Rick Germano's Notes from the Road

Beginning in late 2007 and throughout 2008, Rick Germano traveled across the U.S. to meet with customers to hear their thoughts on how we could improve customer service. You can read letters from his experience below.



Seattle, WA

Posted on December 26, 2008

We recently visited one of my favorite cities in America-Seattle, WA.

Like most companies, Comcast has a whole series of statistics, metrics, standards and key performance indicators that we measure ourselves against. The Seattle market has consistently scored as one of our top performing markets.

During our recent visit with customers and employees, it became clear something was different in Seattle. Customers had many positive experiences to share, and employees were constantly challenging themselves to identify potential problems and work to fix them before they impacted customers. That’s not to say there weren’t some glitches-we’re only human-but what’s happening in Seattle is closer to our ultimate goal of our employees being consistently engaged in the continuous improvement of all aspects of our customers’ experiences with us.

As the first year of our Listening Tour comes to an end, I feel very confident that we’re listening to you, and that we can move the needle to make things better. There is no substitute for face-to-face dialog with customers and employees. We like hearing from our customers. They are very direct in their opinions; very engaged with our products; and very much interested in Comcast delivering a superior customer experience every time. 

So, after visiting 11 major cities this year and sharing thousands of ideas and stories-the good, the bad and the ugly-here’s the deal.

Comcast must prove to you we really listen, and we really care. Our digital video, high-speed Internet and digital telephone services are really good (and getting better). And the experiences you have with us-from the reliability of our products and services to meeting your expectations about communicating clearly to showing up on time or simply just getting it right the first time-must continue to get better. 

Our Comcast employees are working hard. As a customer you might be surprised-and pleased-by the amount of internal improvement and investment we made this year. We’ve been introducing proactive troubleshooting and monitoring tools, retraining our employees, improving communications, but most importantly we’re putting the customer experience at the top of our list when evaluating everything we do. It’s early, but there are signs that this work is beginning to make a difference. For example, from August to October of 2008, our customers need 2 million fewer service visits compared to the same timeframe in 2007.

Our Listening Tour and our efforts to improve the customer experience will continue next year, and I’m looking forward to sharing what we learn and are doing, so be sure to check back here regularly.  I’d like to close by wishing each of you a very Happy Holiday season - I’ll see you in 2009!

Best,
Rick

Rick Germano, Senior Vice President of Customer Operations

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Portland, OR Customer and Employee Meetings

Posted on June 26, 2008

As I’ve shared in previous posts, we’ve heard a mix of compliments and complaints from customers on our listening tour. Our most recent tour stop took us to Portland, OR, where we had a very different reaction from customers who were very pleased about their experiences with Comcast. We think that’s because something fundamentally different and exciting has been happening in Portland ― and it’s a model for our company-wide improvement efforts. 

Overall, as a company I’m pleased to report we’ve improved in terms of some the traditional operations-focused metrics we measure internally; however, the Portland visit made it really clear ― it’s the Comcast employee who really makes the difference. They have power to make the customer feel good about us.    Deep down, we’ve realized that it’s the employee’s interaction on the phone or in the home that truly makes the difference. We can develop processes and procedures to minimize defects, but what we’re really striving for is to have our employees realize the power they have to make a difference for our customers.

Like customers in other parts of the country, folks in Portland love the products and services they get from Comcast ― especially our fast Internet speeds. Customers do notice when employees care and take ownership and make sure that each customer interaction is a positive experience. I’d like to give credit to the Portland Team for how they deliver service. For example, the customers we met with told us that when they do have to contact us, their calls are answered quickly and the customer care reps are able to consistently answer their questions. They also said they appreciate the responsiveness and accountability of our technicians, like giving customers their business cards so they have direct contact info in case they need to call them.

There is a basic equation to providing a great customer experience, and in Portland it starts with a clear commitment to ensure consistency across every part of the business ― from senior leadership to customer care and technical operations. One of the ways they accomplish this is by holding regular meetings with all employees to make sure they’re following the same game plan, working toward common goals and making necessary adjustments to deliver a positive customer experience.

