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A Rebel with a Customer Service Cause?

Posted on : 18-01-2009 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Comcast, Customer Service

Tags: ,


I try to avoid talking specifically about Comcast on this blog, but today is an exception.  I avoid this because Comcast will be introducing a blog in the future and that is the appropriate forum (Mark, I know you will come across this in the your search, no need to include in our newsletter because I may be a little bias).  Yesterday I received a few Tweets regarding a Wired Magazine article “The Dark Lord of Broadband.”  In the article there were some valid criticisms that Comcast is working on, and other commentary that I would like to clarify.  I am doing this on my own and this is simply my opinion.

In the opening of the article it refers to the company as arrogant, unresponsive and overpriced.  Some may feel this way about Comcast but our goal is never to be arrogant or unresponsive.  I think our products are very valuable to most of our customers but everyone has their own opinion on pricing.  What I am very upset about is the way the reporter made it seem like these are traits of Brian Roberts. In my opinion this does not describe a man I have a lot of respect for.  Yes I have met Brian on a number of occasions.  My first meeting with Brian was via email before I even thought about working for Comcast .  What occurred was after his wife had a battle of cancer, Mr. Roberts made a very large donation to bring new, important technology to a Philadelphia area cancer center.  For those that have read this blog in the past you know this is a cause close to my heart.  I shot Mr. Roberts an email thanking him.  He responded personally and with the warmth I have seen him share in person.  It was this email that when I was considering looking at positions within Comcast became my reason to be willing.  I could tell by the warmth of the response that this leader was looking to improve the Customer experience.  Otherwise there would have never been a reply.

Comcast has always had a number of charitable initiatives from the contributions to causes in areas we serve to Comcast Cares Days (No they did not name days after me, but rather I “borrowed” the name from this great cause).  I knew of this because I too assist many charities and I have had the privilege to be part of events that were sponsored in large part by Comcast.

Since joining Comcast I have had a number of interactions with Brian.  To me he seems a little introverted (as I am) and always thinking.  He actually reminds me of another CEO that I have had a great respect for in the past:  John “Jack” Brennan former CEO of the Vanguard Group.  Both men have an intensity and thought process that is amazing to see in person.  This intensity is not arrogance but rather part of this thought process.

One of the first in person interactions I had with Brian was the day we moved into our new building.  I came in early to unpack and get settled in before the rest of my team started.  It was October, 2007 and I was one of the first to be in the building.  Brian was walking the halls by himself after the grand opening presentation.  He saw me in the office and came in to chat.  The conversation started with your typical pleasantries, but quickly evolved to service.  He was very concerned about our performance with Customer Service and he was asking my opinion.  I know he did not want service to be at the level it was at.  He was making changes to ensure that we as an organization headed into a different direction, including bringing Rick Germano to corporate to serve as the Senior VP for Customer Service operations.  But this is a change that we knew would take time before it was seen by our Customers.  What we can do now is concentrate on 1 Customer at a time.

Later that same day I had the privilege to meet Brian and his family.  During that interaction it was also easy to see that he is a family man.  Once you see people in this type of setting you begin to realized they are just like you.

In the article it does talk about many of the network management discussions that have occurred.  In my opinion it is that, more than my work, in which demonstrated the benefits of being part of the conversation.  Were mistakes made?  In my opinion, yes, but that is the nature of being human.  Even companies like Comcast are human in many ways.  Mistakes will be made.  What you have to do is learn from them and change going forward.  This too was mentioned in the story as engineers were encouraged to talk openly about the changes to network management.  That is the story here.

