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Comcast charm offensive aims to 'win back' customers' loyalty

"I think we need to win back their loyalty," says Neil Smit, president and CEO of Comcast Cable, referring to customers as he addressed the media Tuesday at the new high-tech, gleaming facility just east of Goose Island at 901 W. Weed St. | Mitch Dudek/Sun-Times

In an effort to counter a reputation for dreadful customer service, top executives from Comcast — the nation’s largest cable provider — deployed a charm offensive Tuesday ahead of the grand opening of the company’s flagship retail store on the Near North Side.

“I think we need to win back their loyalty,” Neil Smit, president and CEO of Comcast Cable, said of soured customers while addressing the media at the new high-tech, gleaming facility located just east of Goose Island at 901 W. Weed St.

“We’ve got to get the customer experience down, we’ve got to make that our best product,” Smit said. “We’re going to re-imagine the whole experience through a customer lens . . . we’re on a mission.”

The store — dubbed Studio Xfinity — which feels sort of like an Apple store without the blue shirts and white decor — is part of a companywide change in its customer service mindset.

“A complete transformation of what the customer experiences,” said Brian Roberts, chairman and CEO of Comcast Corporation. “We’re looking forward, we’re not looking back.”

The forge-ahead attitude is perhaps necessary to move past a checkered history. The Internet is riddled with Comcast customer service horror stories.

Last year, one customer made headlines after posting to YouTube a video of his experience trying to cancel his account.

He was put on hold for more than three hours until Comcast’s customer retention offices closed for the day.

“It’s unacceptable some of the individual incidences that have been well-documented,” Roberts said. “And so it was a rallying cry I think inside the company that we are going to top-to-bottom rethink every way we do business.”

The Chicago store will be a kind of laboratory for interacting with customers in a new way.

Customers will be able to receive tutorials on Comcast products, pay a bill, check out new technology and bring a cable box in for service.

“None of our locations in the country are like this,” Roberts said. Customers will be able to sign up and leave with a cable box that’s already programmed, and can be watching their favorite shows on their phone as they walk out, Roberts said. “It will turn upside down the entire installation experience.”

Nearly 400 people applied for 32 positions at the store, which is scheduled to open next month.

Officials said 5,500 new customer service reps will be hired to work at three new call centers.

Every person in the company will receive hospitality training.

And a new system will use GPS to track technicians’ locations, and if they are a single minute late to a home appointment, the customer will receive a $20 credit.

The company has 125 small retail stores and plans to open hundreds more. Officials said they would be similar to retail cellphone stores.

“This is back to basics,” Smit said. “There are times when you just need to transform things and rethink things from the base level.”