You’ve also heard me talk about the importance of equipping our employees with the tools and training they need to answer customers’ questions and fix their issues the first time. Customers have told us how important it is that we improve communication, arrive at their homes on time and reduce the need for repeat service calls. Portland was one of the first markets where technicians began using the mobile devices I’ve talked about in earlier posts to address those issues. And, we’ve ramped up our training ― every month, each customer rep and technician in the Portland system receives one-on-one coaching and development to help improve their listening and problem solving skills. Our goal as we roll these tools and training programs out to additional markets is for all of our customers to experience better service.

It’s easy for me to talk about new tools, the need for consistency, and process fixes but for us to be successful we need to do what Portland is already doing in markets across the country. A key part of these tour stops is to actively engage local management in understanding that it’s important not only to deploy and use the new tools and processes but it’s just as important to empower the employees to engage with the customer and improve the way we’re doing business for the CUSTOMER not for Comcast. We need to make this real!

That’s not to say there isn’t room for further improvement in Portland. For example, customers there told us they want their bills to be easier to read and understand. The good news is we’re planning to introduce a new bill format later this year that’s designed specifically on what our customers have said would be most helpful for them. 
 
We’ve just returned from Atlanta, so be sure to check back here soon to hear more about the ways we’re working to deliver the kind of service our customers want and deserve.

Best,
Rick

Rick Germano, Senior Vice President of Customer Operations

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California Customer Meetings

Posted on June 10, 2008

I recently visited my old California stomping grounds, where I got to see some familiar faces and hear from our customers out west. After several customer forums, we’ve heard valuable constructive criticism and received some compliments as well. One common theme is emerging-whether it’s a compliment or criticism-customers want choice. The good news is that we’re doing this, and as a result our customers are telling us that they genuinely enjoy our products and services.

However, delivering services like HD, high speed Internet or phone - in a way that meets and exceeds customer expectations every time has presented us with new challenges.  And our customers are feeling that.

What I told our customers in California, and wanted to share here, is that we hear you loud and clear. We’re making huge investments to do a better job of training our customer care reps and technicians to handle unique issues across all of our products. And we’re giving them some new tools to help them get the job done right the first time.

For example, we're beginning to roll out a new system that will help manage and assure the accuracy of work orders generated by our call centers, before a technician is ever dispatched to a customer’s home. This web-based system will monitor all work orders and report back to the call center on a daily basis. This will help ensure that we’re prepared for each individual appointment based on what is needed for the specific work we’ll be doing-whether it’s a basic installation, a triple-play install or a more complex service call. As a result, our dispatch team can schedule the appropriate technician based on the skills needed for each job, schedule the right amount of time to complete the job and sure the tech has the right equipment, tools and information with him or her to satisfy the customer the first time around.

I want to let you all know that the comments, anecdotes and suggestions you've given us through Comcast.com and on the listening tour have been invaluable to us as we deploy new programs like this and the Whole Home Check which I’ve written about in previous posts below. We have several stops left on the listening tour and The Office of Rick Germano mail box is always open, so please keep the feedback coming.

Best,
Rick

Rick Germano, Senior Vice President of Customer Operations

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Chicago, IL Customer and Employee Meetings

Posted on May 9, 2008

Our listening tour recently stopped in Oak Brook, IL, just outside of Chicago, where I sat down with a group of Comcast customers who―in addition to letting us know their thoughts on how the Cubs and White Sox are doing―provided some great insights on their concerns, needs and ideas about our products and service.

As I listened to the group talk about their Comcast experiences, it became clear there are many areas for improvement that our customers and employees agree on. For example, several customers asked that we do a better job connecting the dots when we communicate to our employees so that they have the information they need to follow through from start-to-finish so that they have consistent communication from the first time they call us until the job is done. We’ve heard that from customers in other cities―and, our employees want to be able to do that, too.

