By now, you’ve probably heard the ridiculous phone call between former Engadget editor-in-chief Ryan Block and a Comcast representative who refused to let him unsubscribe to Comcast’s service and instead barraged him relentlessly with questions asking him why he’d ever think of leaving the best cable provider in the history of the world.
Although Comcast says that this particular customer service rep seemingly went way over the line in his efforts to retain a customer, I really hope that the company doesn’t try to make him out to be a lone-wolf scapegoat. Because let’s be honest: This call is just a very extreme manifestation of Comcast’s entire approach to customer service.
While Comcast certainly doesn’t want its customer service reps behaving like borderline psychotics as this one did, it and other companies do train them to put up a lot of resistance to customers who want to dump their service or to downgrade it to cheaper packages. Why do Comcast reps do this? Largely because it’s human nature to be agreeable with others and by inciting conflict and making the customers feel bad for “abandoning” Comcast, they’re more likely to stick around.
“The retention rep puts themselves into the role of the company and then pushes the customer’s buttons and tries to make him or her say something that’s disagreeable or somewhat harsh — ‘I don’t like your service’ or ‘You continually overbill me’ or whatever, and then the customer feels bad,” explains Ars Technica editor Lee Hutchinson in a crash course in retention rep psychology. “Then, once the objections have been vocalized, the rep will try to tear them down and reach a consensus and get the customer to agree with them — because people love agreeing. Once the rep has overcome the customer’s objections, the rep will throw discounted service at them as a bonus for the customer’s ‘loyalty,’ and boom, revenue saved, customer retained!”
We see a similar approach taken by Ben Kingsley’s character in the film Sexy Beast, in which he’s sent to recruit a retired gangster for a heist. As you can see in the video below (WARNING: Very, very, very not safe for work), Kingsley’s sole tactic is to psychologically bludgeon his target into submission until he agrees to return.
All of this brings me to a key point: It really doesn’t have to be this way.
Although most cable companies are perennially unpopular, Comcast and its would-be partner in crime Time Warner Cable are the two most hated companies in all of the United States. Customer service calls like this are a big reason why, alongside big price increases and doing transparently sleazy things like trying to get you to cough up an extra $10 a month just to get access to HD versions of free over-the-air channels on your cable box.
Compare this to a company that doesn’t treat its customers with borderline hostility, such as Amazon. Frequent BGR contributor Tero Kuittinen recently rented a movie from Amazon that he watched on a shoddy Wi-Fi connection in a hotel room. Even though he never complained once, Amazon was still able to detect that his the hotel’s connection was shaky and fully refunded the money he paid to rent the movie.
Now imagine having a similar situation where you rented a movie from a hypothetical Comcast digital store — instead of refunding you for a poor experience, Comcast would be much more likely to send you a note saying, “It looks like you had a poor streaming experience with your last movie — would you like to improve it by upgrading to one of our better bundles that will cost you a mere $50 extra per month?”
No one’s forcing you to be as hated as you are, Comcast. In fact, you might find that focussing more on providing better service to people will mean fewer cancellation phone calls. Come to think of it, Comcast should really think about implementing some more customer-friendly changes right now, because if the market for home broadband actually gets more competitive in the coming years, it’s going to be fielding more cancellation calls than it can handle.