It began with a slight customer-service issue -- an installer leaving my house in the middle of a job and never returning -- and escalated into a blog post designed to incite the seething multitudes.
The headline? Comcast Must Die. It was the first salvo in a small-scale consumer jihad, aimed not at killing the world’s largest cable provider, but shaming it into some modicum of CRM competency. It worked. Within a few days, a standalone blog of the same name -- begun with the help of a similarly frustrated reader -- had become a gigantic B-to-C corporation’s customer-relations tool of last resort. People would post their complaints there along with their account numbers, and Comcast would intervene to resolve their problems.
Thus, back in 2005, did Comcast Must Die earn its place in the annals of the digital revolution. Strangely, rather than placing a bronze-relief plaque of my profile in its headquarters lobby, Comcast retaliated -- my management informed me -- by pulling its million-dollar ad schedule from my then company.
They weren’t sore losers. In my estimation, they were sore winners.
As I said, there is some history there. So imagine my curiosity when, at the annual conference staged here by Responsys, one of the breakout sessions featured a Comcast vice president, Luci Rainey, on the subject of “Customercenticity.”
Oh, I thought, this should be good. What’s in the next room -- Alec Baldwin on anger management?
But, wait, not so fast, wiseguy. The subject was relationship-building, and Rainey was a revelation. Her recounting of the transformation of the company’s direct marketing program from the accumulation of the perceived tactical desires of various corporate silos to a holistic focus on what serves customers’ wishes suggests… well, let’s just say it isn’t the Comcast of seven years ago.
“We were in a crisis,” Rainey told the Responsys crowd. “We were sending a lot of stuff to people” at great expense with predictably dismal returns, such as a 3% conversion rate. “That means 97% of your list is either annoyed with you or ignoring you.”
Now this was a company that, when I bumped up against it, measured cable customer-service not by how well issues were resolved, but by how quickly agents could get callers off the phone. So Rainey’s strategy, which may seem obvious from a distance, was internally a sea change: “Rather than batching and blasting, let’s see what they’re interested in.”
The very culture that was tin-eared to complaints was also ass-backwards about promotion. Emails were sent out by every team willly-nilly, without a thought of how besieged recipients might feel. The consequence was that recipients felt Comcast was a spamming nuisance.
So Rainey hit pause, established a single template for everything from all corners of the brand -- whether an NBC special, a pay-per-view promotion or a broadband speed upgrade -- and funneled them through her shop to be sure the messages conformed in style, were not redundant and, above all, were relevant to customer recipients. Those decisions were made based on data of previous activity and demonstrated interest.
“We’ve lowered our send volume, but we’ve increased our engagement dramatically,” Rainey says. “In some cases we’ve had email open rates over 100%, because people were going back.”
For example there was a video-on-demand promotion to a region about to be slammed with a blizzard. Those emails were not sent to San Francisco or the Southwest, but in the path of the storm, “we got incredible open rates,” says Rainey.
Once again, this segmentation and discrimination approach may seem obvious.. But it’s also pretty obvious not to have your cable installers leave a job never to return, and not to escalate an ensuing complaint. But history shows that sometimes even the obvious is subordinated to other factors (such as the impunity of monopoly).
Comcast’s direct-marketing renaissance, however, demonstrates more than just a culture change at one company. It also illustrates that life in the Relationship Era isn’t all about how to play defense, or all about social media or not getting caught in misbehavior. It’s about the Golden Rule. Treat others as you’d wish to be treated, and they will be more disposed to filling your coffers with gold.