Bloomberg News

Comcast to Cut Wait Times for Cable Repair and Installation

June 21, 2011

(Updates with closing share price in final paragraph.)

June 21 (Bloomberg) -- Comcast Corp. plans to reduce the time customers wait for the cable guy after a consumer website last year voted it worst company in America.

Comcast, based in Philadelphia, will shorten its cable repair and installation windows in all markets from as much as four hours to two hours or less by 2012. The largest U.S. cable operator is using new dispatch technology and equipping all technicians with laptops and handheld devices to guarantee on- time arrival within the shorter windows, Chief Executive Officer Brian Roberts said.

Comcast’s plan to shrink windows for all subscribers is similar to a service pledge by St. Louis-based Charter Communications Inc., the fourth-biggest cable provider. Better service is one of Comcast’s main goals as it rebrands its cable service “Xfinity,” Roberts said.

“Xfinity service should mean something different than it did in the past,” Roberts said. “It should stand for better technology and better customer service,” he said last week, in an interview during the National Cable & Telecommunications Association’s Cable Show in Chicago.

Comcast has begun testing the 2-hours-or-less windows in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and Salt Lake City. The company didn’t say where it will shrink windows next.

Consumer Complaints

Last year, readers of Consumerist.com, a website affiliated with the Yonkers, New York-based Consumers Union, chose Comcast from among 32 companies as the worst company in America. Voters lamented long wait times, unsuccessful service calls resulting in multiple appointments, and a customer-service department with little power to expedite calls, said Ben Popken, managing editor of Consumerist.com.

“People get really mad when they take time off work and a cable guy is really late or doesn’t show up,” said Popken. “Comcast is the biggest cable provider, and the bigger you are, the more complaints you’re going to get.”

Comcast was one of the last four companies in the running for the title this year and lost to London-based BP Plc.

Waiting for the cable guy is an issue long associated with the industry. Technicians used to receive a stack of work orders at the beginning of day and address service requests according to a schedule, Comcast said. If a service call ran late, other appointments in the day would be delayed or canceled.

Dispatch Technology

Comcast uses dispatch technology from Englewood, Colorado- based CSG Systems International Inc. and Ventyx, a division of Zurich-based ABB Ltd. The mobile-workforce technology allows technicians to relay their whereabouts and give updates on installations with regional coordinators, who can make adjustments on the fly, Comcast said. The technology allows servicing of more homes on schedule without hiring additional employees, the company said.

Charter Communications’s use of dynamic dispatching over the last couple of years has allowed it shrink wait times to two hours, John Birrer, senior vice president in charge of customer experience, said in a telephone interview. All the company’s regional call-center heads report to Birrer, which he said creates consistency.

“This industry has gotten in its own way,” said Birrer.

Time Warner Cable

Last year, New York-based Time Warner Cable Inc. introduced “Signature Home” to its premium customers. The service includes technicians who make house calls based on reservations at specific times. The second-largest cable operator is in the process of creating other packages that include self-install kits, according to spokesman Alex Dudley. Customers typically have three-hour windows with regular Time Warner Cable packages, the company said.

About two years ago, Comcast introduced a seven-point guarantee to customers. It will credit users’ accounts with $20 if technicians are late or if the company can’t resolve “routine” issues in one visit.

The rollout corresponds with Comcast’s continued expansion of its Xfinity service, a rebranding of the company’s network and products that include high speed Internet, high definition cable, XfinityTV.com and mobile applications. Comcast also has developed self-install kits to allow customers to install video, voice and data in their homes.

Comcast rose 36 cents, or 1.5 percent, to $24.05 at 4 p.m. New York time in trading on the Nasdaq Stock Market. The shares are up 9.5 percent this year.

--With assistance from Niamh Ring in New York. Editors: Niamh Ring, Romaine Bostick

To contact the reporter on this story: Alex Sherman in New York at asherman6@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Peter Elstrom at pelstrom@bloomberg.net


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