Comcast service rep: a deeply fearful employee trying to hold onto his paycheck

"Grumpy Tech Support Man," a stock photograph from that seemed appropriate.

"Grumpy Tech Support Man," a stock photograph from that seemed appropriate.

On Monday, we posted a phone recording of an aggressive Comcast "Retention Specialist" arguing with a customer (Ryan Block) who wanted to cancel his service.

On Tuesday, we posted Comcast's response, which basically said, "It's all his fault, not ours"

We suspected Comcast had turned the employee into a scapegoat and our suspicions were confirmed when we read this post from former Comcast employee and Reddit user txmadison. (He provided images of his Comcast pay stubs to Slate to confirm his employment there.) Here's what he had to say about it:

When you call in to disconnect, you get routed to the Retention department; their job is to try to keep you. The guy on the phone is a Retention Specialist (which is just a Customer Account Executive who takes primarily calls from people disconnecting their service).

If I was reviewing this guy's calls I'd agree that this is an example of going a little too hard at it, but here's the deal (and this is not saying they're doing the right thing, this is just how it works). First of all these guys have a low hourly rate. In the states I've worked in they start at about 10.50-12$/hr. The actual money that they make comes from their metrics for the month, which depends on the department they're in. In sales this is obvious: the more sales you make the better you do.

In retention, the more products you save per customer the better you do, and the more products you disconnect the worst you do (if a customer with a triple play disconnects, you get hit as losing every one of those lines of business, not just losing one customer). These guys fight tooth and nail to keep every customer because if they don't meet their numbers they don't get paid.

Comcast uses "gates" for their incentive pay, which means that if you fall below a certain threshold (which tend to be stretch goals in the first place) then instead of getting a reduced amount, you get 0$. Let's say that if you retain 85% of your customers or more (this means 85% of the lines of businesses that customers have when they talk to you, they still have after they talk to you), you get 100% of your payout—which might be 5-10$ per line of business. At 80% you might only get 75% of your payout, and at 75% you get nothing.

The CAEs (customer service reps) watch these numbers daily, and will fight tooth and nail to stay above the "I get nothing" number. This guy went too far; you're not supposed to flat out argue with them. But Comcast literally provides an incentive for this kind of behavior. It's the same reason people's bills are always fucked up: people stuffing them with things they don't need or in some cases don't even agree to.

As Jordan Weissmann of Slate says, "So in short, yesterday we were all listening to a deeply fearful employee trying to hold onto his paycheck."

Is it surprising that Comcast treats its workers and subscribers like shit to boost their bottom line? And how much worse will Comcast treat them after it merges with Time Warner Cable and become the only broadband choice in many areas?

A Former Comcast Employee Explains That Horrifying Customer Service Call

Notable Replies

  1. I was hoping that you guys would pick up on this part. This tells us something about monopoly power and how it is used in multiple fashions (against employees, customers, competitors.)

    Why can they use this against employees? "You don't like your job fine, I can get 2,000 English speaking Indians to do this for 1/3 we pay you, not to mention all the other people in the US who need work."

    I wrote to, my internet service provider (which is also a full fledged phone carrier) and suggested that the CEO comment on this.

    They have a retention team too, but they aren't jerks about it. It might be because the incentives aren't the same and the company culture is different.

  2. Yep.

    Next up: Comcast goes after the guy who wrote the Reddit post.

    I recently worked in the web design department at a company you've heard of. The best description I can give of their bonus system was "incentivizing mediocrity". Every time I took the time to build a website the right way without taking shortcuts, I got a talk from my supervisor about my low numbers. In one particularly ludicrous situation, they fired one of the five guys on my team without any plan in place for replacing him, and then we started having near-daily meetings about why our team's numbers were down 20%.

    The upside to being a temp with no chance of receiving any bonus regardless of how good a job I did was that I never felt the pressure that most of the department did to sacrifice quality for the sake of quantity.

  3. mmmPi says:

    All the more reason to ask for a supervisor as soon as you get any push back on any service call. Main reason is to get someone who has the authority to yes/no your call, and let them take the hit instead of the scared employee.

  4. Raoul says:

    Having just spent over an hour on the phone with my cable company (RCN) over severely screwed up bills I can attest to the fact that all of thees companies are the same (and I have been a Comcast, TWC, and Charter customer in the past).

    In my case the person I spoke to last month - after my bill more than doubled with no warning or changes - took it upon herself to unbundle all my services and then try to add them back ad hoc. I can only imagine this is because their back end systems are as broken and inefficient as everything else they touch; I don't imagine she was trying to fuck things up.

    Now I am faced with trying to get the bundle back - but they are twisting themselves in knots trying to not give me new customer pricing, even though their system clearly thinks I am. The best part is that through looking closely at my bill I notice they are charging me rental on a Tivo box that is included in my bundle and also charged me for a "new" modem a couple of months ago when they changed my internet speed from 25-50 Mbps. Of course the irony is that I never received a new box, and my speed remained at 17-18 Mbps where it has been for the past 6 months despite what I pay for.

    I also notice that I now have a surcharge for broadcast TV and another "sports surcharge" for professional and collegiate sports (neither of which I watch). They tell me these are because their costs have gone up - presumably the $60 a month for cable TV doesn't cover these?

    Any way - apologize for being somewhat off topic - but I agree that most of the people on the phone at these horribly dysfunctional companies are just regular people doing their best to pay the bills in a horrible work environment. It's the senior managers who all deserve to be publicly shunned and shamed (was going to say hung by their heels from a lamppost, but maybe that's a tad too harsh).

  5. How can we, as culture jammers, increase the incentive for companies to provide a better service because it costs less to provide good service than suffer the abuse of a spurned consumer?

    For example, who can script an ELIZA with recognition of the retention scripts and voice to speech to keep the retention person on the line for, oh, his entire shift because it knows how to hem and haw?
    "Your argument is persuasive. But I hate you. But I feel like I need you. But I threw away the TV because of my hate for you. But I can get it out of the trash." All we need is one working model. Give it to a Comcast subscribing friend and let it run while you capture the resulting hours of audio to a big RAID.

    When the retention unit is exasperated because your Eliza Comcast Canceling Companion can outlast entire shifts of persuasion, how can the companies' retention strategies continue to work without affecting their returns on investment?

    Digitize the audio of your ELIZA working its way through to the point of the company's exasperation. Edit the audio so it contains only the ELIZA part because that will make it more non-sequitur for anyone on the other end of the line. Put it on the Internet under a CC license.

    When people need to cancel their Comcast accounts, they can just pull up the website we set up, set the audio playing into their Comcast phone, and walk away. The bills should stop flowing in and our friends can return the equipment.

    Hit Comcast (and their ilk) in the pocket book. That will stop the insanity.

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