Preventing a 'Comcast Situation': 7 Ways to Avoid Disastrous Customer Service

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We've all called a customer service department at one point or another and have encountered pushy or unhelpful customer service reps. Last week, the experience that tech blogger Ryan Block encountered with an unnamed agent when he called Comcast to cancel his service, takes the cake.
Customer Loyalty

We've all called a customer service department at one point or another and have encountered pushy or unhelpful customer service reps. Last week, the experience that San Francisco-based tech blogger Ryan Block encountered with an unnamed agent when he called Comcast to cancel his service, takes the cake.

When Block called to cancel his service and switch to another cable provider, the rep proceeded to torture him for 20 minutes, badgering him and demanding to know the reason why he wanted to cancel with the "#1 rated Internet service."

Block recorded the call and put it online, a post that has since received more than 3 million hits and evoked a massive media response. Comcast has since apologized, saying the company was very embarrassed by the way its employee spoke with Block and his wife. "The way in which our representative communicated with them is unacceptable and not consistent with how we train our customer service representatives," the Comcast statement said. "We are investigating this situation and will take quick action."

I think it's safe to say the unnamed rep is likely no longer employed by Comcast, but the whole incident has prompted me to write a blog with a few pointers about how to prevent such a disastrous situation from happening in your customer service organization.

1. If a customer makes a request, do everything you can to say yes'

The fact that a customer cared enough to ask is all you need to know in trying to accommodate him. It may be an exception from your customer service policy, but (if it isn't illegal) try to do it. Remember you are just making one exception for one customer, not making new policy.

2. Work with customers, not against them

Telecom and cable companies are notorious for employing specialized teams of agents who are trained specifically to handle cancellation calls like Block's. Rather than hassle customers calling to cancel, a better approach would be to understand the customer's pain points and possibly offer discounted service or better rates. Companies that implement policies intended to force the customer's hand will invariably experience customer dissention. They'll assume you don't want a working relationship and they'll likely search for a better alternative from your competition.

3. Don't overwhelm them

While making customers know that you care is important, your attempts to convey that message should be tempered by professional courtesy. Customers shouldn't feel harassed. Keep in mind that they're likely busy people and are paying you to take care of business.

4. The customer is always right

Every business has customers who are difficult or who make unreasonable demands. In Block's situation, that wasn't the case. Nevertheless, despite the situation, you should make every effort to calmly deal with people who are dissatisfied and tactfully address their concerns. Telling a customer that he's dead wrong or angrily telling him his decision isn't acceptable isn't the right approach.

5. Listen to what they have to say

Effective customer service reps listen to what customers say, but also take action if the circumstances demand it. Failing to take the appropriate action in response to a conversation will create the unfortunate impression that you don't value their business.

6. Give customers the benefit of the doubt

Trying to prove to a customer why he's wrong and you're right isn't worth losing a customer over. You will never win an argument with a customer, and you should never, ever put a customer in that position.

7. Show empathy

Empathy is an essential component to a successful customer service culture. However, empathy doesn't come naturally to everyone who you hire to work in your contact center. The good news is that empathy is also a skill that can be learned mainly by showing your employees how to exchange pleasantries with customers. By listening to conversations, your reps will soon understand and empathy will be a natural response when a customer calls with a problem or even dares to cancel his service.

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EXPERT OPINION