It’s Never too Late to Win with Customer Experience: The Comcast Turnaround

January 8, 2019
It's Never Too Late to Win with Customer Experience | Comcast Turnaround Technology Center

DISCLAIMER: Back in October, I (and other CX leaders) received a trip to Comcast’s amazing new Technology Center. I was not compensated in any way for my participation. Comcast covered the costs of attending the meeting (airfare, lodging, etc.) and had a modest thank you gift bag in the room.  No expectation was given that we would write about the experience or, for that matter, write positively about the experience. The post below represents my opinions and my opinions only.

Many organizations can survive, even thrive, without providing excellent customer experiences, without being customer-centric. Perhaps they have a dominant market position, perhaps they have little competition or none at all.

These organizations are able to operate for years even decades being both highly profitable and not particularly service oriented.

Yet, these organizations all have one thing in common; eventually, they all have a wake up call, a realization that their lack of focus on customer experience is detrimental to their bottom line and even their very survival.

For organizations in protected markets, it is often when their industry begins to change and their market position is threatened that they finally realize that customer experience matters.

In such cases, companies usually choose one of three paths:

  • They try to ride out their remaining advantage and squeeze as much profit as possible out of the decline,
  • They give lip service to improving customer experience but never exhibit the leadership or commitment needed to truly effect change, or
  • They renovate the company from the inside out, embracing the messy, painful work of taking a non-customer-focused culture and making it customer centric.

Starting at the Bottom, The Backstory

Back in 2015, Comcast was in the news often, and it wasn’t a pretty picture. As I wrote at the time:

In the last few years, Comcast has become the poster child for terrible customer service provided by a faceless corporation with captive customers. Its poor customer service ratings have been magnified and made archetype by a succession of viral customer service stories like this one about a recorded call with a Comcast phone rep and this one a few months later.

In that post, How Customer Service Can Save Cable, I resisted the urge to jump on the Comcast-bashing bandwagon, because I truly hoped the company would succeed. I also understood the herculean task in front of the organization, which was explored in a follow-up post, Turning a Customer Service Culture.

Fast forward a few years, and I was invited by my friend, Jay Baer to join an all-star lineup of customer experience and customer service thought leaders ( Chip BellJeanne BlissJoey ColemanSteve CurtinJohn DijuliusMatt DixonMoira DorseyShep HykenScott McKainBill Quiseng, and Jeannie Walters.) at Comcast’s New Technology Center to learn about the improvements to customer experience the company had made since 2015.

As someone who had written about Comcast’s desire to turn around the experience ship, it was a true privilege to be invited into the inner sanctum and to see not only what they had done in the three years that had passed but also where the company is headed now.

How Comcast Turned the Ship

Turning around any culture is difficult, turning around one of the largest organizations in the world is execution on a scale that is hard to fathom. In the past few years, Comcast has invested in its customer experience at a level which few companies can ever replicate.

We were treated to a look at Comcast’s layered approach to experience improvement, a cultural shift that is being edited into the very DNA of the organization.

As one would expect, much of Comcast’s innovation is technological in nature, and the team is even making powerful enhancements to user experience in the cable television side of the business, a business line that is experiencing severe demographic headwinds across the industry.

However, the innovations are not just about better product features, though those are incredible, but about facilitating better nuts to bolts, service interactions through technology while still — and this is where so many tech companies fail — maintaining a human backstop.

On the service side, Comcast is not only focused on using technology to improve its omnichannel execution and the experience delivered by its contact centers but is also improving its core, boots-on-the-ground service interactions with enhancements like narrower appointment windows and bill credits for late technician arrivals.

One of the core messages in my customer experience leadership keynote, Be Your Team’s Hero, is how easy it is for leaders, even those who are service oriented, to get out of alignment with the values they espouse. Leaders talk about the importance of customer experience, yet so often the incentive programs they establish and the budgetary priorities they choose send a different message.

True customer experience leaders put their money where their message is.

The essence of customer experience leadership is simple: If you say customers matter then invest in the things that improve their experiences.

