Customer Service Around The World

Can Comcast Turn The Customer Service Tide?

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Thumbnail image for comcast.jpgBrian Roberts, Comcast's chairman and CEO, admitted recently that the customer service delivered by the cable giant needs work.  He, and Comcast EVP Neil Smit, claim that they are taking action to address it.

The question is, of course, can they do it?  The odds aren't in their favour.

It's hard enough for any organization to make significant changes to their culture.  Harder still for a giant like Comcast with 80,000+ employees.  And then, when you compound that with their track record of creating angry customers (there's even a "Comcast Sucks" Facebook page), we're getting into the territory of miracles.

If Mr. Roberts is serious -  many think he isn't, and is saying those things just to help clear the way for a merger with Time Warner - then they have a long and difficult path ahead of them.  Here are the things that have to happen, in the order they have to be addressed:

1.  Make it clear at the executive level that customer experience is the number one priority.  Quickly weed out individuals, no matter what level they are at, who aren't actively and genuinely promoting this direction.

2.  Set employee satisfaction, happiness and engagement as the dominant kpi for all managers - including senior leadership.  Their biggest issue right now is cultural.  Most of the collossal customer service failures we've been reading about have come from disengaged empolyees who just don't care.

3.  Set immutable standards for leadership and customer service, together with non-negotiable consequences.  They will need to quickly weed out the negative influences.

4.  Flatten the escalation process.  Give front-line employees broad empowerment to fix things that aren't right.  Let them make decisions, with the understanding that they won't get in trouble as long as a decision is focused on the right thing to do for the customer.

5.  Identify all of the policies, processes and practices that are having a negative impact on customer experience.  Prioritze them, then fix them all.

6.  Make the investment in solid customer service training for all of their employees.  None of the elearning stuff - real, interactive group training

7.  Madate all managers to relentlessly and positively coach employees to consistently deliver outstanding experiences.  

8.  Measure performance - reward performance - get rid of those who don't contribute.


Doing this will require decisiveness and raw, relentless, unapologetic action over many years.  Not many companies have that appetite, and not many CEOs have that vision and persistence.  Whether Comcast has what it takes remains to be seen...

Shaun Belding 
The Belding Group

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flowers.jpg1-800 Flowers got a very painful lesson in customer service, customer expectations and social media last week.  They were hit with a firestorm of negative social media as many of their Valentines Day customers loudly expressed their disappointment over the gifts that were delivered.  Here's the story

There aren't many industries that rely more on seasonal sales than the florist business.  I don't know the numbers, but I would imagine that Valentine's day is by far their biggest opportunity.  It's probably a good time not to screw up.  

The lesson to all of us is that mediocrity in customer service is no longer an option.  Customers have a voice that didn't exist 10 years ago, and are getting more and more comfortable using it.  Sometimes even one single mistake is all it takes to negatively impact a brand.

I suspect that 1-800 Flowers likely did a pretty good job with the vast majority of their customers during the craziest week of the year for them, and it could have been less than 1% that had a service failure.  The truth is, 99% customer service just isn't good enough any more.  It will be interesting to see how they respond, and if they are able to reverse the impact of all the negative publicity


Shaun Belding
The Belding Group


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Oh dear.  A collective shudder went up the spines of everyone who follows customer service a couple of weeks ago.  It was the story about a Comcast agent who was unhappy that a customer was cancelling part of her plan.  After the very unpleasant call, the agent went into the customer's billing profile, and changed her husband's name to "A*Hole Brown."  The customer learned of it when her next bill came addressed to that name.  Here's the story.

I was kind of hoping that maybe the worst customer service story of 2015 had come early, and that maybe it was all uphill from here.  No such luck.  A scant two weeks after the Comcast incident, A Bell Canada agent sent a horrible email to a customer who only gave him a "very good" on the post-call evaluation.  The message: "You're a bitch leticia and a real slut." Here's that story

In fairness to Comcast, they dealt with the issue quickly and without hesitation.  Early indications, though, are that Bell hasn't been quite so decisive in their actions.  Their customer has stated that she doen't think they are taking her seriously.  Maybe they're just hoping it will all blow over.  Not likely.  This is social media gold.  These twin stories speak to the impact one single person can have on  gigantic organization.  

