Comcast customer service overhaul being undermined by up-selling culture, Slate says

Continuing its series of sharply critical pieces focused on Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA), online magazine Slate says the cable company's laudable effort to improve its customer service reputation is being undermined by a tendency to up-sell customers into unnecessary purchases.

"A lot of times, I'll see people that have way more internet than they need," said "Steve," a Comcast customer service rep, referenced only by first name in the piece written by the Washington Post-owned site. 

"I'd say about a third of the people we successfully sell things to actually need it," the rep added, attributing the aggressive sales culture to the way Comcast evaluates its call-center personnel. He told Slate he risks losing his job if fewer than one in 24 technical support calls doesn't have an additional sale attached to it.

"If you don't meet the metrics for how many sales you get, you can start to get in trouble for that. And if you don't do it long enough, you can get fired for that."

Comcast rep Jennifer Khoury told FierceCable that while the specific employee hasn't been identified, the fact that he's descibed as a rep who provides services to small- and mid-sized businesses means he's evaluated in a very different way than a call center rep who, say, solves technical problems for residential internet users. 

Notably, Khoury said, Steve probably gets a lot of calls from business customers looking to add services, not fix their modem. Further, she stridently refuted the notion that he'd get fired for not selling.

As for the article, Slate does pay reference to Comcast's recent $300 million investment into customer service, and interviewed Charlie Herrin, Comcast executive VP of customer experience, for the piece. 

Also quoted is Tom Karinshak, Comcast's senior VP of customer experience, who said that the company's sales practices dovetail with its broader mission of customer education: "First and foremost, the job of any one of our folks is to educate and to help service our customers. … We do make changes as we constantly evaluate our different rewards and recognition programs [for employees] across the board."

However, the article makes no mention of the MSO's significant 15 percent year-over-year improvement on the American Customer Satisfaction Index survey for TV service providers, released last month.

The story also comes two months after Slate published another piece, accusing Comcast of farming out installation work to underpaid contractors. The trend line actually seems to be going in the opposite direction, with major MSOs like Charter (NASDAQ: CHTR) and Comcast bringing more of their installation work in-house. 

That article included anecdotal sourcing from two Detroit-area installation contractors. This time around, Slate cites myriad FCC complaints about alleged customer up-selling, but does little to substantiate that allegation, as well.

So we are left with Steve, the first-name-only call center rep, who also said that Comcast customer service reps are graded by how fast they get customers off the phone. 

"The people who don't do a thorough job get to keep their jobs," he said. "If you're wondering why a lot of things get done half-assed, that's the reason why."

For more:
- read this Slate story

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