Michelle de Haaff

If you’ve been on the internet the past 24 hours, you’ve probably heard by now about the experience of Ryan Block and his wife with Comcast. Block, trying to cancel his Comcast service, called their contact center in order to switch his service to another provider. The representative who took Block’s call, however, wasn’t too interested in helping him.

After about ten minutes of back-and-forth with the rep — including lines like “I’m really ashamed to see you go to something that can’t give you what we can” — Block decided to record the call. He posted it to Soundcloud. As of 7/16, his post has about 3.7 million plays.

Much of the commentary surrounding the incident has been focused on the horrible experience cable companies provide, Comcast itself, and even the rep. But while it’s Comcast that’s in the spotlight right now, the reality is:

This incident could happen anywhere. In fact, it could be happening in your company right now.

While cable companies might be known for monopolies, they surely don’t have a monopoly on overzealous, rude, or unhelpful frontline staff. And as with most companies, they also have a number of great representatives, too. Great representatives, like most humans, make mistakes.

The first step in dealing with this problem is to acknowledge that it’s practically impossible to stop these mistakes from happening 100% of the time. Instead, when they do happen, you want to make sure you learn from them — so they don’t become something you repeat.

One of the best ways of doing so is to simply follow-up with customers, and ask them how their experience has been.

It’s not clear that Comcast has been doing this. In fact, I couldn’t help but wonder how many times that Comcast rep behaved like this to customers on calls before one of them decided to post his experience on the internet, in turn forcing Comcast to release the following statement:

“We are very embarrassed by the way our employee spoke with Mr. Block and are contacting him to personally apologize. The way in which our representative communicated with him is unacceptable and not consistent with how we train our customer service representatives. We are investigating this situation and will take quick action. While the overwhelming majority of our employees work very hard to do the right thing every day, we are using this very unfortunate experience to reinforce how important it is to always treat our customers with the utmost respect.”

So how do you stop this from happening?

Hire People Who Really Like People

It’s always shocking to me when I interact with a customer service representative — whether over the phone or in person — who doesn’t seem to like to interact with customers (let alone other humans). They make you feel like you are wasting their time and asking them unnecessary questions, even though you are there to get help. Southwest Airlines, known for hiring for “Attitude” not for “Skill” has the right idea. It seems obvious, but when hiring people to interact with your customers, a positive attitude is key.

Empower Your Frontline Through Transparency

Nordstrom’s approach to employee empowerment provides a great example as to what a company can do to give employees the transparency and ownership they need to deliver the legendary service the company is known for. Nordstrom gives employees complete transparency at every level: revenue and sales targets, merchandising choices, customer insights and feedback, and of course, detail about their personal performance. Having the data and treating the frontline like owners empowers them to act like owners — and treat every customer like they are supporting their personal business.

Rigorously Track and Measure Experience

Beyond great hiring and empowering, companies need to rigorously track and measure the experience they provide their customers. And this doesn’t mean just once a month, once a quarter, or once a year (through research) — it means every day, every experience, across every channel. Build this into the business and make it simple. Without a disciplined, proactive approach to understanding customer interactions, your frontline staff could be inadvertently doing exactly what that Comcast rep did. And the scariest part of all: you would have absolutely no way of knowing.

… until, of course, it’s posted all over the internet.

Photo credit: Mike Mozart