Saturday, January 5, 2008

The Service-Oriented Enterprise: A Parable

Mona Shaw found just the tool to register her complaint about service, or lack thereof, at Comcast's Manassas office. (By Richard A. Lipski -- The Washington Post)

When customer service is critical to an organization's mission and sustainability, it ought to be managed as a commercial function, reporting to sales, marketing or the CEO. If organized as a cost center reporting to operations it is likely to starve and fail.

The case of Mona Shaw, as detailed in the Washington Post (Taking a Whack against Comcast) illustrates how a seemingly law-abiding citizen turned to vigilante justice at her local Comcast office to get the attention of a company whose practices echo Lily Tomlin's Ernestine:
"We're the phone company. We don't care. We don't have to."

Ms. Shaw, 75, had put her trust in the local cable utility to provide her household with television, telephone and internet services. Her experience--missed appointments, unresponsive bureaucracy, incomplete installation, inaccurate and incomplete documentation and general inattentiveness--appears not to be unusual if one can believe the posts to website After a series of attempts to get her service installed, Mrs. Shaw made a special trip to her local Comcast office to talk to a supervisor. Following a two-hour wait she was told that the supervisor had gone for the day. When she returned with a hammer a few days later and started smashing office equipment, she got the attention of Comcast, the local police and the national media.

Our own experience with Comcast revealed a number of structural issues, systems inadequacies, unfortunate policies and inappropriate behaviors that ought to trouble the company's stockholders. In brief, somehow the cable line to our home had been cut. Over a two-week period Comcast sent three technicians out to the house to examine our television sets before they sent anyone out who could reconnect the outside line. Oddly, none of the technicians seemed to have any of the details of the previous visits. In fact, neither of the first two techs turned in paperwork, and by Comcasts rules, which apparently are more hard-wired than the network, a lineman can not be dispatched until a home service tech notes that one is required. Customer service reps and their supervisors were empowered to do nothing more than offer apologies and a few free channels for a few months. Not surprisingly, getting a credit to the bill for the two weeks without service required another call to the accounting department.

However one feels about Mrs. Shaw's approach, my own experience with the company's record-keeping leads me to question Comcast's comment on the Shaw incident:

"Truly a unique and inappropriate situation," says Beth Bacha, a vice president for Comcast. She says company policy forbids disclosure of clients' records, but did say their files note that the service record wasn't exactly what Shaw has indicated. Besides, "nothing justifies this sort of dangerous behavior."
Comcast stockholders (stock ticker CMCSA) must be concerned that the company's local monopolies over wired television service are being threatened by AT&T's new IPTV offerings, which will provide digital television service to subscribers over the DSL network. It will be interesting to see how well AT&T can integrate its expanded offerings and service performance at the household level.

National Public Radio's Madeleine Brand interviewed Ms. Shaw. (Click hear to listen.) "Woman Hammers Comcast -- Over and Over"

See also Comcast's more detailed comments on their service in a letter by Comcast Senior Vice President of Customer Service, Rick Germano to Ad Age on December 17, 2007 (requires reqistration). That letter is reprinted by Bob Garfield in his December 12, 2007 post, Mea Culpa.

See The Essential Guide to Telecommunications by Annabelle Z. Dodd (Prentice Hall, 2005) for an overview of emerging and competing technologies in telecommunications

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Anonymous said...

I don't think Mona Shaw has tried to deal with AT&T lately. They are back to their old nickel-and-dime-you-to-death ways of yesterday. They will also make it very difficult to change anything or optimize value. You have to ask the right questions or you are out of luck. They do not try to help you reduce your cost with them. It is like talking to the devil: "Hey, yesterday when I was here this place looked like paradise? What's with all the fire and brimstone today?" The devil replies, "Yesterday you were a prospect. Today you are a customer."

Both Comcast AND AT&T are hard to stomach these days.

The last time I checked, cable still had the better data throughput over landlines. When that changes I will consider changing from Comcast. Currently I have phone, cable TV, and Internet with Comcast...all through the same cable.

The demand for throughput will only become more necessary as the need for Internet content increases one's way to reduce expenses and increase earnings prospects.

My limited knowledge of data delivery makes me lean toward Comcast as a top contender for my money.

Stan Graff in Ann Arbor, MI

JP Farrell & Associates, Inc. said...

You're correct about maximum throughput. With current technology and copper wire for the home connection DSL has a lower maximum throughput rate. AT&T has said that it will deliver IPTV content with sufficient speed, but high volume internet users may find it unsatisfactory.

JP Farrell & Associates, Inc. said...

Comcast responds:

Mr. Farrell,

On behalf of Comcast, I would like to apologize for the experience that you have had over the past few weeks. We are working hard to change many of the processes that you mention, as well as the communication gaps that were part of your experience.

In October, Comcast moved Rick Germano into the role of Senior Vice President for Customer Service. Since that time Rick has been working hard to understand the Customer experience throughout all our regions. He has met with Customers and Customer Service personnel to learn from them what we need to do to make sure we get it right the first time. We are using this information to implement process improvements that will benefit all of our valued Customers. You can read more about Rick’s travels at the following URL:

It would appear from your blog entry that your issues have been addressed at this time. If you do need further assistance, please feel free to contact me.

Mr. Farrell, thank you again for the feedback regarding your experience. We will be working hard to learn from these missteps and improve the experience for all our Customers. I also would like to thank you for being a long time Customer of Comcast!


Frank Eliason

Comcast Executive Offices

One Comcast Center

Philadelphia, PA 19103