One out of three is bad (on comcast)

originally published here.


The smartest take I have read so far on reporter Ryan Block’s recorded Comcast call is from John Hermann at The Awl.*

“The customer service rep is trapped in an impossible position, in which any cancellation, even one he can’t control, will reflect poorly on his performance. By the time news of this lost customer reaches his supervisor, it will be data—it will be the wrong data, and it will likely be factored into a score, or a record, that is either directly or indirectly tied to his compensation or continued employment.”

A thoughtful Reddit comment reinforces this thinking, even naming the type of person Ryan spoke to by title — a “Retention Specialist.”

If you’ve worked in sales or customer operations in the last decade, you can picture yourself as the rep and visualize the CRM / tracking system now. You know your call is being recorded. You know you’re absolutely required to choose an option from a drop-down menu to explain why this customer is canceling his service. You also knows that a concrete reason is where a great salesperson’s script begins — you need something to work in order to convince a person to stay. Ryan’s refusal to play ball and just answer the question, treating you like a machine he’s typing the same command into over and over when you’re a human asking him a question is only mildly infuriating — not enough to make you quit, mostly because you’ve probably turned a call like this into an up-sell in the recent past.

If you’re an onlooker that’s disgusted with this level of service, or a founder grimacing at the damage this level of press would rain down on your company, here are my quick, cheap thoughts on things to keep in mind:

  • The agent Ryan is speaking to is a sales agent. There aren’t really many pure customer service jobs left that aren’t being organized into self-service interfaces and phone menus, which you’ve probably noticed. If you’re speaking to a human, he or she is a person trying to feed him or herself by fixing something for you or selling something to you that will, which is not an evil thing. Personal human interactions with companies are around selling or retaining, as they’re expensive.
  • IMO this is what overly-restrictive & top-down-designed pure incentive systems do to people. You *can* drive a team of salespeople to produce bridge-burning, fiery productivity pretty easily if you just take judgment away from them and their direct managers (and remove or ignore checks and balances around CX.)
  • Also potentially contributing (I haven’t seen their interfaces) is what happens when systems themselves were configured by very smart people that lost sight of UX for both major customer groups of the CRM (paying customers & employees) in favor of ‘actionable output’ for mangers.

If you want to run a big-ass company one day, start indulging yourself in thinking about how you’d structure the system to produce better results for three parties: people selling and being measured, people wanting to get something fixed, and people trying to measure the people above accurately when they’re behaving unusually/irrationally.


*Adrienne Jeffries has also verified the employment of the Reddit source and added more historical context at The Verge here:

Kathleen MeilComment