In a move that can be viewed both as extremely cynical as well as long overdue, Comcast named its first senior executive in charge of "customer experience" on Friday.
Charlie Herrin, the man that led the overhaul of Comcast's cable box UI as part of its X1 platform, will be tasked with redoing the company's relationship with its customers. In 2014, Consumerist named Comcast "the worst company in America," a crown that it had also earned in 2010.
"Transformation isn't going to happen overnight," Neil Smit, Comcast's chief executive, wrote in a blog post. "In fact, it may take a few years before we can honestly say that a great customer experience is something we're known for. But that is our goal and our number one priority ... and that's what we are going to do. "
Comcast, of course, hopes to nail down a proposed $45.2 billion merger with Time Warner Cable, consolidating the cable oligarchy down to one less player. And it's unclear whether or not Herrin will continue to allow Comcast support employees who were apparently trained to harangue customers to work at the company. In other words, is Herrin simply the sweeter, gentler face of the cable giant, or one who can effect some real change? That shouldn't be too hard to discover. Here's a brief to-do list for Herrin in his new job:
1.) Retention bonuses. No, not for his call-center employees. For customers. If we've had to put up with Kabletown and its crap for the last few years, give customers promotional rates for six months. Comcast's service is way overpriced, and customers need to be cut a break.
2.) New set-top boxes. You have the new X1 interface out? That's terrific. So where is it? In fact, there should be a policy about how quickly users can upgrade their boxes, so they can record and store more than a dozen HD shows.
3.) Give customer-support representatives some power. Sure, many of you are going to pound furiously on the computer screen on this one. What about that jerk who wouldn't get off the phone? Why can't Comcast hire someone nice? Of course they can, and they're out there. But without the power to actually do something, and not try to upsell customers at every opportunity, quality support representatives leave. And you're left with the jerks.
4.) Use your own hotspots, not ours. Irrational as it sounds, I really don't care for someone being able to tap into my cable modem. I doubt anyone does; I live in suburbia, surrounded by mildly affluent neighbors who subscribe to what I presume is their own cable service. But instead of trying to use my router to extend a free wireless network, wire up schools, coffee shops, and libraries. Right now, America believes that Starbucks cares more about the connectivity needs of Americans than anyone else.
5.) A la carte pricing. Yes, yes, YES. Comcast gives me 500 channels, give or take. I watch...maybe eight? But they happen to be PBS, the networks, ESPN, the local A's channel, HBO, and an occasional foray to SyFy and parts unknown. That's it. That's the true test. I know, ESPN charges cable companies on the order of $7 or so per household. But here, customer service meets capitalism: keep prices high, and ESPN subscribers will drop. And that, in turn will force ESPN to lower prices to satisfy their advertisers. Lean on HBO to provide a la carte pricing as well.
6.) Unblock the apps. Personally, I'd like the FCC to step in and prevent the Time-Warner Cable merger simply because Comcast blocks the HBO Go app from running on my PlayStation, and forces me to use their lousy cable box UI instead. The polite way to describe this is "petty", and I'm sure you can think of some other adjectives here.
The ball's in your court, Comcast. If you want to improve your customer experience, you better get busy.