The Infamous Comcast Retention Call and Why I Feel Bad for that Agent

By now, everyone has heard (or at least heard about) the infamous viral recording of the Comcast agent who just didn’t want to let a customer cancel his service. If you haven’t, you can listen to it here on SoundCloud. It’s pretty long, by the way. Naturally, it evoked responses from Comcast saying they regretted the incident and would look at improving customer service and training their agents, blah, blah, blah.

Those of us who have ever had to deal with customer support over the phone, particularly bad customer support, undoubtedly feel and think, “Yeah; this is indicative of why that guy wanted to cancel in the first place. He even said as much.” Here’s the thing – I actually sympathize with the support agent.

Several years ago, I worked on the “Save Team” for a mobile service provider, so I know the pressure that guy was probably feeling to not have to cancel another account; his job was probably on the line if he didn’t get that customer to not cancel. You know that little disclaimer when you call any customer support number that says your call may be recorded? That’s not bullshit; they record every call and managers randomly listen to those recordings, and even occasionally play them back for the employee during performance evaluations and coaching sessions.

The whole “Save Team” or “Retention Department” concept, in my opinion, is bullshit, as it shifts focus from helping the customer and leaving them with a good experience where they might actually stay, or at least consider coming back, to one of “this is why I don’t want to be your customer anymore.” This call is a perfect example of that. The poor guy probably does not have a job anymore because of this call, nor should he for being so over the top aggressive. But something tells me that he was probably on the verge of losing his job any way over metrics, which is probably why he was being so aggressive. When I worked for the cellphone company I ended up quitting because I knew I was about to be let go over that kind of thing. We had to fill out a form for every call and mark whether or not it was a “save opportunity” or not, and whether or not we were able to save the account by talking them out of cancelling. We did have more authority than a regular customer service representative to offer incentives, such as offering phones for free that otherwise would not be, and like the Comcast guy we were expected to find out from the customer why they were cancelling. My experience at the cellphone company lead me to seek employment elsewhere because I knew I was about to be fired for not getting enough “saves”, and my feeling is that the Comcast representative may have been feeling that same kind of pressure to keep yet another customer from cancelling.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not defending the agent’s actions or aggressive behavior. He clearly took it too far by badgering the customer even after he was told that it was none of his business why the customer was cancelling. But I still sympathize. Frankly, he was probably doing exactly what he was told by his manager. Various news outlets quoted Comcast’s head of customer experience, Tom Karinshak, as saying “The way in which our representative communicated with him is unacceptable and not consistent with how we train our customer service representatives.”* Yeah; I’m calling bullshit on that Mr. Karinshak. I may not have ever worked for Comcast, but as I said I have worked as part of a retention team for a similar company and the pressure that is put on representatives to keep customers from cancelling is what leads to situations like this. We know about this one because Ryan Block recorded the call. How many others have had similar experiences that we do not know about because they were not recorded (at least, not recorded by the customer)?

I also have to give credit to Ryan Block, the person who made the recording and was just trying to cancel his service. He kept his cool where most people would have lost it and started swearing and yelling at the Comcast representative. Clearly, by the tension you can hear in his voice, he was getting frustrated and irritated, but he never raised his voice or lost his temper (although I doubt any of us would have blamed him if he had). I’m honestly surprised he did not demand to speak to a supervisor at any point (I would have).

Anyway, perhaps this viral recording will cause Comcast, and other companies that maintain “retention/save teams” to rethink the way that they do business, although, sadly, I doubt it. It is not enough to have a fast network and offer a large number of channels, or be number one in whatever service you are selling – if your customer service sucks, you will lose customers. On a personal note, this is a big part of why I have AT&T U-Verse. They may cost a bit more and not have internet speeds as fast as Comcast’s, but my experience with AT&T’s customer service has always been very good versus my observations via friends’ experiences with Comcast.

~ JC


* Editorial Staff, “Comcast issues apology after viral service call,” Red Alert Politics (July 16, 2014), http://redalertpolitics.com/2014/07/16/comcast-issues-apology-viral-service-call/ (accessed on July 24, 2014).

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