“You Can’t Leave Me, I’m Too Good!”
That’s basically what it sounded like if you don’t feel like listening to the entire clip of blogger Ryan Block being hassled by a Comcast representative when he called to get his service cancelled. Once the recorded call hit the internet, it quickly went viral sparking a large number of tweets and and comments from customers. Although Comcast quickly apologized and claimed that this instance was, “unacceptable and not consistent with how we train our customer service representatives…” it’s pretty clear from people’s comments that this isn’t an isolated case.
Comcast went on to say, “We are investigating this situation and will take quick action.” Of course we know that means this representative is probably preparing for the unemployment line, the way Comcast said it, it almost sounds like they’re going to take this representative into some back alley and execute him Gestapo-style.
I’ve read quite a few blogs and articles about this incident and one thing that I haven’t seen pointed out enough is where this type of business practice comes from and the flawed logic that makes it seem acceptable.
Call Center Work Can be the Worst Thing You Ever Have to Do
I’m an IT professional and I’ve worked my share of years answering phones for tech support. Call center employees crush phone calls all day with very little downtime to catch their breath and are subject to performance markers knows as ‘metrics’. Statistics are tracked for each employee such as the amount of time they spend on a call, the outcome of the call, how long it took before they answered the next call, etc… On the call center I worked on, we were free to take the time we needed to resolve an issue for a customer and we had a good reputation. One day that changed when system upgrades not controlled by call center employees caused issues that caused the center to flood with calls that we couldn’t resolve. The upgrades took a few months to iron out and during that time we were so flooded with calls that even issues we could resolve had to wait amongst all the other calls, call wait times skyrocketed. We were continuously told that, “the best help desks answer the phone within 40 seconds”. So that became the new goal for us, all calls had to be answered within 40 seconds. Sounds good except that what it meant was that in order to do that, we had to answer the phone and get the customer off the line as fast as possible even if their issue was fixable we had to leave it to answer the next call. Yes we answered every call in 40 seconds, but NOTHING got fixed.
I bet that in this Comcast employee’s case, they are required to hit certain retention goals when a customer wants to cancel their service. The fact is that this employee was probably in a position where he was fighting for his job. He was trying to hit a metric for changing people’s minds just as he was trained to do.
Sometimes I think that supervision and other corporate decision-makers should have a course in this very basic scientific concept. “The best help desks answer the phone within 40 seconds” doesn’t mean, “answering the phone within 40 seconds makes you the best help desk”. If corporations focus their efforts on customer service, the metrics take care of themselves. Answering the call within 40 seconds is a result of being the best help desk. In Comcast’s case, having good retention numbers is a result of good customer service and perceived value by the customers. If customers are calling to cancel, you’ve already lost the battle. Creating metrics or incentives for representatives to change someone’s mind creates an office culture that breeds this kind of behavior. Comcast will fire this employee but their business practices will just breed more like him who feel pressured to act this way while staring up from the bottom of this massive giant.