He struck me as the real deal from the first time I contacted him via Twitter. In the last year plus, Frank Eliason has become the face and experience of Comcast for many of us. Rather than me talking about him I thought it a good idea to let him talk directly with you here. Our conversation:
Can you talk a little bit about your background? How you got to Comcast.
Frank: I have always been a simple Customer Service guy. My background prior to Comcast was Vanguard Investments, followed by Advanta Bank. While at Advanta I learned the power of the Customer story in implementing change.
I have found Customer Service operations are always centered on numbers, but change was rare. When you drilled into the numbers and use the Customer story, change happens fast. People, including the C-suite, are Customers too and they can easily relate to a bad experience.
While I was at Advanta we did a lot to improve the experience. One day I was putting together the annual report for Advanta, and it was to include Customer calls as the background. It was at that point I realized how far we moved the needle. That was around February, 2007. I decided at that time I would seek a company I can have a strong impact on the Customer experience. The only company I applied to was Comcast.
I joined Comcast as a Customer Service manager in September, 2007. On my 4th day we were asked to locate a blogger and reach out to them. Since that time, when we had time, we continued to do that. At the time we were only reaching out via phone.
In December, 2007 I was asked why we were not posting on the blogs. I did not realize that we were allowed to do that due to my background in financial services (that would not have been permitted in those worlds). So we started to post to blogs when we could not identify the Customer.
Bloggers loved it! They blog for a reason: to be heard. They loved that we were listening. In February, 2008 it became my role, and I was asked to hire a few people to help. Going back to what I learned at Advanta, I started to share the story via a daily newsletter. Today that goes to about 3000 people within all levels of management.
Believe it or not, prior to this role, I was not on Facebook, or Twitter. Besides a limited amount of activity on LinkedIn, my only experience in social media was a website I had for our daughter Gia when she was born premature. She spent the first 3 months in the NICU and we created the website to communicate with family.
We later used it to educate people about Cystic Fibrosis and to support fund raising efforts for charities close to our heart. At the age of 3, Gia was diagnosed with liver cancer, so again we turned to the website to keep people up to date and teach them about the form of cancer she had. She passed away in July, 2004. Later when her sisters were born, we created our family website. Today I also have a blog of my own.
Business Week called you "the most famous customer service manager in the US" in an article that detailed how you help customers on Twitter. I remember when I reached out to you on Twitter early on asking for an interview and your response was something like "I'm busy helping customers now".
There's been an evolution from stories of disbelief to the NYT and BW featuring your work in a positive light. What has changed inside Comcast through this transition in the media? Are you getting more support?
Frank: To us this is just another contact channel, just like email, phone or chat. This is just a preferred method of support for some Customers. When we set out our goals were simple: Listen to our Customers and help when we can. That is all we strive to do.
We were already in a transformation when we started this. Comcast has been working hard at improving the overall experience for our Customers. This was just a small part of that effort.
I have always had support from all levels of management regarding our efforts. They saw value in meeting Customers where they already are, and have provided us free reign to do just that, wherever we think is appropriate to achieve our goals. The support I received extended to if I would require additional staffing, I know they would continue to support me. I am so grateful for having a leadership team that is open to trying new things.
Even though you are known and your work is respected online, you're talking with one sliver of Comcast customer base. I imagine that NPS metrics are rolled up at C-level. Have you seen an influencing effect of the positive sentiment your work created and is creating online in other areas of consumer sentiment for Comcast?
Frank: It is hard to say, because we are doing so much to improve the Customer experience throughout the organization, that positive improvement truly highlights all of those efforts. I think the preferred measurement for the C-Suite has been how we have taken what we have learned from Customers and truly improved the experience for all Customers.
Unlike typical measurements of performance, my team is measured on effectiveness and improvements they make for our Customers. I teach them to be proactive and find solutions to problems they encounter. If something is broken for others they are encouraged to find solutions.
In an interview with Lee Odden at TopRank blog, you talked about the two criteria that you look at for getting involved in media at a tactical level: Searchability and Timeliness. You talked about Twitter and Google, but you have since expanded your toolkit.
How did you convince Comcast to make the investment? How do you structure your reports to senior management? This is something that would be helpful to your peers who are looking to ask their organizations to make the investment.
Frank: Ultimately we look for any space that is efficient in helping us meet our goals of listening and helping Customers. I think for us it was easy because Comcast already wanted to find ways to improve the experience. We also started gradually assisting Customers, and each time we did, Customer would let it be known how pleased they were to have the assistance.
We were also learning, and continue to learn every day. The main report we do to management is our daily rollup (also goes to anyone that requests it internally, no matter the level). We refer to it as the Comcast Online Pulse. The goal of the report is to provide an at a glance review of conversation about Comcast. It is our way of sharing the story, which as I learned at Advanta, is very powerful.
What is the best move you made on behalf of the business to date? Why?
Frank: Wow, this is a tough question for me. I have not believed anything I have done is that special. To me it is common sense to help Customers in need. I stepped away to think. I think the best move I have made was to really hire a great, passionate team that strives to create the right experience with every Customer they come in contact with.
They are a huge credit to the success we have had. They all were hired internally but each brings new experience and a unique background to our effort. They also love finding ways we can improve as the organization. I absolutely love every one of them (don’t tell them, I do not want it to go to their heads).
You and I talked about the fact that we both view social media involvement as a team activity with many players with complementary roles. Is Comcast learning more about social media as an organization? Do you share best practices and learning internally, beyond the communications group?
Frank: We are constantly learning in this space and we meet regularly to share what we learn. These discussions include PR, Customer Service, marketing and many other teams in the organization. We continue to learn in our help forums, external forums, Facebook, Twitter, external blogs, and even our corporate blog. These discussions help us understand what is working, and what is not. We encourage all areas to be involved in social media.
You recently came to the realization that, yeah, you actually do marketing when you're helping customers. What's in store for the future? What do you envision for the organization and where do you see your role evolving?
Frank: It is hard to predict where I see my role evolving. I love helping companies improve the service for their Customers. I love the social media space, but the Customer will always be the first love. But I do see a convergence of marketing, PR and service.
This space is not about ads; it’s about building relationships and having conversations with your Customer and prospective Customers. I think in the coming years you will see more companies encouraging their employees throughout the company to be a part of social media spaces.
I also think companies will see the benefits of crowd sourcing to learn more from the community. This already happens in places like forums, but think about how different products impact each other. Think about how your computer interacts with your router, modem, to the internet through your internet service provider, then to other server beyond your ISP’s network.
Those are a lot of parts working together, or in some cases, not. How does a Customer know where to begin? There is not an easy way for any of those companies involved in the products to answer every aspect to find a solution. But there are always people on the net that have had a similar experience. I think we will see evolutions that will make this all work to provide the best support to Customers.
Thank you, Frank. I was really touched by Gia's story and what must have been such an emotional roller coaster for you and your family.
Today at Fast Company Expert blog we talk about how when it comes to customer service, action speaks louder than words. You'll see how this matters when it comes to using social media, especially as you start executing.