The infamous call between Ryan Block and a Comcast retention agent in which the rep refused to let Block unsubscribe from Comcast genuinely surprised me. Not because it wasn’t something I expected out of Comcast — there’s a very good reason it and Time Warner Cable are America’s two most hated companies, after all — but more because in the days following the call, several current and former Comcast employees reached out to me to talk about how Comcast’s policies are basically designed to make both their lives and their customers’ lives a living hell.
I’ve occasionally gotten emails from disgruntled employees complaining about the companies they work for but the flood of emails I received from current and former Comcast employees was unlike anything I’ve ever seen. The whole thing was a giant cry of anguish, like one of those tell-alls you read from former Scientology members who describe being hooked up to e-meters and getting probed for renegade thetans.
“Comcast caused so much stress on their employees, that many of them ended up on medical leave due to stress,” wrote one former sales representative. “I heard one employee tell me, they were better off on medical leave, because the insurance and disability leave, paid them more than what they would make while working at Comcast.”
“The pressure to perform and threats for not at Comcast were severe,” wrote another former sales rep who has also worked at AT&T and Earthlink and who says that Comcast was far worse than either of them. “[One] challenge unique to Comcast was the fact that we competed for accounts with literally dozens of other sales reps on my team plus junior teams plus inside sales, plus outside agents. The killer was the fact that they had me recruit agents that were [supposed] to provide me with leads and sales then they took them from me by offering them more money.”
“I’ve been in direct sales with Comcast for 5 years and the things we have to do just to keep our jobs are not good,” wrote a current Comcast sales rep. “It’s like playing cards and they have all the spades.”
You get the idea.
Sales and customer service jobs are typically pressure cookers but there genuinely seems to be something different in Comcast Land that turns an already stressful job into something straight out of a Kafka novel — I wouldn’t at all be shocked to learn that Comcast makes all of its employees refer to one another only as “K” while they’re at work.
And it looks like I wasn’t the only one who got lots of emails from unhappy Comcast employees either because The Verge has a huge report citing testimonials from more than 100 Comcast employees that sound a lot like the ones I received in my inbox. Basically, they describe how they’re under constant pressure from Comcast not just to retain customers but to aggressively pitch them on pricier subscription services.
Speaking as a Comcast customer, I can say that this extremely annoying practice is very real. Last year I got a call from a Comcast sales rep who wanted to talk about my experience with the company and figure out ways to make it better. I mentioned that I thought my bill was too high and would like to come up with ways to lower it and the rep literally responded by saying that I’d be happier with more expensive plans that gave me more bang for my buck. I pretty much hung up on the rep at that point, since raising my monthly bill is the absolute worst strategy for lowering my monthly bill that I had ever heard of.
And this brings us back to a central point I made a couple of weeks ago — Comcast doesn’t have to be as hated as it is. Instead, it’s made a cold calculation that by pressing its employees to be as pushy as possible, it can squeeze more money from customers than if it trained them to, you know, be more useful and address customers’ concerns.
After all, the worst thing that will happen is that the customer hangs up the phone and decides to switch to another cable company that… oh, wait, you mean that Comcast is the only cable company in your neighborhood? Gee, that’s too bad.
Or put another way, absent real competition for home broadband services, Comcast has no incentive to improve its customer service.