Striking Up the Brand To Draw Customers


As Comcast Corp. continues to expand its services across the country, the responsibility for making them available to, and more important, for satisfying its subscribers falls to the cable operator’s marketing and customer-service departments.

After all, the company has lofty growth goals. Chairman and CEO Brian Roberts, in a 2005 earnings report, projected Comcast would increase revenue-generating units by 35% in 2006, tied mainly to the implementation of digital phone service. The company projects 80% of its markets will have rolled out digital phone by the end of this calendar year.

So far, the growth numbers are encouraging: In the company’s second-quarter earnings report at the end of July, Comcast tallied the addition of 306,000 digital-voice customers in the period. Digital video grew, too, adding 350,000 subscribers. That brings the company’s digital penetration to 49% of its customers.

To expand further, it’s all about price, packaging and promotion, said senior vice president of marketing Marvin Davis. Comcast customers have responded to the operator’s simplified pricing of $33 apiece for video, voice and data service in a bundle.

Comcast ads featuring turtles that live in the slow lane have been a huge success.

Three out of four digital-video customers take the triple play package, Davis said. Resisters reject the bundle, for instance, because they use cell phones for all their calls, or spurn high-speed data because they don’t have or use a computer at home, he added.

According to monthly consumer surveys, those who do sign up for the bundle do so to save money, to consolidate expenses on one bill (Davis said he was surprised how high convenience ranked among these customers) and because they perceive Comcast as a reliable, stable company.

To gain the marketplace’s attention, last October the company launched its buzz-building “It’s Comcastic” branding campaign.

The effort has included a series of hugely popular ads featuring Bill and Karolyn Slowsky, a pair of turtles (read: puppets) who swear by digital-subscriber line service because they simply find cable-modem service too fast. According to Davis, in pre-tests with focus groups, the campaign proved to be the highest-scoring effort that Comcast has ever planned.

Conceived by San Francisco-based agency Goodby Silverstein & Partners, the creative effort also featured classic TV stars, such as Loretta Swit and Mr. T, and classic TV forms, such as game shows, to convey the message that Comcast has superior products.

Adweek named it campaign of the year in February, and the individual spots have been posted by fans for viewing on Web sites such as YouTube. Davis said the campaign helped the company break through the clutter and present its value proposition. But the tagline, which beat out “Beyond the Box,” is “just a wrapper.” Seventy-five percent of the advertising message, in markets where phone has been launched, is about bundled services.

Once a consumer buys those products, it’s up to Suzanne Keenan, senior vice president of national customer service, and her extended team to fulfill those orders. Within the last two months, Comcast has restructured its divisions so that all customer contact personnel, from call-center employees through technicians, report up to Keenan, rather than to operations or other departments.

That reorganization serves to strengthen the 3-year-old “Customer First” initiative, which attempts to give each customer contact a chance to result in “moments of excellence,” Keenan said.

As part of the initiative, Comcast surveys 15,000 different customers a month, especially residents in newly installed or recently serviced homes. An outside firm asks these customers about the quality of service provided.

Comcast has an internal set of metrics that are matched against the results of these calls, and performance can be measured down to the local system.

“What I love about this survey [is] you can’t game it. The statistics are significant and it tells you whether you made the customers happy,” Keenan said.

"The statistics are significant and it tells you whether you made the customers happy."

Suzanne Kennan
Senior VP, National Customer Service

That kind of insight is invaluable, particularly “as Comcast moves beyond the most recent J.D. Power and Associates Customer Satisfaction Survey” in which it fared poorly, something executive vice president of operations Dave Watson attributes, at least in part, to the number of service calls the operator handles (see separate story, page 22A).

Knowledge gained by the survey prompted the operator to offer more early morning and late evening service times, more Saturday and Sunday appointments and shorter appointment windows.

In a related effort, the company also surveys its own employees annually, asking them if they have the tools they need to live up to the company’s service credo. Keenan said last year’s survey, which is conducted by an outside firm, indicated that Comcast is improving in all those metrics.

The survey indicates employees’ ability to do their jobs, but is also an indicator of personal satisfaction. That is important as Comcast expands its service force through product growth and its absorption of the former Adelphia Communications Corp. properties. The company will need seasoned personnel to support new products, and to provide the service levels that will fend off competitors such as telephone companies.

Next year, Comcast will build nine new call centers and expand 12 more facilities. The company will need to hire 3,000 customer-service representatives and 3,000 technicians.

Comcast has developed an in-house selection tool used to screen new hires. The best employees in this field are hired for personality, not skills. Skills can be taught, Keenan said.

The company is focused on innovation in the multiple touch-points it offers consumers. For instance, Comcast has pioneered the use of “directed natural speech” in dealing with callers. The company monitored 50,000 calls, to identify the words and phrases most used by potential customers. Now, an automated attendant can attempt to help a consumer self-diagnose problems and attempt fixes, before the call goes to a live CSR, Keenan said.

Other products include a “Desktop Doctor,” which can diagnose and repair in-home personal computer problems remotely. And the Comcast-developed “Mover’s Hotline” program, which helps residents identify and arrange connections with the cable company in their new hometown, has been licensed by the Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing for use by other member operators, a first for a proprietary operator program, Keenan said.