Comcast has done this on a scale that is quite frankly hard to truly grasp. Its leadership team has put significant resources — financial, operational, and human — behind this cultural change, in a way that sends a message to team members and customers alike.

Is It Really NEVER Too Late?

Can any company do what Comcast has done? Is it truly never too late to win with experience? The answer is yes… and no.

Admittedly, the title of this article makes a bold claim, and one that, frankly, should be qualified:

It is never too late for a healthy company to win with customer experience.

It is never too late for a healthy company to win with customer experience.

If an organization still has the resources and margins to invest in transforming culture and reshaping experience delivery, it still has the ability to transform its position in the marketplace.

However, if an organization is on the wrong side of a changing industry for too many budget cycles, transforming experience will be no different than any other last-ditch-save-the-company initiative — too little, too late.

If an organization waits until budgets are decimated, staff is gutted, and creditors are lined up at the door, it won’t have the resources to effect change at a scale that will make an impact. Blockbuster and Sears are perfect examples of this.

Comcast, having a protected market position for many years, was fortunate enough to have a buffer. The winds shifted slower for them, and it is a credit to their leadership team, that they acted before it was too late.

The Future for Comcast

What does the future hold for Comcast? Good things I would think.

Certainly, the Comcast team is only just beginning; however, in only a few short years, they have made great strides, particularly in beginning to shift to a customer-centric culture.

Of course, the company still has a deep reputational hole to climb out of, and it is always difficult once an organization becomes known for one thing to become known for its inverse. To add to the challenge, Comcast operates at such a large scale that 99.9% of their employees could be the reincarnation of Zig Ziglar himself and a handful of stinkers who go viral could undercut much of the company’s good work and reinforce old brand perceptions.

In the end, however, the lesson of Comcast is not about what might happen, it’s about what can happen.

What can happen when even the most damaged of organizations embraces cultural change.

What can happen when the customer is put at the center of an organization’s purpose.

What can happen when an organization commits itself to embracing the challenges of the future and no longer rests on the laurels of the past.

I wish the team at Comcast good luck; may their early successes be an inspiration for any organization that wants to embrace change and win with customer experience.

Other Views of Comcast’s Customer Service Improvements

Check out these insightful and different perspectives on the Comcast customer service turnaround:

5 thoughts on “It’s Never too Late to Win with Customer Experience: The Comcast Turnaround”

  1. That must have been a fun meeting to be in! My question: dog & pony show aside, what evidence do you see that the turnaround is working? Have CSAT scores gone up? Is retention improving? The latest ACSI numbers I saw from Comcast weren’t encouraging, though I realize that’s very macro.

    It would be fascinating to see Comcast succeed, mainly because there just aren’t many good turnaround stories for organizations at that scale.

    1. Hey Jeff! The answer is yes, and no. Meaning yes, scores are improving (overall), and no, I don’t have the numbers. 🙂 I took notes on certain things, but not others. I think some of the other people that were there included numbers in their blog posts. Now that you bring it up, I’ll add the links to their posts here sometime soon.

      I distinctly remember that there was a difference between new customers and existing customers, which had lower overall scores. This overlays with the part of the post about being known for one thing and then trying to be known for the inverse; you’re fighting preconception and confirmation bias. It’s a long and difficult road.

      I look at it like the analogy of a plane changing course. If you alter the course by a few degrees; it’s hard to notice much difference after ten minutes. But that little change puts the plane in another state after a few hours. The question will be whether or not Comcast can maintain their heading and if any external factors push them off course in the process.

  2. Pingback: 354: Are you neglecting key moments in the customer journey?

  3. Vanessa O'Brien

    Well written Adam, Really without focusing on customer experience any business cannot be survived for a longer period. Customer satisfaction matters for the business. If CX leaders focus on customer experience, it can change the business position at any point. Tools like CSAT.AI, DigitalGenius, Salesforce Einstein can be helpful in the field of customer service.

    1. Thanks Vanessa! And totally agree. Orgs can’t win over the long term with bad customer experience; they can only get away with it for so long.

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