One topic this group stressed was the need for ongoing training to make sure our employees can keep up with the complexity of our business as we make enhancements to current products and introduce new ones. They also shared their experiences about service calls and emphasized the need for consistent quality - whether they are contractors or Comcast employees.
 
I want to tell you about what we’re doing to address what we heard from customers in Chicago and other towns we’ve visited―it’s something we’re now calling "once and done."  A woman who participated in our Chicago meeting actually used this term to describe her desire to make only one phone call and schedule only one home visit to get her problem solved. We couldn’t agree more. 

Over the past several months we’ve been working on initiatives that will help make “once and done” service a reality. This is where the improved troubleshooting tools that I’ve mentioned before come into play. 

For example, our technicians are getting new mobile devices that let them communicate with our dispatchers in real-time and quickly do a diagnostic check of all of the products in a customer’s home. We’re also beginning to rollout new software to our phone agents’ computers in our call centers that lets them perform a remote “health check” and fix certain digital voice and high-speed Internet service issues without ever having to send a technician to a customer’s home. And, later this year, we’re planning to introduce the capability to check and fix video services remotely as well.

In addition to getting the right tools into our employees’ hands, we’re investing more in training our front line people than any other time in our 45-year history. For example, our current phone agents get monthly one-on-one time with their call center leaders to improve problem-solving skills and practice simulated call scenarios. To help ensure quality of our technical service, we’ve stepped up training for our in-house technicians and are now requiring contractors be certified to the same high standards. While our customers are beginning to experience the benefits of these new approaches and improved tools, we know we still have a lot of work to do.

I’d like to leave you with one last thought: hearing our customers talk about the impact we have on their lives always inspires me. We love that our customers are so passionate about their Comcast products and services―it’s what keeps us focused on the need to consistently innovate and find new ways to improve.

Best,
Rick

Rick Germano, Senior Vice President of Customer Operations

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Princeton, NJ Customer and Employee Meetings

Posted on April 4, 2008

Well, the New Jersey stop on our listening tour started off with a surprising walk down memory lane. As I walked into the hotel in Princeton, NJ where we were holding the meeting, it looked very familiar. When I got to the meeting room, I realized why: I actually got married more than 20 years ago in the VERY SAME room where we were hosting our customer forum. The name of the hotel had changed, but the space was still the same. 

After reminiscing with the group about my wedding for a few moments, we began the real conversation for the night. As we’ve seen in the other cities we’ve visited, a few key themes emerged during the discussion.  One of those is that customers would like us to improve our ability to resolve issues in a single call. This is a priority for us, and we’ve begun rolling out new diagnostic tools like the “whole home check” across the country to make that happen. 

For example, in New Jersey our technicians are now conducting “whole home checks” when they’re installing service or fixing an issue.  By checking all the devices/services in the home before they leave, our techs can proactively identify issues and correct them before they impact the customer. One stop resolution - whether it’s in the home or on the phone -- is a priority for us because we know it’s important to you. 

I also wanted to tell you about a moment during our meeting in Princeton that truly lifted my spirits. We asked the group what positive experiences they’ve had with Comcast recently and several folks raised their hands to tell us stories about how our employees helped resolve an issue - like the woman who lost cable service on New Year’s Eve night and was able to speak to a rep who had her service restored in time for her to see the ball drop in Times Square. As our New Jersey customers have experienced, our technicians and reps are critical to delivering great service and we’ll soon be profiling some of them on this site. I look forward to sharing their stories with you so you can get to know them as well.

Best,
Rick

Rick Germano, Senior Vice President of Customer Operations

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Houston, TX Customer and Employee Meetings

Posted March 21, 2008

We’re back on the road and recently met with customers and employees in Houston, TX where true southern hospitality welcomed us. I was overwhelmed by the friendliness of our customers and area employees. 

It’s been a little more than a year since Comcast took over this system from Time Warner, so it was good to hear what’s worked - and what hasn’t. I was reminded that the “devil is in the details” to ensure a transition like the one we had in Houston is seamless for our new customers. 

Several other themes emerged from our conversations in Texas, and I think our take-aways from the night are pretty consistent with the observations some of our customers made (http://www.dslreports.com/forum/remark,20144375?hilite). 

