Customer service in 2008: opportunities and pitfalls, exhibit A

In the vein of my recent blog post on “open messaging,” is an interesting little vignette involving Comcast customer service.

I posted a question yesterday on Twitter, to see if any of my friends (or anybody else who happened to be listening) knew how to resolve a weird networking problem I was having with my Comcast Internet service.

Moments later, I found that somebody was listening — an account called “ComcastCares” (CCC). A little creepy at first, but not surprising in this connected world I inhabit.

Anyway, score one for Comcast — in effect, tech support called me, instead of the other way around. That’s pretty cool.

But the game wasn’t over. Having a clearly interested audience, I mentioned my one major problem with Comcast, something which frequently influences my decisions when I advise clients and friends about their Internet service: Comcast forbids sharing an Internet connection, even for free, outside the premises. (Even if your wireless router happens to have a strong enough signal that it does that by default.)

ComcastCares, to my surprise, did care — very much so. CCC wrote me several more open messages on the subject. Unfortunately, CCC was not very familiar with the policy, and the contrast it strikes with Comcast’s more permissive competitors. CCC also was not aware of the strong desire among its customers and potential customers to share wireless access freely. I was able to provide links to comments from several members of Portland’s PersonalTelco community demonstrating frustration with this policy.

So in the end, I think CCC undercut its mission of presenting a proactive and helpful interface to its customers. This isn’t a problem with open messaging itself, but with the approach CCC took; if CCC had simply said “We understand your concern, but have chosen to adopt a different business model at this time; sorry it doesn’t serve your needs well,” there wouldn’t have been much for me to say.

But instead, CCC chose to get into the details and adopt an argumentative posture. That’s not the best image to put out in a society that generally believes “the customer is always right”, or for a company that has been embroiled, recently, in two massive public relations fiascos (an attempt to undercut net neutrality, and FISA wiretaps).

So, score one for the annoying customer.

Still, on balance, I am impressed that Comcast is trying to leverage new technologies to create new lines of communication with its customers; and if they hear the kind of feedback I gave and incorporate it into their business model, it will be a win for everyone.

Are other companies active on Twitter in this way? What similar experiences have you had?

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