It’s no secret that Comcast is a company with a bit of an image problem. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, chances are that you already know this, given the frequency with which Comcast is discussed around these parts. And even if you’re not a policy geek, chances are fairly high that you see America’s largest cable company in a less than favorable light. As the most recent American Customer Satisfaction Index survey reveals, Comcast is one of the least trusted cable providers out there. So you can’t blame the company for attempting to rehabilitate its image in the eye of the consumer…or can you? Today, Comcast found itself in hot water with consumer advocates yet again, over a controversial response to online complaints. For once, however, I’m siding with Comcast.
Remember that blog post I made about how Comcast cut my bill in half after I threatened to switch to Verizon FiOS? Well, on the same day that I wrote that post, I made the following post on Twitter: “[I] just called [C]omcast and threatened to switch to FiOS and they cut my bill in half, plus gave me HBO and Starz for free!” Later that day, I received the following response, from a Twitter user going by the name comcastcares: “woo hoo”. When I checked out comcastcares’ profile, I saw a whole string of tweets, almost all of them replies to other users, asking questions like “Can I help?” and “Can I look into that for you?” Just who is comcastcares?
According to a great piece in today’s New York Times, comcastcares is actually Comcast digital care manager Frank Eliason and his team of seven. Working out of his office in Philadelphia, Eliason scours blogs and social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook and MySpace for mentions of Comcast. He then responds to these comments one by one. If it’s a negative comment or a complaint, he asks the user if he can be of help and often recommends that the user in question contact his team. If it’s a somewhat positive comment–as was the case with mine–he offers a word or two of encouragement.
Of course, not everyone is happy with this approach. The New York Times story quotes a few users who found Comcast’s latest outreach effort “a bit creepy”. Meanwhile, popular gadget blog Gizmodo went even further, accusing the company of “overt Orwellian creepiness”. Leave it to the commentariot, however, to take things to the next level. In the comments that followed Gizmodo‘s story, a few commenters speculated as to whether or not Comcast had used Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) devices to zero-in on negative comments about the company.
First things first: I can just about guarantee that Comcast is not using DPI to figure out that you’re blogging about its customer service. To quote one of my colleague Robb Topolski’s favorite sayings, using DPI for this purpose would be “like using a sledgehammer to kill an ant”. DPI gear is complex, expensive and worst of all, controversial. Comcast may have made some pretty questionable decisions in the past but I’m willing to bet that even they realize that using a divisive, privacy-invading technology to win back the trust of customers isn’t the brightest idea. Especially not when a simple keyword search will suffice.
Herein lies the heart of the matter. While many of us blog or use a social networking service like Twitter or Facebook, most of us don’t expect anyone outside of our immediate circle of friends to read what we post to the Web. Despite this fact, many of these services are actually totally open and public by default. So unless you’ve taken pains to lock down your account, Comcast has as much of a right to read and reply to your comments as you had to post them.
What’s more, I would actually argue that what Eliason and his team are doing is a good thing. Comcast is actively engaging its customers and is addressing criticisms of its service head on. Sure, a lot of us complain about the companies that we have to deal with on a daily basis–but how often do we take steps to bring these complaints to the attention of someone who can actually remedy the situation? Eliason and his team are giving consumers that opportunity–whether they expect it or not–and in some cases they’ve been able to make a difference, even getting service personnel out to locations where they had previously broken multiple appointments.
When Comcast screws up, you had better believe that I’ll be one of the first people to pile on them. But when the tinfoil hat crowd starts wrongfully accusing companies of engaging in practices like DPI, I think it’s important that we stop and take the time to clear the air. That’s why, for the first time in my blogging career, I’m going to let Comcast have the last word, in the form of one of comcastcares’ most recent tweets: “Why is it creepy? Don’t you blog to share? Anyway, have a great weekend. :-)”