Are You A Comcast Customer Who Was Treated With Kindness And Respect By Phone Rep Arthur Bliss? Well, They Fired His Ass.
Harry Minot worked at Eastern Account System Inc. for almost two and a half years. EAS operates call centers which receive payments “on behalf of” Comcast, Time Warner Cable, and others. Minot began his EAS career late in August of 2013. During the training period Minot was asked to jot down a list of names and words. He was assigned the alias “Arthur Bliss” and the company initials: AB! (ending in an exclamation point). The aliases are required so that an angered customer cannot track down an individual agent, and the initials permit identification of the particular agent who handled a given transaction.
Minot was trained to use various Comcast operating programs in order to receive payments and create payment arrangements for customers whose service was either interrupted or about to be because of past due amounts owed. EAS, like many other companies, evaluates the performance of its employees based on “metrics”. At EAS those metrics include the amount of time spent on “the dialer”, the amount of payments collected, the number of calls handled, and the “conversion” rate (percentage of calls resulting in payments).
The Comcast phone system directs incoming calls to its contracted payment centers based on whether or not the call correlates to an account which shows a past due. But those callers may need technical help, dispute amounts owed, or desire to alter their service. EAS and its competitors are expected to get a payment *no matter what*, so they frequently create obstacles and frustration. The “metrics” requirements force the reps to treat customers in a brisk and often ineffective manner. So the callers are frequently subjected to hang-ups, dismissive treatment, and inaccurate information. Call centers dread what they call an “escalation”: the moment when a caller demands to speak with a supervisor. Escalations consume time and increase the waiting delay for other callers.
Minot realized, after a few months, that the mandatory script (including the requirement for “top down” negotiation for payment of the total balance instead of only the past due) actually increased the likelihood of escalations. So he created a different approach based on sensitivity to the customers’ needs, their individual circumstances, and the preceding difficulties they had experienced. Minot’s very last escalation took place in November of 2013.
Minot was also an extremely dependable worker. He was never late, never called out, never took a sick day, never took a vacation day, and he even scheduled his jury duty around his call center commitment. He also made it his habit to arrive early to secure a desk at which to work and get the often-balky computer programs up and running before his clock-in time.
Customer service requires notations of each action and payment so that all of those who service an account are aware of its history. But the “metrics” result in haste which often undermines the record. Customers suffer as a result. Minot resolved to notate in a thorough manner so as not to contribute to customer mistreatment.
Minot was surprised to learn that Comcast, which he had thought would benefit from efficiencies of size, is actually a chaotic patchwork of inharmonious computer operating programs and schismatic regional procedures. In some markets the set-up of a post-dated payment can be within 7 days but others permit 14 days. Non-pay arrangements are only spottily offered. Late fees, imposed when an amount cycles to past due status, are inconsistent. And the age at which a past due amount causes a service interruption varies widely. Call center reps are required to know all of the differences and respond accordingly, but the rules are always in flux. Notations made in one computer system often do not transpose to another. Minot decided that, in order to be impeccably precise, he would never allow the pressure for speed to prevent thoughtful and deliberate execution of his task.
Minot also observed and was taken aback at the attitudes expressed by many of his co-workers. Customers were often ridiculed by reps who, eager to pad their commissions, treated customers as “marks” instead of fellow human beings. Minot made it his personal mission to serve his callers as he himself would want to be treated.
Minot’s “metrics”, at first glance, suggested that he was woefully inadequate. But he was absolutely certain that his approach in fact created efficiency by resolving problems fully, preventing repeat calls. He stressed the informational component, carefully explaining the timing of each account’s cycle date and the strategies customers would have to use to limit late fees and avoid interruptions and reactivation charges. Comcast has recently switched to a new program for setting up post-dated payments. It tends to draw the payments within 20 minutes of midnight on the chosen date. Because those draws often occur before a customer’s anticipated payroll or Social Security deposit has taken place they frequently fail. Minot always explained that, and took care to make such payments succeed.