More importantly, perhaps, it highlights the importance of ensuring we have positive working environments, employee engagement and strong customer service cultures.  These types of issues aren't skill-related, they're attitude-related.  And happy, valued, engaged employees don't typically go around abusing customers.  Can anyone imagine these things happening at Disney? Four Seasons? Amazon?

Shaun Belding
The Belding Group


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cornwall.jpgUnfortunately, most news stories we read about the police are about good stuff.  Well, here's one that is.  It's about how the police in Cornwall Ontario helped a struggling couple - one with dementia - recover a wedding ring, and hopefully their lives at the same time.  It's a beatiful story.  (Here it is)

I wanted to share it here because the story is a study in compassion - the root of what it takes to create world-class customer service.  Wouldn't things be wonderful if we could see experiences like this every day?

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logo_letstalk_en.pngTelecoms are rarely used as shining examples of customer experience.  More often than not, in fact, they are held up as shining examples of how not to treat customers, with the number of complaints rivaled only by utilities in most countries.  And while Bell Canada may not be remarkably different than the others in their day-to-day operations, over the last couple of weeks they have really done something special.

The essence of customer service - perhaps the very definition of outstanding customer service - is when a customer's needs are treated as an absolute priority.  And it can be measured by the degree to which customers feel that they are a genuine priority - by how much they believe you truly care about them.

Over the last two weeks, Bell has been running an aggressive public service campaign to end the stigma of mental health issues.  It's called "Let's Talk", and it shines a bright light on some very serious issues.  The advertising has been brilliant (Here's an example), and they have done a masterful job of stimulating a gigantic amount of conversation.

The Let's Talk campaign doesn't focus on selling cell phones or internet services.  It focuses on on the needs of the community - many of whom are their customers.  The overriding message that "you're important to us" is loud and clear.  And I believe it will be a powerful message that will resonate with consumers as their contracts with Bell and the competitive telecoms come due. 

To those at Bell who made this happen - well done.  And thank you.

Shaun Belding
The Belding Group

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Good Cop - Good Cop

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customer service.jpgIt's not unusual to find ourselves in situations where two people are working with the same customer on the same project or issue. You might be bringing in a coworker to get some additional information. You might be escalating an issue to a manager or supervisor. You're possibly having to connect your customer to a different department.

In these situations, one of the best approaches you can use is the "Good Cop - Good Cop" strategy.

We're all familiar with the "Good Cop - Bad Cop" approach, where one person asks the tough or unpleasant questions, and a second person plays a more conciliatory and friendly role. The "Good Cop - Good Cop" scenario is similar in that you're still playing off of a coworker, but in this case you're both playing a positive role.

The purpose of it is to give your customers greater confidence with the second person, and to establish that their needs are not just important to you, but to everybody in the organization. Here's an example of how it might work in a telephone conversation where you are connecting a customer to somebody in a different department:

YOU: "Mr. Smith, I have Susan on the line. She's with our logistics department. She's the best there is, and if anyone can figure out how to get this done for you, it's Susan."

"Susan, Mr. Smith needs to get this item within the next three days, and our normal shipping time is two weeks. How can we make this work?"

This simple approach has a number of very powerful benefits.

1. It sets Susan up for success by ensuring the customer of her expertise.

2. It positions you as a champion for the customers, and as someone who is genuinely interested in getting things right.

3. Because you've explained the situation to Susan, you've prevented customers from being annoyed at having to repeat themselves.

4. The customer will perceive the organization as one that is committed to its customers.

It's a great way for building both customer satisfaction and customer loyalty.

"The more valuable customers believes they are to you, the more valuable you and your company will be to them" - Shaun Belding

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eddie lampert.pngIf what we hear from the acting CEO of Sears, Eddie Lampert, is true, then this company doesn't stand a chance.  He believes that the answer to Sears woes is to close stores, and fire employees.  Yikes.  This indicates a profound ignorance of what it takes to be a successful retailer.  

He says that Sears is trying to "transform itself into a membership-based, e-commerce-centric retailer."  Given that the company continues to display no understanding of what it takes to create positive customer experience, there is no way on earth they will be able to compete against the powerful online competition that excels in this area.  And it's pretty clear that he doesn't understand that customer experience is the single most important driver in today's retail economy.

