A recording of Ryan Block, former Engadget editor and current executive at AOL, trying to cancel his Comcast service has been making the rounds in the past few days. In it, he struggles mightily to convince the customer service representative to go through with his request to cancel their subscription. The conversation devolves into Block getting borderline berated by the CS rep and, well, it’s painful.
Comcast issued a response to The Hollywood Reporter in which they said, “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.”
Further, they promise, “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.”
According to a former employee of Comcast, however, this is to be expected. Sure, no executive at Comcast wants it go exactly like this, but their incentive and payment program is begging for these sorts of interactions. Reddit user txmadison explains:
In retention, the more products you save per customer the better you do, and the more products you disconect [sic] the worst you do (if a customer with a triple play disconnects, you get hit as losing every one of those lines of business, not just losing one customer.) These guys fight tooth and nail to keep every customer because if they don’t meet their numbers they don’t get paid.
Comcast uses “gates” for their incentive pays, which means that if you fall below a certain threshold (which tend to be stretch goals in the first place) then instead of getting a reduced amount, you get 0$. Let’s say that if you retain 85% of your customers or more (this means 85% of the lines of businesses that customers have when they talk to you, they still have after they talk to you), you get 100% of your payout – which might be 5-10$ per line of business. At 80% you might only get 75% of your payout, and at 75% you get nothing.
The CAEs (customer service reps) watch these numbers daily, and will fight tooth and nail to stay above the “I get nothing” number. This guy went too far, you’re not supposed to flat out argue with them. But comcast literally provides an incentive for this kind of behavior. It’s the same reason peoples bills are always fucked up, people stuffing them with things they don’t need or in some cases don’t even agree to.
It makes perfect sense to give incentives to salespeople. Selling products is a good thing and there is only so much they can do in terms of manipulating potential customers. A hard sell that is too hard will put off a customer; the salesperson ideally has little leverage (this isn’t true in the many markets where Comcast has a monopoly, unfortunately). A better way for them to think about retention is to tie incentives to salespeople whose customers stick around the longest.
Instead, the customer service representatives in the retention department are given every incentive to harass customers who wish to leave; after all, their pay depends on it! Comcast can say they don’t like this and discipline this employee, but the fact is that this is what they are asking for.
The poster concluded, “if there’s not a serious change in legislation or regulation, I don’t see a light at the end of the tunnel.”