Company owners everywhere, take note: this is a perfect example of how not to behave in business.
Two days ago, news broke that cable-provider Comcast allegedly got a California man fired from his job at PricewaterhouseCoopers. Before the firing, however, there were oh-so-many missteps, starting with Comcast never managing to spell Conal O’Rourke’s name correctly on bills. (Pro tip: if you want your customers to pay on time, you need to make sure the billing statement reaches them, and a correct spelling would help with that.) Then there was the part where O’Rourke was charged for items he didn’t order, and the part about the broken promises to fix the issues. Not to mention sending creditors after O’Rourke before his account was past due. Both Consumerist and Ars Technica do a good job of explaining the play-by-play of errors.
When the mistakes occurred every month for almost a year with unsatisfactory resolution -- mistakes that he documented on a spreadsheet for reference -- O’Rourke had reached his limits. He contacted Comcast’s controller in Philadelphia and explained the problems. When a Comcast employee called back unprepared to deal with the situation (mistake #210,938), O’Rourke -- having had some experience working in accounting -- threatened to talk to the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board. That’s when things got serious.
According to O’Rourke’s lawyer, Comcast contacted PWC and complained that O’Rourke was using his position in the company to try to gain leverage. The communications industry giant was a large account and a “very important” client to PWC’s Philadelphia office, and soon, O’Rourke was facing consequences at work.
As Ars Technica reports, “O'Rourke says that on February 7, 2014, he was subjected to an internal PWC ethics investigation as a result of the call. On February 18, O'Rourke was terminated.” Now, O’Rourke is seeking a retraction from Comcast, re-employment with PWC, and $100,312.50. (Is it just us, or is that number oddly specific?) Comcast has until October 14 to comply.
Though Comcast has stated that nobody at the company requested O’Rourke to be fired from his job, the cable giant offered a public apology on its website. The apology states, in part, “We’re holding ourselves accountable and we are working hard to make real improvements across the board.”
It’s no secret that Comcast has an image problem. Comcast is the second worst-ranked Internet service provider for customer service, according to this year’s American Customer Satisfaction Index. The only company worse is Time Warner, which Comcast is attempting to merge with.
That notoriety is not surprising when looking at O’Rourke’s situation as an example of how Comcast does business. So now the question is, what can be learned from this?
First, as the company itself acknowledges, there are problems across the board -- from customer service to accounting. Having well-documented procedures for every aspect of a business can help prepare employees understand the protocol for dealing with displeased customers respectfully. Moreover, handling issues in a timely manner makes them less likely to spiral out of control. If Comcast had fixed O’Rourke’s name in its files to the correct spelling early on, perhaps they might not have confused him with a customer that ordered nearly $2,000 worth of merchandise or they might have seen that there was no need to call a collection agency. O’Rourke waited almost a year and endured a spreadsheets-worth of problems before threatening to take matters to an outside governing body. The issues should have been fixed long before that point.
Now would be a good time to point out that no matter how difficult a customer is, it’s not appropriate to call their employer to complain. If you do so, however, you’d better have a good damage control strategy in mind. This leads us to the last tip. If, for some reason, you make every conceivable mistake in running your company and wind up having a customer lose their job for it, it’s time to focus on a massive image overhaul and an absolutely stellar PR campaign.