There’s no escaping the base line…

Enrique Dans
Jun 9, 2015 · 4 min read

A new report published by ACSI, the American Customer Satisfaction Index, a metric evaluating how happy or otherwise US and UK clients are with companies of all sorts on a continuous basis, reveals that some industries, and in particular cable television, are not overly popular.

And among them, the company with one of the lowest scores is Comcast, which has fallen 10 percent on last year, and is back where is was during its worst year, in 2008. This is of particular interest for those of us who have been following the company’s progress on Twitter under the guidance of Frank Eliason, the man once described as “the most famous head of customer service in the United States, and possibly the entire world.”

When Frank decided to put his strategy into motion, the company’s reputation was at its lowest: the poorness of its customer service had reached mythical proportions: a 75-year-old grandmother was moved to destroy her Comcast digibox with a hammer, while journalist Bob Garfield set up a website called ComcastMustDie, and another unhappy customer uploaded a video to YouTube of one of Comcast’s engineers sleeping on his sofa after waiting more than an hour waiting to talk to somebody at the company.

In response, Eliason set up the Twitter account @ComcastCares to monitor complaints, answering all of them personally and trying to solve problems as quickly as possible. He ended up interacting personally with more than 10,000 customers via Twitter, setting up a special operations unit within the company to do so, earning celebrity status in the process as Famous Frank, appearing on television and even being mentioned in management books. I still use Comcast as an example of how the social media have become the 900 customer service number for many companies, and that Twitter can be a powerful tool in customer relations, or how individuals can influence a company’s image.

But it now seems as though all that is over: what was once a pioneering move, one that many other companies copied, particularly after the case was included in Shel Israel’s Twitterville, is now pretty much standard operating procedure: a growing number of companies now actively monitor the social networks and compete to respond the fastest and most diligently to unhappy or angry customers.

Frank moved on in 2010, joining Citigroup as head of global social media, and Comcast has slipped back into its old ways, with its customer satisfaction levels dropping steadily to the pre-Twitter days. That said, correlation doesn’t mean causation: there are many other factors that could influence user’s perceptions of the company, but it seems clear that customer attention is definitely one of them. But they are also unhappy with aspects of the service itself: poor picture quality, not enough channels, undecipherable bills, that it is overly complicated, and slow response to dealing with technical problems.

In this context, customer service is just one part of the problem, and even if it were brilliant — and there is nothing to suggest it is — it would be unlikely to have much impact.

Nevertheless, history shows that the company was able to respond to its problems: and that moment was when it decided to take advantage of Twitter to do something that hadn’t been done with the social network before. Here was a lesson in management: first the use of a new resource to drastically improve a company’s image, but then failing to back this up improving the service and quality of the product itself, thus allowing the company to return to its starting point, and possibly to slip back further unless new corrective measures are taken.

In the end, this is what the base line is all about: the objective appreciation of how good or bad your company is at what it does. Taking advantage of an innovative resource, often associated with a specific person, can help you, for a time, to disguise your results. But if you don’t deal with the root of the problem, you will return to your usual values, and you will incur the wrath of your customers.

Following the (momentary) success of Comcast, no small number of other companies decided to try using the social media to deal with customer service issues. As a guiding principle it’s not bad: if you don’t implement real change you will simply be delaying the return to poor results by the amount of time it takes such solutions to become popular…

(En español, aquí)

Enrique Dans

On the effects of technology innovation on people, companies and society (writing in Spanish at since 2003)

Enrique Dans

Written by

Professor of Innovation at IE Business School and blogger at

Enrique Dans

On the effects of technology innovation on people, companies and society (writing in Spanish at since 2003)

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