Master Interviews: Frank Eliason @ ComcastCares

I have six very interesting interviews that I conducted over the past two weeks that I’d like to share with you.

When I first started this project I wanted to ask different people the same questions, so we could compare how different backgrounds view the challenges we have ahead for SCRM and the progress of communities.  Alas, all the answers were similar.  I did not want to bore you, so I changed the questions for each subject to reflect their particular situation – trying to reflect the SCRM flavor in them.

I asked Frank Eliason (@ComcastCares) about the internal approval process and the justification for deploying Twitter for Customer Service, initial reactions from customers, and impact to the organization of taking on this project:

1. Frank, you are one of pioneers of Social CRM deployments. Comcast has been using Twitter for Customer Service longer than just about anyone else – and with great success. You have a large team, for such a young technology, working on this and have presented mostly everywhere on the topic. How did Comcast start on Social CRM?

Thank you, but in my opinion a lot of what we accomplished is Customer Service 101. If you see a Customer in need, no matter where they are, don’t you want to help? Social media is just an easy way to listen to your Customers. For us it started slowly. I joined Comcast September, 2007. We reached out to a blogger on my 4th day. Back then we called instead of writing. After that day, we did when we had time, using simple tools like Google Blogsearch. Customers loved it, so we did more when we could. In December, 2007 I was asked why we were not writing out on the net (all the early outreach was via phone). After that we started to post to blogs. Customers loved it. So in February, 2008 I was asked to make this my job and hire a few people. My responsibilities would be blogs and forums throughout the internet, as well as our own help forums. One of the first things I did was start a daily newsletter to share the story. A leader from our Southwest region, Scott Westerman, wrote to me to say I love what you are doing, you should check out this placed called Twitter. So we started watching Twitter. Early in the process we reached out to a few people via phone, and then eventually I started to Tweet under the ComcastCares name on Twitter. That is, and has always been my account. My team members have their own account.

2. How do you measure success, both internally and externally, for this initiative? Did you need an ROI to get it approved? Did you meet the expectations of the ROI?

The ROI conversation cracks me up, as I hear it all the time. I wonder if other parts of an organization such as public relations or Customer Service had as many people question ROI as social media does. There are many way to measure it, such as amount of Customer helped on a given day, of course this misses the broader ways you may help on a day, such as broadcasting a message. Sometimes those, thanks to retweets, can hit millions of people in a matter of seconds. You can also measure sentiment and changes over time. I have been successful in both of these. Of course this is not the way Comcast measures success. We are striving to improve the overall experience. One of the best ways you can do that is through the Customer story. This is a great space for that. From there you can implement a great deal of changes in many areas of the company that improve the experience for all our valued Customers.

3. Projects with this large impact tend to have repercussions internally, were there lots of changes necessary within the organization to be able to do this?

Personally, I think we were already in the process of changing to be a much more open company. We were also already hard at work improving the Customer experience. That work will be a never ending process, but we are pleased to see movement in the right direction. You may be interested in this response from Steve Burke, COO of Comcast during an interview by Tech Flash, March, 2009.

What have you learned from using Twitter and other social media tools to respond to customer complaints?

“It is an interesting question. We have 24 million customers, and even when you do things right 99.9 percent of the time, when you have 24 million customers, you get a lot of phone calls and lot of repair issues and things you need to do. One of the things we noticed was these social media sites like Twitter were places where people would go and they would tell their friends what they thought was good or bad about a particular company.

So, we hired a group of people who do nothing all day long but go into blogs. And their primary mission is to go in and figure out if someone is unhappy with their service and if there is anything we can do to fix it and rectify the problems. We’ve been doing it now about 18 months and it has been fantastic.”

On lessons from that:

“When you contact somebody and you admit that you made a mistake and then you fix the mistake, they become some of your biggest supporters. We took the lead and we are ahead of a lot of companies in America doing it…. I think it is a fact that that’s the way that people are communicating now, and I think if you want to serve your customers you have to go to where they are.”

“I think cable companies traditionally have gotten a wrap — and some of its justified — for doing what they do one-sized-fits-all and not being responsive to customers about complaints. And we have never liked to think of ourselves that way, but the fact of the matter is at times we are that way. This is a way to really connect one-on-one with people in a really intimate way. So, it has been a big success.”

4. What was the initial reception from customers – way back at the beginning – of getting service via Twitter? How about now?

I have read stories where the writer believed that Customer would be shocked by it in a big brother kind of way. I can say that is false. People blog for a reason: to be heard. They love to know when someone is listening to them

5. How do you see the future for Twitter and Social CRM in Customer Service? How about with Comcast?

I think you will continue to see more companies explore social media spaces for help, and to find ways they can better help Customers through other channels using information in these spaces. You like that confusing answer? I think social media has a lot of great information and companies will harness it and using it to help others.

5 thoughts on “Master Interviews: Frank Eliason @ ComcastCares”

  1. Good stuff! And a great example of the power of social media for 1) certain types of customer service and 2) helping a brand which has generally been near the bottom of many sat surveys rehabilitate its reputation in a hurry. Interestingly, some other cable providers like DIRECTV have also been playing the social card – in some cases a lot longer than Comcast. (see http://blogs.zdnet.com/feeds/?p=1567) for another interesting story.

    - Allen

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