Al Dubiak has doubts when he hears Comcast Corp. executives say the cable giant’s customer service will get better.
He’s had avoidable mix-ups with its technicians, including an incident when one arrived at his vacation home in another state instead of his home in Minnesota. And last month Dubiak got a letter from the company announcing that prices for several in-home services have doubled, tripled or quintupled.
“Exorbitant,” says Dubiak, a retiree in Shoreview. “When I talk about Comcast, I’m sorry, I get a little upset.”
For about a year, Comcast has renewed efforts to improve its poor reputation. The firm’s regional managers in St. Paul threw an event last month to draw attention to their work.
But both data and anecdotal evidence show the company is in a deep hole. Comcast ranks 97th out of 100 firms in a ranking of the reputations of the most visible companies in America by the Harris Poll. That’s just ahead of oil-spilling BP, Dick Cheney-connected Halliburton and emissions-cheating Volkswagen.
Based in Philadelphia, Comcast is the largest cable television and internet service company in the U.S. and made $8.2 billion in profit last year. Comcast is the also the internet leader in the Twin Cities, with CenturyLink in second and upstart fiber optic firm US Internet in a distant third.
Market dominance has been a blessing for Comcast’s business and a curse for its reputation.
Complaints usually include the argument that Comcast doesn’t face real competition, that its prices are too high or too variable, its bundling rules are frustrating, service technicians are tardy and calls for customer service aren’t helpful.
“I don’t think there is a mystery here, it is a lack of competition pure and simple,” said Joshua Gans, an economist at the University of Toronto who’s written about the cable and internet business. “The competition that does exist is from similarly poor firms. So there is no incentive to improve customer service.”
The reason Comcast is worried now, Gans said, is because people are starting to cut the cord entirely — abandoning cable TV for the internet.
Since it announced a year ago that improving customer service was a top priority, Comcast can point to some successes.
The firm improved its score and rose from last place in the American Consumer Satisfaction Index among large internet providers in the U.S. Now Comcast is tied for third from the bottom, ahead of only Mediacom and Frontier Communications. Among cable television providers, Comcast did better, boosting its score 15 percent and landing in the middle of the pack.
“We know that we still have work to do, but we are totally focused on making constant progress,” said Jill Hornbacher, a Minnesota-based spokeswoman for Comcast.
The company’s technicians in Minnesota now arrive on-time 98.8 percent of the time, Hornbacher said, an improvement over last year’s 97 percent. The company’s pledge now is 100 percent punctuality, or it will give the customer $20. The company also says it’s resolving “first-time calls” faster and hiring more people for local call centers.
In Dubiak’s case, Hornbacher said Comcast apologizes for inconvenience he endured in service calls. She said the price increases he cited “generally relate to service and installation charges that existing customers rarely see.” She noted Comcast has encountered some higher costs for programming, which has led to higher prices for its customers.
Sarah Schreier of Golden Valley last year signed up for Comcast’s bundle of internet, cable and home security service for $120 a month, which a representative said at the time was a promotional deal that would last for 12 months. “We had no need for home security, but he said if we added it, the total bill price would end up being less expensive than just doing cable and internet.” Schreier said.
When the promotional period ended, Schreier and her husband visited a Comcast store to drop the home security but were told they would be charged $500. She said she feels badly for Comcast’s customer service representatives but suspects they’re instructed to confuse rather than rectify a situation. And the home security system?
“Still paying for it,” she said. “And the batteries are out on it and they’re impossible to find.”
Comcast’s Hornbacher said the company apologizes for the situation and did not live up to its service goals. “We want to make certain all customers are in a service package that fits their household needs,” she said. “We would like to work with this family to make it right and make certain their concerns are addressed in a satisfactory manner.”