Our customers deserve a top-notch experience with every point of contact at Comcast and we need to work to ensure that happens. Customers in Houston reminded us that we must respect their time. To do so, we know that our front-line teams need to be equipped with everything they need to help you the first time you contact us. To that end, we’re introducing some new diagnostic devices over the next 12 months that will help the people in our call centers and in the trucks that visit your homes to do a more thorough job and to trouble-shoot more effectively. I think these new devices will address some of the issues we discussed and I look forward to sharing more detail about those tools in posts to come. 

Another theme we heard loud and clear was the need to improve the technology that gets your call to the right representative. Known as an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) unit, customers told us they’d like us to simplify this important customer touch point.

My final take-away from Houston is this:  Whether among our Comcast team members or to our customers, there is no such thing as “over-communication.” As a company at the center of the communication business through our cable, Internet and phone systems, we should inherently know how to communicate.  Sometimes, though, we need to be reminded of this, and the folks in Texas did just that. 

I want to thank our customers for coming out and sharing their thoughts. I also want to thank the folks from J.D. Power and Associates who have been with us for every tour stop. A J.D. Power representative is part of each session, and their involvement has been very helpful in facilitating frank and fruitful conversations that help us to better understand our customers. It allows me to really focus on listening and I’m gaining a lot of insight about what people think about us and, more importantly, how we can serve them better. 

I’m in New Jersey next, and I look forward to meeting customers in the Garden State and posting again soon. 

Best,
Rick

Rick Germano, Senior Vice President of Customer Operations

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Contact Us… Any way you like.

Posted March 5, 2008

I believe it’s important to be involved in an ongoing dialog with our customers - to answer your questions, hear what we’re doing right, discuss where we may need to still improve and take actions to make Comcast’s customer service better. To help make it easier for you to reach us and share that feedback, we’ve recently redesigned our “Help and Support” page on www.comcast.com.

The new layout helps customers navigate the tools we have in place to help you reach Comcast customer care whenever you may need us - 24 hours a day / 7 days a week / 365 days a year. On the redesigned page, you’ll find information on how to e-mail our customer care team, participate in a live chat with a customer care agent or read through relevant Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) that may help answer your questions. And, of course, you can call your local Comcast call center.  Whatever method of contact you prefer, we’re here to listen and to help.

When you visit the new “Help and Support” on Comcast.com, you also can read a letter or watch a video from me outlining our goals to improve customer service at Comcast. With all the ways to get in touch, I hope we continue to keep the conversation going throughout 2008.
 
Best,
Rick

Rick Germano, Senior Vice President of Customer Operations

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Using Technology to Improve Reliability

Posted February 15, 2008

As I listen to customers and employees on the road, I’ve been asked about what we’re doing to improve our on-time reliability. One of the biggest frustrations for customers is when we do not show up when we say we will. It’s clear from my conversations with customers that you want us to show up when we say we’re going to show up, and I’d like to share some information about what we’re doing to improve in this area. We’re now rolling out a new mobile technology that will help us communicate better with you about your appointment with our technician.

We schedule customer appointments based on the standard time it takes to do various types of jobs. The actual experience might be shorter or longer depending on job variables the technician faces when at the home. If one appointment requires more time, the next customer’s appointment could be missed or delayed.  To improve our on-time reliability, especially in those types of situations, we’re starting to equip our technicians with mobile devices. Many of our field technicians have already begun using the devices and the majority of them will have a device by the end of the year.

This new system helps us better manage scheduling by giving our technicians and dispatch team the ability to communicate in real-time, so technicians can notify dispatch about changes or delays along their routes as they happen. For example, our dispatch team can receive an automatic alert when a truck arrives at a site, electronically map a customer’s location or locate the closest Comcast truck and send a new truck to that location if needed. Additionally, these devices will enable us to more quickly do a diagnostic check of all of the products we offer in the home to ensure that they are all working properly.

