Comcast's sales push: The "painful" customer service call was just the tip of the iceberg

After the infamous call with Ryan Block, a look into Comcast customer service

Published July 28, 2014 7:20PM (EDT)

A sign outside the Comcast Center in Philadelphia.             (AP/Matt Rourke)
A sign outside the Comcast Center in Philadelphia. (AP/Matt Rourke)

Earlier this month, a terrible Comcast customer call was thrust into the limelight. The infamous call -- which has been listened to more than 5 million times -- was recorded by customer Ryan Block, who merely wanted to disconnect his service. What ensued was a painfully frustrating exchange. The Comcast rep ignored Block's request to disconnect, and tried to retain him as a customer.

More shocking than the call was the revelation that this call may have resulted from some of Comcast's policies. Last week a letter written by Comcast COO Dave Watson described the call as "painful." However, Watson also conceded that "[t]he agent on this call did a lot of what we trained him and paid him — and thousands of other Retention agents — to do."

The folks at the Verge spoke to more than 100 former and current Comcast employees to ask them about the phone call with Block, and the policies of the company. The Verge confirmed that all of the interviews came from either current or former Comcast employees.

The biggest takeaway was that sales was eventually rolled into every department, from customer service to tech support. There were incentives to sell, the Verge reported, and punishments for those who did not hit quotas. "Eighty percent [of our training] was sales training," a former tech support employee told the Verge. "From time to time they would pull us from the phones for in-depth training on how to sell. [They told us] to say how much better Comcast is than the rest of the competition. 'Why would anyone leave us?'"

It wasn't just the tech department; former customer service employees also explained the pressure to sell. A California customer service rep from 2007 to 2013 told the Verge:

"'I was there for almost seven years. The last four years or so, everything went downhill. It all began with the "integration" of sales department into our customer service department. They told us we would never [have to] become sales representatives. [The sales department was] just there to help us grow. Well, that was a big fat lie. We slowly became sales. We were given quotas. We were at one point told if it’s not a sale, direct them to the 800 number.'"

The former employees did acknowledge that customer service was not abandoned. "I think there was an honest emphasis on customer service," one former representative who worked in Mexico said. "The rule of thumb was 'first call resolution,' which translates to: 'Make sure the customer doesn’t have to call again to fix the problem.' In practice, it was difficult to achieve. I believe we didn’t have enough tools to guarantee first call resolution."

The interviews are all worth a read, and point to a machine-like push for revenue.

h/t The Verge

By Sarah Gray

Sarah Gray is an assistant editor at Salon, focusing on innovation. Follow @sarahhhgray or email

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