Poor Customer Service – Dulling the Sheen on an Otherwise Lustrous Brands

These past couple of weeks, I have been dealing with customer service issues with two separate companies.  While they are both very successful, very different brands, my experiences have been equally unpleasant.  In my mind, as a customer, these events have essentially taken the “shine” off two otherwise “shiny” brands.  It has also clearly brought to life how a brand’s behavior can affect customer loyalty.

My first customer service conundrum was with Comcast.  I had to schedule an appointment to get a new HD box for the TV in my kitchen.  It took me a couple of weeks to schedule the appointment.  On the day of the appointment, after waiting almost the entire 4 hour window (from 8AM – 12N), the tech finally made it to my house – but was less than helpful in resolving my issue.  He poked around my TV and cable connection, tracked snow all over my floor and used my bathroom before finally realizing that he’d brought the wrong cable box with him.  The box he attempted to install was registered to another customer.  He informed me that there was nothing he could do, told me to call customer service and left after 30 wasted minutes.  

After he left, I called customer service.  It took talking to three different people over 5 discrete calls before I was able to schedule another appointment a week later.  Guess what!  Unbelievably, my second experience was exactly the same.  This new tech, after a few minutes of surveying the situation, announced that he had brought the wrong box and could not help me.  I am still without working cable for my kitchen TV.  I have now been told by Comcast that I need to go to one of their retail locations to pick up the appropriate cable box and install it myself.  Needless to say, I am not very happy with them.

During the same timeframe, I have had a disappointing customer service experience with Best Buy’s Geek Squad.  I bought an expensive washer and dryer set from them.  The dryer has not been working as it should.  I scheduled an appointment with a Geek Squad “agent”.  This was confirmed for the morning 8AM – 12N timeframe.  On the day of the appointment, at 9.55AM, I got a call from the tech informing me that they would be at my house between 3.30PM and 5.30PM.  Obviously, I was frustrated by this.  I could not stay at the house the entire day to get this service call done.  I called Customer Service.  There the answering agent, her supervisor and their manager all insisted that this reschedule was my responsibility, not theirs.  After about 15 minutes of heated discussion, the manager told me that they would have the field office call and schedule another appointment.  They called me 4 hours later and scheduled another appointment after two weeks.  This time, the tech showed up during the appointed time window.  Heard my dryer “squeal” and told me that I would have to schedule another appointment in two more weeks.  Why, I asked!  “Because I have to order some parts for this machine” he said.  “These parts will be shipped to you during the next week and I will come and do the repair.”  That was last weekend.  I am now waiting for the parts to show up and then will start the whole process of scheduling an appointment again with a Geek Squad “agent”.

I’m sure you didn’t need to know the gory details of the entire story.  However, it does bring to life the angst that brands are creating when they are unable to handle the experiential moments with their customers well.

Is this an acceptable approach to customer service?  What does this do to a brand’s value?  Does it affect purchase behavior?  Should we accept this level of behavior and be silent?

I’d like to do something about this – start a movement!  Brands need to be more conscious of how they treat their customers.  They need to stand behind their promise.  They need to keep their word.

Have you ever had an experience like this before? Namely with Comcast or Best Buy’s Geek Squad? If yes, I’d love to hear about it and share it with others.

These are two good brands with a lot of positive equity.  It makes no sense for them to become tarnished because they can’t deliver a consistent experience across the value chain.


