Why Culture is More Important Than Social Media, and Other Lessons from the Painful Comcast Call

Chances are, you’ve already heard the painfully long Comcast customer service call – 5.4 million people have! In case you haven’t heard the call yet, here’s the summary: A man called Comcast to cancel his service, and the customer service representative was far less than helpful. Painfully unhelpful, actually.

As you may expect, the call went viral and exploded all over social media – but this is not a social media problem. This is a problem with culture and customer service.

The biggest lesson to learn here: No matter how much work you put into your social media reputation, if your culture is bad, it doesn’t take much to make it all crumble.

Comcast is famous for Frank, the customer service rep who took it upon himself to build the ComCastCares Twitter ID to help people. For quite a while, Comcast was touted as one of the companies that really “Got” social media from the customer service perspective. Unfortunately, because SOOO many people have such terrible Comcast experiences, their social media presence isn’t credible. This customer service call is enough for people to jump on the “Comcast sucks” bandwagon.

Four lessons about why real friendly customer service trumps fake friendly social media…

1) Screwing up is often forgiven, being an all out d&*# is not.

The level of egregiousness is directly proportional to the degree of fall out. This wasn’t just someone taking a while to cancel…this went on, and on, and on, and on. Everyone can relate to customer service eternity-in-hell scenarios, so this automatically draws up memories of listeners’ own experiences and the rage around them. This wasn’t just bad, it was friggin awful. As such, the fallout has been friggin awful.


note: obviously not the real Michael Jordan

2) Companies HAVE to be about good customer service from the top down.

We are past the days of “firing” as a solution to any problem. The guy who posted the call very specifically said he didn’t want the rep fired. In fact, he somewhat defended him in saying he knew the rep was just doing his job. What he called into question was the culture of the company and the requirements of their customer retention specialists.

dontgetfired1 dontgetfired2 dontgetfired3

The Washington Post article that outlines how the system works (in the span of a day, you can literally lose $2000 off your paycheck because of ONE extra cancellation) added fuel to the fire. Even the Comcast official statement did little to calm the storm – it actually made it worse.

3) If you don’t treat everyone like crap, people will be more likely to give you the benefit of the doubt if a rogue employee DOES do something stupid.

The time invested in building a culture of trust and respect with your customers can protect you when these issues arise. Look at what’s happened with Southwest this week. They have had some kerfuffle over kicking a guy off the plane over a negative tweet. He was pissed that the SW agent wouldn’t let his kids board with him in the A+ section. This could have REALLY blown up, but you’ll find that many posts about it are full of loyal SW customer defending the policy and saying there has to be more to the story. There are tons of people (myself included) pointing out that they’ve also flown with family members and simply board later rather than insist their families be given free upgrades. There are also tons of people saying there has to be more to the story because what’s being reported runs SO contrary to what people know and expect from SW.


4) Don’t do anything privately you don’t want to become very, very public.

We’ve said it before, we’ll say it again, and it will always be true. Every single thing that happens in your company should be done with the understanding that it might end up on the front page of the NYT because in this day and age, it can. If you have ANYTHING happening internally that you wouldn’t want broadcast to the world, you better fix it and fix it now. Otherwise, it’s not if this will happen, it’s WHEN.


Overall, social media amplifies your company’s culture – but you have to have a good culture to amplify. If you don’t have a good company culture or good customer service, you’re going to get eaten alive online. Your first priority needs to be serving your customers. THEN make sure they’re enabled to share their good experiences online.

If your customers aren’t your first priority, they will find a way to share that online – and I promise it won’t be good.

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