The final section of the article discusses my work referring to me as “Famous Frank,” a nickname from David Cohen, Executive Vice President.  In this section, in my opinion, makes me seem like a rebel within the company.  I want to be clear that I have always had the encouragement of senior Customer Service leadership and other senior leaders in the company.  At the time we started on Twitter my team and I were already active in other social media spaces and this was a natural progression.  We were referred to this space by @ComcastScott and we could see value in it.  But since there were not any books on the proper way to engage with Customers we had to learn as we go.  We started “tweeting” in April, but in February I was named manager of Digital Care (I was promoted in the summer to director).  As you can see from that progression, the company already saw value in social media and the work of my team.  We are advocates for the Customer, but it is my belief the same should be true for anyone in a Customer Service role.  I can assure you that I have shown this during every interview prior to joining the company so I know the interest of having someone like this in Customer Service is prevalent in the leadership in Philadelphia.  In my 17 months at Comcast I have always been encouraged to represent the Customer viewpoint and question things we were doing.  It helps for everyone to hear the perspective.  So I am not a rebel, unless you see everyone I interact with in the same light.

Now in closing we do have to continue to work on many things, including being more transparent, integrating systems and creating a more consistent experience for our Customers.  It is important for our Customers to see the value of our products and the service we provide.  We will work to do that.  These changes, just like the way we got to this point, will not be created by one person but the collective of all Comcasters.  We will get there!

The big question for @comcastcares is: How will they scale?

Posted on : 16-01-2009 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Customer Service, Social Media

Tags: ,


This past week BusinessWeek.com posted a story called Comcast’s Twitter Man.  Of course I am one of a number of people on Twitter from Comcast.  These positive stories have come about because of the great team I have and their efforts to improve the Customer experience.  I am still shocked by it all.  Whenever a story comes out like this it always brings about questions:  usually scalability and existing Customer experience through other channels such as phone and chat.  This post will answer the question on scalability.  I am saving the discussion on improving the experience through all channels for the future Comcast corporate blog.  That is a topic that is more relevant for that space instead of this one.  But since I am a believer that social media engagement will be important in the coming years, I thought scalability is a great discussion for here.

Jeremiah Owyang is an analyst for Forrester Research.  He likes to ask the difficult questions, and I appreciate that about him.  I look forward to more questions in the future.  Follow this link to see an interview Jeremiah did with me during the Forrester conference in Dallas.  After the BusinessWeek.com story he tweeted the following:

To begin to answer this question I should point out that I personally believe that social media is another form of communication, similar to phone or email.  To me there is no difference.  People post in social media to be heard.  It is really just a question as to who is listening.  I believe in the coming years, as companies begin to understand social media you will see more of it.  If someone has this belief, then they  also must believe that it is scalable.

There are multiple answers in the way in which social media outreach is scalable.  The first and most obvious is as social media continues to expand more and more employees will be participating in these spaces.  If the employees are passionate they will assist.  There are 2 keys in making this successful.  The first is company policies must permit them to do so.  Many companies have been scared of this, but who is a better advocate for the company then the employee.  If they are not then the company needs to review their own hiring practices and the manner in which they treat their employees.  By the way, no matter what the company policy is, employee will still be participating in social media anyway, so it is best to embrace it.  Second is companies should teach their employees how to participate in social media spaces.  @Zappos and other companies do a great job with this.

The other model for scalability (BTW it works with the one above very well) is engagement by a team of individuals.  This too is very scalable, but it requires the right tools.  Many companies over the years have built listening tools or have a listening service.  I personally like our friends at Nielsen Online.  They have great ways to “hear” what is being discussed regarding your brand and strong analysis.   If a company is not listening, they should be.

There are also tools that are used for engagement in social media spaces like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, blogs, forums or many other websites where conversations are happening.   These tools are still being developed by many companies and I believe they will continue to get better.  We have been reviewing a few of them.  One such tool is Radian 6.  This tool not only pulls these conversations into one single place, but you can also assign it to someone to review and reach out to assist.  The tool also gathers the data so you can reference again in the future if necessary.  You can also track how the conversation changes.  With this tool in theory you can have many people assisting Customers in social media.  Here is a screen shot of Radian 6.

Radian 6

Radian 6

Now tools like this will continue to improve in the coming years.  I think the keys to the tools would be speed, yet provide the ability to keep it personal.  I find social media to be about relationships, so it is also key that the tool can make sure the same person is able to assist if someone comes back for help.  I would also love to see it integrated with email communication.  This will further the analysis tools but also a great way to fully understand a Customer story.  At the same time it definitely makes engagement scalable.  There is an ability to have 5 users or 10000.