Categories: brand strategy, consumer behavior, crm, emotive, loyalty, marketing

Tags: , , , , ,

21 replies

  1. Comcast has the distinction of being my most frustrating customer experience. It revolved around my initial sign-up for their Triple Play (phone, TV, and internet)in June 2007 when I moved into my condo in Ann Arbor, MI while working at Borders. Their promotion at that time entitled me to receive a free Nintendo DS. Even after countless excuses and apologies shared with me during several phone calls, internet chats, and emails, spanning a 7 month time span, I failed to receive the Nintendo DS. Finally in January 2008, after I indicated to the Assistant to the President that I was contacting the Michigan Attorney General, they asked if I would settle for a $129.00 credit to my account (the value of the Nintendo DS)
    The most frustrating part of this whole experience was that I had NO alternative for the services they provided. I was captive. They were the only provider that could effectively service the building I was in. I had no leverage and they knew it. I couldn’t take my business elsewhere which is the most powerful leverage a consumer really possesses. The point I would like to make is that this unique set of circumstances sets up a set of expectations on the part of the consumer and gives a provider a real opportunity to shine. How will you treat me when I don’t have thatleverage? If you treat me well, I will really be impressed. Treat me poorly and I will never forget and thus I share Comcast horror stories whenever the opportunity presents itself.

  2. Rob,

    That’s the reason why I feel like a hostage. We didn’t have a choice either. When we moved, it was either Comcast or AT&T. I was a bit surprised with the Geek Squad experience. They have been good in the past. Wonder if the growth driven by Circuit City’s closure has created stress in their value chain. As you said, opportunities to shine are lost.


  3. You don’t even want to get me started with Comcast. As a Baltimore resident, I was held hostage by Comcast as the only cable provider for many years. After literally decades of non-responsiveness and poor reception, I finally found an alternative with Direct TV. The problem was Comcast offered the only high speed internet solution in my area at the time. I stayed with dial up as long as I could (it was painful) until an alternative came along. That alternative was Verizon FIOS. I LOVE it and will never again need Comcast for anything. Thanks for letting me vent Zain.

  4. http://www.comcastmustdie.com/
    Bob Garfield’s rantings about Comcast’s poor customer service.

  5. I had a terrible experience with Comcast Customer Service as well. When I moved from Atlanta to Richmond two years ago, I canceled my old account. But they kept sending me monthly bills for two more months after I moved! Several calls, complaints and urges to cancel the old account – all in vain… and I ended up paying for two more monthly bills! (One of which got reimbursed later on though – but that hardly had any effect on changing my perception of their brand.)

    I was more frustrated with the complete lack of courtesy and sense of responsibility of the call center reps than the fact that I had to pay for the service I didn’t receive/use.

    I was very determined not to go back to this brand again, but then there were hardly any other options! I waited for FiOS (which was not available in my area at that time) and lived without cable for two more months before giving up.

    My second experience with Comcast is quite different though. Courteous and informative welcome calls, immediate attention and solutions to a couple of issues I had, and relatively shorter wait-time to get a call center rep on line.

    Their image still remains tarnished in my mind, but status-quo bias and limited options (especially the former, I hate to say!) keep me confined to them.

  6. Well… it is fun to hear stories. We all have had similar experiences.

  7. A few years back I had an interesting experience with Comcast that put a bad taste in my mouth. I was a Comcast customer in Columbia, MD, but had gotten a promotion and was being relocated to Philadelphia, PA. Up until that time, I never had a particularly bad experience with Comcast. I always saw them as a typical utility, where getting things done wasn’t always easy, but if you wanted cable you were at their mercy. I realize that this is less and less the case now with DirecTv and Verizon FiOS, but these alternatives aren’t always available.
    Since Philadelphia was the home of Comcast, and I was then currently a customer, Comcast was my first phone call when I went to set up cable and utilities at my new home. I remember being placed on hold because they couldn’t find my new address in their system. The first person couldn’t help me to set up service, so she transferred me to someone else. I was on the phone for at least 40 minutes and spoke to 3-4 people before someone in one in one of their offices (I believe it was on the west coast) informed me that Comcast didn’t even service the area I had moved to in their home town.
    I believe that time is a precious commodity, and if you’ve wasted my time you’ve cost me something that I’ll never get back. Given my background in the hospitality business, I have high expectation of any company that I spend my money with. With Comcast, I felt that there was no regard for my time. Their system should have quickly told them that they didn’t service my area, and perhaps let me know who did service the area. It would have been nice to get a little help as a current customer.
    I’ve had another gripe with Comcast in recent years as well, which I feel is ultimately related to customer service. Each year Comcast increases customer prices due to increased operating costs. In the past several years Comcast saw fit to spend millions of dollars to put their name on the University of Maryland Basketball arena, and the Comcast Arena in Philadelphia. While I feel that giving to higher education is admirable, I feel these are examples of things that cause customer rates to go up, and I don’t want to pay higher rates just to see Comcast’s name the next time I go to a basketball game. Unless I don’t have any other choice, I will never go back to Comcast again. Comcast is now one of those companies that I just love to hate. (…and talk about.)

