Does Comcast Really Care? Frank Eliason sure seems to.
[ Frank Eliason, the Comcast Cares guy on Twitter. Photo from his file.]
Between the time I requested an interview with Frank Eliason and the time I got his answers to my questions, he was profiled by the NY Times and USA Today. Frank is the Comcast Cares Cares Twitter guy and right, now, that is a hot story, hot because a cable company is generating a chorus of happy customer voices a cable company that has an historic record of finishing at or near the bottom of many customer satisfaction survey rankings.
Eliason is part of a team that scans social media and responds quickly to customer complaints with offers to help. His beat is Twitter and in a short while he has generated more favorable commentary than I have heard in my lifetime for any company that is called a carrier--and Comcast, a company not always beloved by its customers.
The Comcast Cares Twitter story began back in April, before the now-famous @comcastcares Twitter account even existed. Public attention was first generated before the Comcast Cares Twitter account started, when Frank reached out to celebrity blogger Michael Arrington, who gushed about Comcast service back in April.
This started a social media conversation wondering whether Comcast cares was a real support system, or had just created a clever PR ruse to appear responsive when in fact it was the same old cable service that so many people complained about. The cynicism was offset when bloggers less known than the TechCrunch impresario started reporting they too were receiving the same quick response as Arrington.
In this interview, I asked Frank a couple of tough questions in that area. You can decide for yourself what motivates him and the company he represents. My impression is that Frank Eliason is passionate about customer service and neither thinks nor acts as a PR operative. But more than that, good PR should be closely intertwined with customer support anyway.
Of even greater importance is that by virtue of so much public attention, Comcast is learning the importance of listening to customers and how social media makes that so much easier. Perhaps other companies will follow the Comcast lead. If they do, many customers will win and Comcast Cares will evolve from an interesting case study into an established best practice for the enterprise.
1. Before "Comcast Cares" was a Twitter-based customer service, it was a volunteer day for your corporate staff in Philadelphia. Please tell me how it evolved from what it was to what it now is.
Comcast Cares is still our company’s service day. This year about 50,000 employees, their families and friends volunteered to perform public services across the country. My choice of Comcast Cares was more coincidental than anything else. One of the first sites I registered would not let me have any of my choices for a user ID. It finally accepted Comcast Cares and I've been using it ever since.
2. How many people are involved in your Comcast Cares group? What do they do besides tweet? Are they PR people, customer service people or what?
Our team is actually called Comcast Customer Connect or C-Cubed and there are 7 of us today growing to 10 by year end. Right now, I am the only member of the team on Twitter, but I credit the other six with making the program such a great success. Our primary goal is to get customer feedback and assisting when we can. In addition to using blogs, Twitter and community forums, we also manage an email feedback program through our website. Members of the team also serve as forum moderators in our help and support forums.
3. Can you tell me a mind-blowing story of how Comcast Cares helped solve a customer problem?
What excites me most is developing positive relationships with customers online. Some conversations have started with customers expressing negative feelings but, in the end, we became friends.
Some of the most memorable stories were not about people with great difficulties, but rather unique individuals who I got to know. One example is Granny Annie , a great woman who uses her blog to communicate with children and grandchildren who live all over the country.
Surprises are often the most memorable events. One time, I mistyped a term during a search and accidentally landed on a blog whose author was expressing disfavor with Comcast.
When I checked, I couldn't find his Comcast account, but I did find his phone number as the site domain holder. It was a Saturday morning when I called and he answered the phone a little groggy so he rushed me off the phone. A day or two later he posted a new entry explaining that he had thought I was calling to complain because he had changed Comcast's logo on his blog.
He posted that I should call back. Of course I obliged. He's now a very happy customer.
We have numerous examples where bloggers have written back that we have converted them into raving fans. That's the ultimate compliment for someone in customer service person.
4. You have about 2700 followers on Twitter. How many problems a day does your team deal with? How many customers does Comcast have overall? How would you compare the Twitter service quality with the service your other customers receive?
It is hard to say the amount of people we help because for many of them we simply answer questions. Since starting the Twitter effort we have had over 9500 public tweets and almost 2000 private tweets. Comcast has over 24 million customers. The quality of service they receive should be at the same level that is received through other channels. At the same time, we started this effort to gather Customer feedback so we can work to improve the experience. So we do recognize we need to improve our Customer Service and we do learn a lot from this channel.
5. How do you think Comcast Cares is impacting Com cast's overall corporate culture?
Twitter feedback has been a great asset in our efforts to improve the customer experience. I also think we have shown the benefits to being involved in the conversation. We’re learning from our customers and we are listening to them – when they have suggestions I’m a direct link to the business to share their feedback.
6. What advice do you have for professionals from other companies considering Twitter as a customer support tool?
Twitter is not for every company and it is not a place for every individual. The first key for any organization is to do what we did. We were first told about Twitter from @ComcastScott, a leader in the Southwest area of the company. He thought it was a good place to go based on our successful blog outreach activities. He told us about it in February and we watched it before we started. We learned what was being said and what the conversation was like. We used tools like Twitter Search (formerly Summize.com) to listen to what customers were saying.
We reached out to a few customers privately. One was Michael Arrington. When he blogged about it, we decided it was time to take a more active role. The key to being successful is being personal and listening to what you are being told. I have received the best help from others on Twitter.
7. Where is Comcast going in social media? What will your Twitter effort look like 2-3 years down the line? What other social media tools is Comcast considering?
Our social media involvement will continue to expand, and my predication is that it will expand quickly. We will continue to look at other places to participate and utilize our own website even further. Social media is an important part of our organization. With a business that moves this quickly, it’s difficult to predict out 2-3 years.
8. A prominent blogger has called Comcast cares a concierge service where high profile members of the social media community get preferential treatment so that they'll speak highly of Comcast. How would you respond?
Actually my team treats every Customer we deal with in the same manner. This includes those in the blogosphere, but also customers who share feedback through our website. Also we have received calls from customers and we provide them the same treatment. This same argument came when we reached out to Michael Arrington, but if you review the comments you will see many people who said they helped me too.
9. How do you hope or expect Twitter to have moved the needle for Comcast? Do you think marketplace perceptions are being changed? How so?
My goal is change the perception individual customers who may have had a bad experience or reinforce the positive opinion of anyone who has a good experience. I have one real goal, and it is a common start to conversations: "Can I help?" That to me is what it is all