Comcast takes its whacks on service

Broadband service is one of Comcast's cmcsa most popular and lucrative products. But the powerful new medium is also creating a public relations headache for the No. 1 cable company.

A blog, ComcastMustDie.com, has begun to rally consumers irate about everything from missed or botched installation appointments to unresponsive customer service agents.

Since Oct. 4, visitors have submitted more than 1,100 comments, says blog creator Bob Garfield, a columnist for Advertising Age and co-host of National Public Radio's weekly show On the Media.

On Dec. 11, he hopes to turn up the heat with a podcast featuring listener calls and interviews with guests including Ralph Nader and comedian Harry Shearer.

"What I want is for the scales to fall off of (Comcast CEO) Brian Roberts' eyes," Garfield says. "I'm trying to persuade him that if Comcast were to become the Nordstrom of cable and telecom providers (in providing excellent customer service), then the rewards would far exceed the cost."

Comcast, which has 24.2 million cable customers, says it's on the case. Rick Germano, who became senior vice president for customer operations in September, says he's conducting focus groups with Comcast customers, including some who wrote to Garfield's site.

"They've come up with good ideas that never really crossed our radar," Germano says. "We're good, but we need to be much better."

Specifically, he wants to see Comcast move up in the J.D. Power and Associates customer satisfaction rankings. Customers rated it below average for cable and satellite providers in all four of the researcher's regional tallies in August.

Germano says, though, that Comcast deals with more than a million customers a day, and, "The overwhelming majority of those experiences are positive."

Blogs such as Garfield's can help, he says. "Comcast is very much aware of Mr. Garfield and is very open to talking to customers in those forums." He declined to appear on the podcast. He'll be in Miami on his listening tour.

In addition to Nader and Shearer, Garfield will talk with blogger Jeff Jarvis, whose 2005 accounts of maddening encounters with Dell led to customer-support upgrades.

Garfield also will talk with Mona Shaw, a Virginia resident who in August vented her anger over an exasperating installation by taking a hammer to a Comcast office and smashing PCs and phones.

Garfield says that his self-described "consumer jihad" also began in August after he signed up for TV, broadband and phone services.

By his account, the installer failed to show. It took several calls, long waits on hold and exasperating conversations with customer service reps to fix things.

"The people you speak to on the phone are not empowered to fix" problems, Garfield says. "That's insane. And it's going to stop."

The Internet will see to that, he adds: "It has empowered people to be a force that corporations should exploit instead of antagonize."

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