employees with respect? Do the company standards, values and behaviors translate across all levels and apply both internally (employees) and externally (customers)? Comcast’s Karinshak has stated the company will be “using this very unfortunate experience to reinforce how important it is to always treat our customers with the utmost respect.” If they’re not treating employees with the same level of respect, this attempt won’t go far.

In addition to respect, another overlooked value is critical thinking. Are you providing scripts to your representatives? Throw them out! If you listen to the call carefully, you’ll pick up on the fact that the rep is trying to get through a series of questions as he fills out a form. The prepared script prevents reps from really listening to what the customer is saying and using their emotional intelligence and critical thinking skills to solve customer issues.

Ask, Don’t Tell

Are you asking about what matters? At several points during the call the rep “tells” the customer what he needs (“My job is to have a conversation with you about keeping your service.” and “I’m trying to help our company be better.”) At one point he even insists “I’m trying to help you.” But at no point does he simply ask the customer how he can help. Several times he talks right over the customer with even more selling points the customer doesn’t want to hear. This leads me to wonder how well Comcast is listening to its customer service reps and asking them what they need in order to do their jobs better. We lead by example.


Is training aligned with the reward system? In response to the uproar over the recording, a former Comcast employee has spoken up to say: “These [Comcast reps] fight tooth and nail to keep every customer because if they don’t meet their numbers they don’t get paid.” If the rep is only being incented to keep as many customers as possible and not for how he well he responds to customers’ needs, then customer service be damned. As the saying goes, “What gets measured, gets done.”

In its response to this “embarrassing” situation, Comcast has followed up to say the employee was fired. A more powerful response would have been to say the company is reviewing its corporate culture, reward systems and its training to make sure they are aligned to deliver the best customer service possible. Also, that they respect and value their employees and will work with this representative to understand how his behavior impacted the customer and what he can do to improve his performance. By putting the onus on the employee, Comcast shows it has a lot more to learn about quality customer service.

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