  8. I had a similar experience with the Geek Squad at Best Buy although this took place in their store environment. I purchased the Canon Powershot SD870 camera from Best Buy and within 60-days, it was inoperable. I took the camera back to the store to have it repaired under warranty. They said it would take a week as they needed to send it offsite for repairs. I told them I needed it in 2 weeks for vacation. They assured me I would have it. I followed up and they said they couldn’t find my camera. They weren’t sure where it was. Oddly enough,I continued to receive overnight notices telling me to pick up my camera or it will be disposed of within 30-days. I received 3 notices and still, every attempt to pick-up my repaired camera failed. 2 weeks later, I was preparing to leave for vacation and still no camera. I had to purchase a new one (obviously not at Best Buy). After vacation, I insisted on speaking to a manager to get a credit back for my lost camera. I spoke to 3 different managers on 2 occassions and the only solution they would provide me was giving me another camera. I would’ve been happy with store credit as I had already bought another camera and didn’t have use for a new one. I still have the new camera in a box in my office. It was a very frustrating experience and I hadn’t been back since.

    • Thank you all for sharing these stories. Have you tried to communicate with any of these companies? If yes, what kind of reception have you had? Let us know.


  9. Thank you all for sharing these stories. Have you tried to communicate with any of these companies? If yes, what kind of reception have you had? Let us know.


  10. Brands can lose their luster before they even walk in the door. Verizon sent me some mail last week that made me furious. I received a letter from Verizon, my phone company, and the envelope read, “Important information about your service. Open immediately.” As I half-suspected, the letter was not important information concerning my phone service. It was an offer to sign up for Verizon FIOS TV and internet. When will marketers learn that they haven’t won the game simply by getting you to open the letter? I was busy and they tricked me into wasting my time and it did not make me want to sign up for Verizon FIOS! Verizon, are you listening?!

  11. Unfortunately, this experience is all too common. Brand experience too often falls apart at the ground level — not just in cable TV or appliance repair, but at retail stores, banking and credit cards, fast food restaurants, you name it.

    It’s an especially frustrating situation for marketers. The brand experience we’re helping to create is ultimately realized — or ruined — at the customer level, where employees may not be aware of the current messaging, have the systems and procedures in place to fulfill on its promise, or simply aren’t empowered or invested enough to do what it takes to make and keep customers happy.

    In the past, companies could depend on bad word-of-mouth going only so far. However, as more customers share their experiences on blogs and social media sites, they spread the word — good and bad — further and faster than ever before. Companies that live up to their promises, and correct problems when and where they occur can expect to profit from it. Those that count on customer silence and ignore the totality of their total online presences will suffer.

  12. I agree. A lot of it is driven by the siloed nature of these organizations. Marketing has no control over field operations. Is there a company that is unified? That would be a good option.


  13. It was ironic to have stumbled across your posting this week, as I had quite a different experience regarding a brand’s image. The difference with my experience is that it left me with a very positive impression of the Dell brand. I even took the time to let Dell know how positive, which is a behavior I infrequently practice, as I have extremely high standards when it comes to customer service.

    After experiencing minor problems with my Dell XPS, I called the support line and worked with a technician for over an hour. The technician went into my computer remotely to fix the minor situation. Yet, very soon after we finished, I experienced a major problem. Frustrated with having to call the support line again, I was certainly not pleasant for the next technician. He did not let it deter his mission and he kept me on the phone for only a minimal amount of time, assuring me that the problem would be resolved quickly to my satisfaction.