Beyond the tools, companies have to continue to grow comfortable with allowing the relationships to develop.  It is imperative for anyone working in these spaces to “be themselves.”  Companies must be comfortable that every word said will not be reviewed by many different people.

So to recap here are the keys to scalability:

  • Company support
  • Speed of response
  • Assignability
  • The ability to keep it personal

There is no need to go out and purchase these tools yet, although they help.  For now, until you understand the space and how you will use it, tools like Twitter Search or Google Blogsearch will work well.

The tools will continue to evolve as social media will, but it is really making the world much smaller for individuals and companies.  How do you see this evolving?

I Really Do Not Like Doctors, But This One Needs to Go!

Posted on : 08-01-2009 | By : Frank Eliason | In : In the News, Personal





We have had our share of issues with doctors, but we never wanted their license to practice to be removed.  For those that do not know the story of our Angel Gia, she passed away during a liver transplant surgery 2 months before her 4th birthday.  Even though she passed away during a transplant surgery, I remain an advocate for organ donation.  Today on my ride into work I heard a reference to Richard Batista wanting his ex-wife to return his kidney or pay him $1.5 million.  The brief aspect of the story is Mr. Batista (a surgeon but I refuse to put Dr. before his name because he does not deserve it) donated his kidney to his wife in 2001.  According to his statements, shortly after the transplant she started to have an affair.  Mr. Batista filed for divorce in 2005, which is still ongoing.


Now we are in 2009 and Mr. Batista has decided that he would like to have his organ back or $1.5 million dollars.  Doctors are supposed to abide by ethics.  One I am sure you all have heard is that organs are not for sale.  Doctors are supposed to be above board on all of this.  Mr. Baptista, who I am sure is hurt by his wife’s actions, is being completely off base and is hurting his own profession.  He should understand this well, but obviously missed that class.  I believe he should have his license taken away for this ethical violations, and, truthfully, his poor judgement that will inevitably hurt organ donations for others that are in need.


Am I being oversensitive in this view? 


Please sign up to be an organ donor.

Stuff Happens – It is About How You Handle It

Posted on : 07-01-2009 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Customer Service

Tags: ,


For me everything is about Customer Service.  I believe creating the right Customer experience will pay dividends for years to come for any company.  I also believe that in the coming years Customer Service will be what differentiates companies.  I always like to recognize excellent service.  We receive it all the time when we order a product and it comes as expected.  This is excellent.  But any company, big or small will have a time where a mistake happens.  It is not about the mistake, it is just a question of how it is dealt with.


Last week my wife ordered a package from an Amazon store called 16th Avenue Pharmacy.  I love that name because it reminds me of the small pharmacy we use called Harris Pharmacy in Doylestown, PA.  Anyway my wife ordered the item and it was delivered today.  When she opened the package it was not the correct item.  Well stuff happens.  She told me she was going to send an email about the mix up.  This is where you really begin to judge the service provided by any company.  It is also something smaller companies tend to excel at.


Within minutes of sending the email, the phone rang.  She missed it because she was talking to me.  Then her cell phone rang, which was missed.  So she went to check the caller ID to call back, but when she did, an email popped up saying “I am so sorry about this mispick!!! You will have the bird house tomorrow!!   Thank you and sorry!”  This is my favorite style of email, not a form letter (I can do a whole blog post on emails written in letter style), but a sincere message that truly conveys an apology.  But what made this more special was the speed in the response and I also like that they tried to call over the phone first for the personal touch.


We have all experienced “mispicks” (my new favorite term) and the way it has been handled can vary a great deal.  I have been questioned regarding the product received.  I have also been told to return an item before the correct one will be issued.  There was none of that.  In fact Carolyn wrote back to find out how to deal with it.  Mark, the president of the company, responded “Don’t even worry about it keep it on me!'” This is what service is about.  Not about the mistakes that happen, but how you handle them.  Kudos to Mark and 16th Avenue Pharmacy!


Have you had a situation where a company handled a mistake well and it impressed you?