Comcast’s reputation as one of America’s most-hated companies doesn’t faze J.D. Keller, the company’s newest Twin Cities-based executive. A junior-college athlete and son of a high school football coach, Keller said he relishes the challenge of “turning a ship around.” Philadelphia-based Comcast has invested $300 million in a three-year corporatewide push begun in 2015 to amp up customer service and to try to repair its dismal reputation. Comcast has opened eight Apple-style Xfinity retail stores in the Twin Cities, beefed up its call center staff and put more home-service technicians on the street. It also has focused on developing online tools to enable customers to interact directly with the company. Here is the full interview with Keller, edited for length and clarity.
Q: Tell me about your job.
A: As vice president of Comcast’s Twin Cities division, I oversee more than 600,000 subscribers, $1.5 billion in revenue and 2,400 employees.
Q: How will you tackle improving Comcast’s reputation?
A: When I interviewed with Steve White [Comcast’s West Division president] and CEO Dave Watson, all they talked about was customer experience. Dave Watson regularly calls clients deep in our organization to ask, ‘How’d we do?’ He’s out on the street listening to people. There is no ivory tower here. We have a long way to go to respect our customers and do a better job. Our goal is to be recognized by our customers and J.D. Power as the No. 1 communications company in the world. That’s what brought me to Comcast. A recent American Customer Satisfaction Index report gave Comcast its highest marks in 15 years [although it still trailed Verizon, AT&T and Charter Communications].
Q: What specifically is changing?
A: It starts with respecting our customers and their time. We’ve narrowed down service calls to a two-hour window, not the typical four or six hours. We text or call 30 minutes ahead to let customers know when the truck will arrive. For the past year, we’ve been on time 98 percent of time in the Twin Cities. We’ve hired more people, put more trucks on the street, and improved our training and processes. We’ve spent a great deal of money getting it right, over $2 billion in technology and infrastructure and adding 40 or 50 technicians on street. In the last year, we hired 400 people for the call center. We’re really trying to get it right on the first call, as opposed to transferring everybody all over the country. People can get in touch with us online, through mobile apps or by talking to a live person. We’re becoming a simpler company to deal with.
Q: How do you plan to keep this positive momentum going?
A: Every month we talk to technicians, salespeople and our teams and ask them how we’re doing and what we can do better. We also talk to customers every month and know verbatim exactly how they feel about us. They fill out surveys and we are scored and ranked across every other region in the company on how we’re doing. Every single comment in the Twin Cities is read by someone in this building. We bucket them, we get hot topics taken care of as fast as we can. We believe if customers are happy with us in the first 90 days, they’re going to stay with us for life.
Q: After rising to vice president of sales and operations at ADT Security Services, you had about 10 months after it was acquired by Apollo Global Management to think about what was next in your career. Why Comcast?
A: First, I took the time to take a deep breath and spend time with my wife and three children. I knew I wanted to challenge myself. I’m not happy unless there’s some big boulder I have to push up the hill. I’m a competitor. I didn’t want to just go get a job. I took a deep breath and said where do I want to be? Who’s spending money? You look at Apple, you look at Google, who has the money to go compete as automation takes over? And Comcast, with NBC and Universal, it was an absolute no-brainer. I also was impressed with some of the community programs, such as Internet Essentials, which helps low-income families afford computers. It’s hard to imagine that there are kids writing term papers on their moms’ cellphone and trying to find a printer somewhere just to do their homework. Nearly 24,000 households have benefited. Our goal is to reach 50,000.
Q: What is your management style?
A: Management by walking around and asking questions. Heavy on delegation, putting the right people in place and turning them loose. I don’t micromanage, but I ask a lot of questions. I meet weekly with my team and I expect them to tell me exactly what’s going on and where they need my help. By hiring good people I focus on strategy and people and what’s going on a global scale. My dad was a high school teacher and football coach, and my mom was a waitress. I grew up watching my dad on field as coach all those years, which provided me with a will to compete. But I also got to watch him interact with kids. So many kids came up to my dad over the years thanking him. I’m tough with people, holding them accountable, but also wanting to be their champion and supporter.