Ronald Boire, the acting CEO of Sears Canada. appears to miss the entire point as well.  According to him, the company needs to "focus on high-selling products... drop products that haven't done well.... build on Craftsman tools, Kenmore appliances, mattresses, lawn and garden products, outdoor products, core apparel and footwear items, and active wear and fitness wear" (source Winnipeg Free Press).

They're solving the wrong problem.  The real problem is that customers don't believe Sears cares about them.  Their customer service is non-existant. Their processes are horrendous, and their business practices are painful.  You can cut all the costs and bring in all the products you want, but if your customers feel abused, you aren't going to survive. THAT's where their focus should be.

On a Personal Note

Sometimes I find that I get so caught up in the numbers and the research on customer service and service recovery, I forget about what it's like to be a real customer.  Well, Sears is reminding me. Here's the story: My wife and I thought it would be fun to order a "Pre-lit Christmas Palm Tree."  We had a number of companies to choose from, and we chose Sears.  We were supposed to get it two weeks before Christmas.  We're now told we will be lucky to get it two days before Christmas - even though they actually had it in the truck to deliver on the promised date.  

Rather than go into painful detail about how I've tried to resolve it, let me just share some numbers around my (ongoing) experience:

By the Numbers:  Trying to Deal With Sears Customer Service

9     The number of calls I have had to make to their call centre

11    The number of times I've had to verify my personal information

6      The number of times I was promised something that didn't happen

2     The number of times an agent hung up on me while I was on hold as he was 'looking for a supervisor'

48    The number of times their IVR system told that my call was important to them

249     The number of collective minutes I've spent on hold

I went on their facebook page, and took a peek at Google.  I'm not alone.  There appear to be thousands of people who have been through similar things.  It is astonishing that this isn't the primary focus for this organization


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sears.jpgSears has been in trouble for a while now, with an ancient business model and a seeming shortage of vision for the future.  

They've been struggling in the traditional retail world for over a decade. And now, they are demonstrating that they also don't have what it takes to compete in the world of e-commerce.

The bar, of course, has been set by, and Their sites are easy to navigate. Their delivery is fast and reliable. Their customer service is off the charts. Not the least impressive are their service recovery practices. When things go sideways, their teams are empowered to make things right. And with very few exceptions, they do.

But Sears? Well, It's like Sears is actually trying to fail. Go online, and you will find thousands of complaints. Example #1,  Example 2,  Example 3, Example 4

The people at the very top of Sears need to be profoundly embarrassed. The board of directors needs to be embarrassed.  This is a company that, 25 years ago, had one of the best reputations on the planet for their customer service, their policies ad their processes. Now, there is absolutely no-one who would hold them up as an example that any business should follow.

I've experienced their horrendous service levels first-hand. Most recently with an item I'm still struggling to get delivered. I've called their customer service line a half dozen times. I've been lied to and stalled. Nobody in the organization cares enough to do anything about it, nobody has empowerment, and they have no effective escalation process.  Seriously?  Who was it in Sears that decided that this was acceptable.

The sad part is that the fix wouldn't really be that complex. All they really have to do is remember what it was like when they used to give a darn about their customers.  Unfortunately, their time seems to be running out.  Sears will soon the the object lesson of how your customers will stop caring about you as soon as they realize that you have stopped caring about them.

Shaun Belding is CEO of The Belding Group of Companies, and has been consulting in customer experience for over 23 years.  

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call centre.jpgHere's a really cute, fun and VERY poignant video about call centre customer service.  How come so many "professionals" struggle with something a 4-year-old seems to have no problems with?


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broadway.pngWell, this is going to fall in the top ten worst customer service stories this year.

Imagine staying at a hotel, having an unsatisfactory experience, then writing some negative comments on  Then imagine getting fined by the hotel!

Here's the story about the Broadway Hotel in Blackpool England

I'd make a comment on how ridiculous this is, but none is really necessary!


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Winning At Work!

It's not unusual to find ourselves in situations where two people are working with the same customer on the same project or issue. You might be bringing in a coworker to get some additional information. You might be escalating an issue to a manager or supervisor....

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Brian Roberts, Comcast's chairman and CEO, admitted recently that the customer service delivered by the cable giant needs work. He, and Comcast EVP Neil Smit, claim that they are taking action to address it. The question is, of course, can they do it? The odds aren't...


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