The vast majority of the calls taken by “Arthur Bliss” resulted in customer satisfaction. The callers frequently described the interactions as quite unlike any previous experience, informative to an unprecedented degree, in sharp contrast with the regular Comcast call, and a reason not to discontinue the service despite an original intent to do so. Minot would occasionally use a joking signoff: “Thanks for choosing Comcast. I’m Arthur Bliss, and I hope I’m not the *last* bliss you experience today.”
EAS did *not* appreciate Minot’s style and was apparently unaware of the high percentage of happy customers. He was relentlessly subjected to memos and evaluations which questioned his competence. But he knew that his reliable attendance and willingness to switch from region to region as incoming call volumes dictated created at least some small amount of protection.
All of that ended on Thursday February 18th. On that day Minot was subjected to a call evaluation. The call was not typical, since the issue was a technical problem. Coincidentally, though, the customer’s earlier post-dated payment (for a past due amount) had failed, but the customer’s bank record suggested that because the draw *attempt* had been made it had succeeded. The customer thus believed that the payment had been misapplied, and said that a representative from Comcast’s Billing Department had agreed to research the matter. Although there was no relevant notation Minot observed that protection had been put in place to prevent an interruption in service that would otherwise have occurred that very day. Minot noticed that the account’s current charges were due to cycle and become past due in only three days and carefully informed the customer of the amount and the fact that a new month’s charges would also enter the account on that date. Minot attempted to fix the customer’s internet service with the sending of refresh signals, and when that did not resolve the problem transferred the customer to the Technical Department for further assistance. After the call concluded, Minot turned to the evaluator to inquire as to the score for the call. The evaluator said he’d have to deduct points for Minot’s not having sought payment of the full balance. “Weren’t you listening?” asked Minot. “What the fuck is wrong with you?” EAS has a strict policy regarding the use of expletives on the floor. Minot was hustled to a meeting room, was lectured severely for the lapse, and was sent home for the day. He apologized. And he thought that would be the end of the matter.
He was wrong. The next morning, on his way to the call center, he received a call from the Floor Supervisor. She informed him of his termination. Minot was thunderstruck. He recalled a time, months earlier, when an email/memo had been sent to every staffer at the center which, while noting the names of almost a hundred reps who were “off the dialer” at a given moment (a cardinal sin at EAS), also carried sensitive personnel information (required by statute to be handled confidentially) including date-of-hire and attendance history. The author of that memo, he knew, had *not* been terminated despite the gravity and the massive potential liability which the memo unleashed. He also knew that usage of the F word did not customarily result in termination.
“They obviously singled me out.” says Minot. “They were clearly itching for a way to be rid of me, so they seized on the language violation.” Minot continued: “My intent has always been to treat each customer with kindness and respect. My commitment and my precision are, I believe, unquestionable. But EAS is, like its client Comcast, completely lacking in the conscience department.”
Minot’s assertion is not unfounded. Comcast often tops the list of the USA’s most-despised companies. And EAS is similarly held in low regard for its behavior and treatment of employees ( http://www.indeed.com/cmp/Eastern-Account-Systems/reviews?fcountry=US ).
“So, what do I do now?” asks Minot. “I really needed that full-time job. And since it’s not enough to make ends meet, I put in an additional 38 hours a week as Security Officer at our local mall. I’m a caring and dedicated employee. I go the extra mile, always.”
Minot does have employment potential. He is an exceptional communicator. He began in commercial radio at age 16, became a Commercial Producer for Compton Advertising on NYC’s fabled Madison Avenue at age 19, and at age 25 became General Manager of noncommercial WPKN (FM) in Bridgeport CT, continuing in that capacity for almost 30 years.
I was often accompanied at my EAS workspace by a small framed photo of Mr. Baruch. It was in a plain black frame, but it disappeared during a period when I was moved repeatedly to different extensions. When I was assigned a "permanent" location I celebrated by having a silver frame engraved with Mr. Baruch's name and dates. Ironically, I brought it to the call center on the very day which turned out to be my *last*. They so very kindly permitted me to retrieve it following notification of my dismissal.