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Amitava Chattopadhyay

Amitava Chattopadhyay
Amitava Chattopadhyay

Hello. Welcome to my musings about the world of branding, marketing and innovation. Apart from my research and publications in the field—case studies, journals, and articles / interviews in popular media—you will find here my opinionated commentary on related themes from around the world, especially about brands from emerging markets trying to make it in the big bad world of multinational competition.

In the Media

Coverage at INSEAD Knowledge

  Jul 25, 2014

When Per­sis­tence Backfires

Pushy customer service representatives trying to drastically alter the decisions of consumers can end up being a costly headache. When Ryan Block, a product manager at AOL, tried to cancel his personal Comcast internet service, he hadn’t banked on a 20-minute verbal wrestling match with a customer service rep hell-bent on retaining him.

Recent Coverage


Cus­tomer ser­vice fail­ures in the Inter­net age can be costly!

An inter­net can­cel­la­tion hor­ror story has gone viral and is caus­ing Com­cast a heart­burn! Accord­ing to the BBC, Ryan Block, a tech­nol­ogy jour­nal­ist, wanted to can­cel his Com­cast inter­net ser­vice. The call to can­cel his ser­vice turned into a 20-minute ordeal.

The Com­cast “reten­tion spe­cial­ist” who han­dled the call refused to accept his request and repeat­edly asked “Help me under­stand why you don’t want faster inter­net?”, insist­ing that “I’m try­ing to help you. You’re not let­ting me help you.”  Mr Block recorded the final eight min­utes of the call and shared the audio with his 83,000 Twit­ter fol­low­ers. Here is what hap­pened next: the audio file had almost 4 mil­lion plays within two days!



Ryan Block

Ryan Block


What this sig­nals, aside from the fact that in today’s envi­ron­ment, mak­ing a con­sumer angry can have seri­ous con­se­quences for a brand, is that con­sumers are widely dis­sat­is­fied with major telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions providers.

This is not just in the US; it’s global.  For exam­ple, in India, my father had been try­ing for months to can­cel his inter­net sub­scrip­tion with a com­pany that shall remain name­less (only because a friend who is a senior exec­u­tive, at my request, stepped in and stopped the inces­sant harass­ing phone calls to him to ask why he wasn’t pay­ing his mount­ing sub­scrip­tion bills, although he had gone in per­son to hand over a let­ter request­ing the ter­mi­na­tion of the service).

Inter­est­ingly, when my father had tried to ter­mi­nate the ser­vice over the phone, the ser­vice rep­re­sen­ta­tive sim­ply refused to accept that the ser­vice was very slow! An expe­ri­ence very sim­i­lar to that of Mr. Block.

Now, what did Com­cast do?  Well they stirred up another hor­nets nest by offer­ing to take “quick action”, when apol­o­giz­ing to Mr. Block.  Why did the apol­ogy back­fire?  Well, the “quick action” and apol­ogy were the good part, the bad part was Com­cast informed Mr. Block that they were going to take action against the rep­re­sen­ta­tive concerned.

Mak­ing a scape­goat out of a hap­less ser­vice rep­re­sen­ta­tive rather than look to see why this hap­pened and find a solu­tion to pre­vent this from hap­pen­ing again, doesn’t play well with con­sumers. They see it for what it is, find­ing a con­ve­nient scape­goat, a per­son likely to be just like them.

The fact of the mat­ter is that com­pa­nies train the ser­vice rep­re­sen­ta­tives on how to respond to cus­tomers.  Sec­ond, they incen­tivize employ­ees to per­form in line with the train­ing. As much as 75% of a representative’s salary can depend on the suc­cess of the so called “reten­tion representative’s” abil­ity to halt a can­cel­la­tion!  Accord­ing to a post on Red­dit by a per­son claim­ing to be a Com­cast employee, if a reten­tion rep­re­sen­ta­tive fails to reverse at least 75%, they get noth­ing!  This puts the rep­re­sen­ta­tive in an hap­less sit­u­a­tion, lead­ing to behav­iors such as the one expe­ri­enced by Mr. Block and my father.

Clearly, all the bad press is tak­ing its toll on the Com­cast brand! As one mea­sure, we can see that it’s stock price has dropped by approx­i­mately $1 since the story broke.  That’s about 2% of its value, which comes in around $2.8 bil­lion!  So, quick action is good, but the quick action should be to find the real cause of the prob­lem and fix it!  Not a knee jerk reac­tion to find and chas­tise a hap­less scape­goat who is equally a vic­tim of the com­pa­nies “system”.

  Jul 21, 2014 | Musings

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