Suzanne Keenan

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When hashing out consumer problems in the boardroom, one Comcast Corp. executive may, with authority, use the cliché, “Come on, people, it's not nuclear science!”

Suzanne Keenan, 40, the senior vice president of customer service for the nation's largest MSO, might be one of the only people in the cable industry who actually knows quite a bit about nuclear science: She graduated from Penn State University with a bachelor of science degree in nuclear engineering, before adding a master's in health physics from the University of Pittsburgh.

Now, she handles consumer complaints, seemingly a world away from her field. “Nuclear physics is all about the constant. Customers are anything but constant,” she says.

Her consumer care and organizational skills were born of adversity in her chosen industry. After graduation, Keenan held various management roles with PECO Energy Co., a power distribution company serving 1.5 million electrical customers and 430,000 natural gas customers in southeastern Pennsylvania. PECO operates 17 nuclear reactors and other power generating sources, including the infamous Three Mile Island, where the Unit 2 suffered a severe core meltdown in 1979. The clean-up lasted until 1993, and Unit 2 remains closed.

Keenan spent part of her PECO career working with representatives of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. She moved into customer service because of terrible relations between the company and the community. “There was a whole series of difficult events, big problems, the kinds of things that make people run away. I've seen it as an opportunity,” she says of her response to crisis.

Because of the shutdown, the company brought in organizational development experts, Keenan says. The instruction was so effective that all but two of the nuclear executives who took the training are today engaged in organizational development professionally, she said.

Her approach may have been inspired by her dad, who always advised Keenan: “Good luck is when preparedness meets opportunity.”

“Learn as much as you can from everyone around you. If you focus on a singular goal, you might miss an opportunity,” she notes.

For Keenan, preparedness met opportunity within the cable business in 1999. She had no intention of leaving PECO. Indeed, she was seeking executives from other local companies to discuss mutual economic development opportunities when she called Dave Watson, now Comcast executive vice president of operations.

That first dinner went great, she says, with the discussion lasting for four hours. That meeting got Keenan interested in the cable industry, but she thought she'd be bored by a job with Comcast. “At PECO, I had so many areas I dealt with, I never had time to get bored,” she says. Despite her fears, Keenan joined the MSO and has found the job far from boring.

In her position, she supervises the company's consumer Web site, its 800-number for customer service, and is responsible for maintaining compliance with Comcast's consumer-quality standards.

Keenan tries to keep staffers focused on long-term strategy, while assuring quick response to necessary changes. It's a paradox, she admits, so she spends a lot of time on the phone with her team, updating targeted initiatives based on local feedback.

Some of that feedback filters all the way up to Keenan, the last stop on escalated complaints. Her weirdest customer contact came from an enraged patron who was apparently fooled by Keenan's youthful voice and believed he'd reached an assistant in the executive's office.

“He was on a tirade — the F-bomb was flying,” she recalls. When the customer demanded to talk to the head of customer service, she introduced herself. On the other end, she just heard, “Oh, my God” and the caller hung up.

She can handle most concerns, except for the rare case when a field technician calls to report that a television has been doctored with foil to “prevent Comcast from looking back,” she said, laughing.

Her greatest challenge came after Comcast completed its purchase of AT&T Broadband in November 2001. Cable operations went smoothly due to the talent Comcast inherited from AT&T. The hard part, she says, was activating eight call centers, and expanding seven others, in one year.

Keenan hasn't questioned the career switch, especially since Comcast has shown that the leadership there “walks the walk” when it comes to work-life issues. Case in point: The year of her 10th wedding anniversary, Comcast Cable president Steve Burke told her an off-site meeting had been planned for the executive team, coinciding with her special day. Keenan went home and told her husband and found the meeting would ruin his plans to surprise her with a trip to the Grand Prix in Monte Carlo.

“He was devastated,” she recalls. Keenan went to Watson and said she'd decided to be with her husband for their anniversary. Burke decided to move the meeting date so Keenan could honor both commitments. “There was never any judgment about my priorities. You have to get the work done, but you have to have your own life,” she says.

Keenan spends her precious off-hours with husband Jeff, and sons Justin, 10; and Sean, 12. “They're at an age where they still want to spend time with me,” she says of her kids. Plus, her oldest son is a great product tester. “He loves to read manuals,” she says proudly.

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