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Don't be Comcast: Use analytics, monitoring to prevent a viral disaster

Rob Enderle | July 21, 2014
Laugh all you want at the Comcast rep who didn't realise that customers were recording his subpar service as it was happening. Just don't forget that your company is one frustrated employee away from going viral, too.

customer service

The executive in charge of Comcast's support organization is having an interesting week.

As you know by now, two well-connected (media) people tried to disconnect from Comcast. The support representative made this an incredibly difficult task. In exchange, the customers taped part of the conversation. It went viral, and probably even made its way to the Comcast CEO and board of directors, particularly now that The Washington Post is using the incident as a powerful argument for blocking the troubled Comcast-Time Warner merger.

This is clearly a job-ending event for the support rep. It could be for several of the rep's managers and executives, too. And it could have been prevented with analytics focused on preventing a "viral event" and on improving internal practices.

The Customer Is Always Right, Overzealous Employees Usually Aren't
There are always folks within any organization who can become overzealous. This can be particularly problematic when firms face layoffs or other financial pressures. Employees can feel a need to do something. That "something" can be well-intentioned or it can be an absolute disaster.

I first experienced this in the IBM ROLM unit that made telephone systems. Every employee faced substantial pressure to improve financial performance. One very large customer, believing its phone system to be reliable, refused to sign what it thought was an unnecessary maintenance contract. To prove that customer wrong, one overzealous support engineer changed the permissions for inbound and outbound calls, effectively turning off the entire company's phone service. This was before the Internet and cell phones; in terms of real time communications, the firm effectively shut down. The head of our division was on the board for this company. The term "crap flows downhill" exemplifies what happened next.

Later, on the purchasing side, I found myself in the middle of a similar, well-intentioned problem. We studied our payroll system and found our current supplier wasn't competitive. We changed firms, only to find out that the supplier had been our biggest customer. Again, I observed the crap flowing downhill right onto my desk.

In both cases, a list of companies with which our executives engaged, couple with a list of our largest customers, might have avoided both problems. In this age of social media and the Web, though, we have better tools.

Tying analytics to outward-facing systems to identify potential problems before they occur could go a long way toward preventing these kinds of problems. For example, Comcast could create a database of celebrities, people active on the Web or in media, or those connected intimately with corporate executives (such as family members, business partners and friends). It could then flag all associated customer and vendor accounts for special handling and oversight. At the very least, Comcast could tell the person interfacing with these people or companies that extra care will pay dividends, while bad treatment will make the crap flow downhill. As most of us know, that's not any fun at all.


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