In short - we believe that this tool will help our technicians and dispatch teams to anticipate a situation that previously could have impacted you and work to proactively resolve it before it becomes an issue. I’ve said before that one of my goals is to improve the consistency in the service Comcast delivers to its customers, and this new mobile system is an important step in making that happen. 

I’ve also said that change will take some time, but I firmly believe over the next year our customers will begin to experience the impact of these types of investments on the quality, reliability and timeliness of their Comcast service.

See you on the road soon.
 
Best,
Rick

Rick Germano, Senior Vice President of Customer Operations

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South Florida Customer Meeting

Posted December 13, 2007

This week, I spent a couple of hours talking with a group of customers from South Florida. My goal is to learn something new in each place I visit, and on Tuesday night I learned several things.

The customers I met have a good understanding of how our products work and use them frequently, but they’re frustrated when our employees don’t have the information to help them. These customers also have some great ideas about our business and how we can improve service in South Florida - like working more closely with local condo boards to understand how we can better serve these communities.

Finally, we need to work on our consistency. Residential and commercial customers alike pointed out examples of inconsistency with our procedures both within South Florida and in comparison to their experiences with us in other parts of the country. That’s unacceptable and will be addressed.

Our customers want real change. Not only do they want us to say we’re doing better, they want to feel it in their everyday interactions with Comcast. I want you to know that I hear you and this remains my number one priority as we head into 2008.

Happy Holidays to all and I look forward to continuing this conversation in the New Year.

Best,
Rick

Rick Germano, Senior Vice President of Customer Operations

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Silver Spring, MD Customer and Employee Meetings

Posted on November 30, 2007

This week, I went to Silver Spring, MD to meet with customers and employees and to hear directly from them what’s working well and where we can do better.  
 
Customers told us that they’d love for us to implement ways to better pinpoint technician arrivals, they want our bills to be simple to understand, and that communication is the key to a good customer experience. And while we’ve always prided ourselves on being a local company that adjusts and reflects local needs, customers want us to be more consistent, whether you’re a Comcast customer in Baltimore or Miami or Seattle.
 
As for the Silver Spring employees, far from wanting to talk about themselves, first and foremost they wanted to hear what our customers had to say the night before. That really impressed me. They feel strongly that we can do better and put forward a number of good ideas for additional training and new equipment that will help them to improve the consistency of our service.
 
Lastly, I was struck again by the passion that our customers and employees feel about their experiences with Comcast - both good and bad. My goal is to build on the good and work tirelessly to reduce the bad. The Silver Spring employees reminded me that this company has some of the most dedicated professionals in it, and they want to do a good job. I want to make sure our customers - and those of you reading this - understand that as well.

I truly appreciated that people took time out of their evenings (and battled D.C.-area traffic!) to talk with us about ways to improve our customer service. This dialogue is an important step down the road to a better Comcast and will lead us to meaningful improvements.
 
Next stop: South Florida. I’ll be back shortly afterwards to share my thoughts.
 
Best,
Rick

Rick Germano, Senior Vice President of Customer Operations

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Philadelphia Customer and Employee Meetings

Posted on November 16, 2007

I’ve begun a road trip to meet with customers and employees across the country to hear how they think we can improve customer service. We had our first meeting in Philadelphia with customers on November 14 and with employees on November 15 and heard lots of straight talk about how we can do a better job for them. 

The message from our customers was very clear - they like our products, but are frustrated when they have to repeatedly contact us. They said while the technicians or reps in our call centers are generally friendly, that’s not enough. Customers want us to show up when we say we’re going to and they want us to get the job done right the first time.

I couldn’t agree more.

And our employees also said that they’re frustrated when they're unable to please customers the first time around and shared specific thoughts on what we can do to help them better serve our customers.

To sum it up, we heard that sometimes we get it right, and sometimes we don’t. We know we need to get it right consistently, and that’s what we’re working toward.

As I meet with customers and employees in other cities, I’ll continue to update this log with what I hear and the steps we’re taking to improve.

Rick

Rick Germano, Senior Vice President of Customer Operations

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