Chatter: A break-up call with Comcast turns into PR disaster

Brutal call captures an attempt to disconnect from service

American telecom Comcast is taking a public beating after a retention call from hell went viral. Ryan Block, a VP at AOL, posted an eight-minute audio clip of his nightmarish attempt to cancel his service. The customer service rep refused to let him go without an explanation.

(Listen to the excruciating call here). Or just imagine this on repeat:

Rep: Why is it that you don’t want the faster speed? Help me understand why you don’t want faster internet.”

Block: “Help me understand why you can’t just disconnect us.”

The story spread like wildfire across social media and news networks. In just a week, the call been listened to more than five million times. Comcast apologized and said it was embarrassed, but the damage was done.

The call exposed Comcast’s questionable retention practices (apparently this was no rogue employee), with some even suggesting the fiasco could hurt Comcast’s looming merger with Time Warner Cable. Here’s the chatter on what the customer service-turned-PR-disaster could mean for Comcast:

Brian Fung, The Washington Post

“…The episode is actually far more worrisome for the company than it’ll let on in any statement. Because the fact is, Comcast can’t afford anything right now that even remotely puts its merger with Time Warner Cable in jeopardy…

Even though this episode by itself won’t sink Comcast’s regulatory approval prospects, it happened right in the middle of Comcast’s charm offensive with decision-makers and the general public…

The Federal Communications Commission, one of two agencies along with the Justice Department charged with approving the cable merger, typically considers the public interest as part of its mandate. Consumer advocates argue that quality customer service ought to be included under that umbrella. Yet the very fact that people are making that case at all underscores how subjective the term “public interest” really is, and why it’s sometimes easier to focus on what can be measured or projected numerically.

Our competition policies just aren’t equipped to deal with Block’s kind of story; if they were, perhaps more than half of all Americans wouldn’t say they’d cut the cord if they could.”

Jeff Kagan, Equities.com

“Is this any way to win in an increasingly competitive playing field?

… This real life scenario will hurt Comcast in their efforts to improve service and customer relations.

The problem is Comcast—along with the entire cable television spacehas a well-earned, lousy customer care reputation. Faced with new competitors, new technology and innovation the industry continues to lose customers and market share…

An apology from an embarrassed Comcast corporate headquarters is helpful. It’s better than ignoring this disaster. But it’s not enough.”

Adrienne Jeffries, TheVerge.com

“Block’s call was pretty typical, according to a former Comcast employee who spoke to Business Insider. Reviews of Comcast’s retention department on the anonymous job reviews site Glassdoor said similar things.

Comcast denies that it has a systemic problem with its approach to customer retention. “The way in which our representative communicated with them is unacceptable and not consistent with how we train our customer service representatives,” the company said in a statement.

It’d be nice to think that Comcast will change its policies so that reps are actually encouraged to do what’s best for the customer. Unfortunately, massive companies that don’t face much competition tend to treat their customers poorly and their employees worse—which is why Block’s call is the perfect argument against Comcast’s looming merger with Time Warner Cable.

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