    Ultimately, Dell was very responsive and in less than 24 hours a technician was at my apartment replacing my LCD screen and motherboard. I was very impressed with their quick response and investigation as to what happened, as they were also very concerned about the actions the technician took that damaged my computer. As someone that uses their laptop daily, I feel assured that Dell will be there to help me to continue to do so, without the headaches and frustration you hear from so many people regarding customer service problems.

    End result. If I had to buy another computer tomorrow, I would go directly to the Dell website and purchase.

  14. OK, a “shameless” comment from the perspective of a Quality Analyst. Early on in my software testing career, it was explained to me the incredible difference in cost savings between a software defect being caught in the early stages of production, rather than later in the process, or in the field.

    In both examples Zain provided, the issue could have been avoided early on. If the washer & dryer worked as expected, there’s no need for the Geek Squad visit. If the correct box had been assigned to the correct customer, adding HD to the TV would have been simple.

    Once extra field operations are necessary for businesses such as these, there are too many unpredictable variables: bad weather, bad traffic, canceled appointments, technicians calling in sick, wrong diagnosis, etc. It seems to me that the best way to avoid bad service is to limit the possibilities of service calls in the first place. Then, yes, well-trained service people need to be in place to handle the issue.

  15. As the owner of an online retail company, I can only say that the failure of many companies to prioritize customer service is simply baffling.

    After moving to the Chicago area 2.5 years ago, we required service visits from 3 different Comcast techs before installation of cable/internet service was properly handled. This was not a complex operation, but the first two gentlemen had no clue what they were doing. The inconsistency arises, in large part, from Comcast’s use (at least at the time and in my area) of independent contractors for many service calls. For what it’s worth, my experiences since then have been slightly above average.

    My experience with DirecTV, which we tried to install first, was far, far worse. 1 month, 3 visits from 3 independent contractors, and, ultimately, they were unable to install the dish at our house.

    As for washer/dryer, next time, try Abt Electronics. I had a problem with my washer and they, as always, were nothing but incredible in the customer service department.

  16. Zain: I can’t figure out why they need a four hour window (except for weather). It’s amazing that Apple store will set an appointment and have a technician or on-to-one expert waiting for you (the customer). makes life a lot easier for the customer and builds loyalty. I understand that this is at their place but with the amount of money we spend on cable/internet service and on the appliances you mention, there should be some service consideration.
    Ken Banks
    http://www.kenbanks.blogspot.com for more thoughts.

  17. Interestingly enough Comcast is now….EXFINITY! LOL And Verizon has done quite a nice job of letting us know that they are sfill the same ‘ole Comcast. The additional problem here is that in many cases, Comcast is not in control of the tech experience. I know first hand that many of their field techs are hired, independent contractors – not Comcast employees. So their interest is in themselves – no fear of getting fired or not getting a raise, etc. Their sole interest is in getting paid to come out to your house, futz around, and then say “Oh! I have the wrong parts/box/house”. They still get paid for the house call and move on to the next to do the same thing.

    What happened to the days of striving for personal excellence?

  18. Cable TV is great specially if you got those digital cable boxes that is coupled with TIVO~

  19. cable tvs these days are rapidly being converted into a digital service which offers more value added services :”-

  20. I actually have found that Comcast’s service here in Marin County is pretty good. They may not always fix the problem right away but they show up on time, are polite and really try to help. I’m not happy with their marketing program which lures you in and then 12 months later your bill skyrockets and dealing with their billing dept. is definitely frustrating and time consuming. The phone companies, Verizon AT&T Sprint, are the worst culprits and notorious for multiple call frustration as well as overbilling. I switched my phones from Sprint to Verizon in May a few years back. We kept receiving bills from Sprint. I wrote and called to no avail. It was clear that the phones hadn’t been used for months yet they insisted that they hadn’t been shut off. What a nightmare!

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