In 1970, Robert Townsend, the CEO who had turned around a failing rent-a-car company called Avis, published what is arguably the best book written on business management.
It’s Up the Organization: How to Stop the Corporation from Stifling People and Strangling Profits.
Though published 42 years ago, it should be required reading–for CEOs and consumers.
Don’t fear getting bogged down in a sea of boring, theory-ridden material. As Townsend writes:
“This book is in alphabetical order. Using the table of contents, which doubles as the Index, you can locate any subject on the list in 13 seconds. And you can read all I have to say about it in five minutes or less.
“This is not a book about how organizations work. What should happen in organizations and what does happen are two different things and about as far apart as they can get. THIS BOOK IS ABOUT HOW TO GET THEM TO RUN THREE TIMES AS WELL AS THEY DO.”
Comcast is the majority owner of NBC and the largest cable operator in the United States. It provides cable TV, Internet and phone service to more than 50 million customers.
So you would think that, with so many customers to serve, Comcast would create an efficient way for them to attain help when they face a problem with billing or service.
Consider the merits of Townsend’s short chapter on “Call Yourself Up.”
Townsend advises CEOs: “Pretend you’re a customer. Telephone some part of your organization and ask for help. You’ll run into some real horror shows.”
Now, imagine what would happen if Brian L. Roberts, the CEO of Comcast, did just that.
Brian L. Roberts
First, he would find that, at Comcast, nobody actually answers the phone when a customer calls. After all, it’s so much easier to fob off customers with pre-recorded messages than to have operators directly serve their needs.
And customers simply aren’t that important–except when they’re paying their ever-inflated bills for phone, cable TV and/or Internet service.
Comcast’s revenues stood at $16.8 billion for the third quarter of 2014.
In 2013, Roberts earned $31.4 million in salary, options and other compensation, a 7.7% increase from his $29.1 million compensation package in 2012.
So it isn’t as though the company can’t afford hiring a few operators and instructing them to answer phones directly when people phone in.
But instead of being directly connected to someone able to answer his question or resolve his problem, Roberts would hear:
“Welcome to Comcast–home of Xfinity.”
Then he would hear an annoying clucking sound–followed by the same message in Spanish.
“Your call may be recorded for quality assurance.
“To make a payment now, Press 1. To continue this call, Press 2.”
Then he would hear: “For technical help, press 1, for billing, press 2. For more options, press 3.”
Assuming he pressed 2 for “billing,” he would hear:
“For payment, press 1 For balance information, press 2. For payment locations, press 3. For all other billing questions, press 4.”
Then he would be told: “Please enter the last four digits of the primary account holder’s Social Security Number.”
Then, as if he hadn’t waited long enough to talk to someone, he would get this message: “Press 1 if you would like to take a short survey after your call.”
By the time he heard that, he would almost certainly not be in a mood to take a survey. He would simply want someone to come onto the phone and answer his question or resolve his problem.
Then he would hear: “At the present time, all agents are busy”–and be electronically given an estimate by when someone might deign to answer the phone.
“Please hold for the next customer account executive.”
If he wanted to immediately reach a Comcast rep, Roberts would press the number for “sales.” A sales rep would gladly sign him up for more costly products–even if he couldn’t solve whatever problem Roberts needed addressed.
Assuming that someone actually came on, Roberts couldn’t fail to notice the unmistakable Indian accent of the rep he was now speaking with.
Not Indian as in American Indian–because that would mean his company had actually hired Americans who must be paid at least a minimum American wage for their services.
No, Comcast, like many other supposedly patriotic corporations, “outsources” its “customer service support team” to the nation, India.
After all, if the “outsourced” employees are getting paid a pittance, the CEO and his top associates can rake in all the more.
Of course, the above scenario is totally outlandish–and is meant to be.
Who would expect the wealthy CEO of a major American corporation to actually wait in a telephone queue like an ordinary American Joe or Jane?
That would be like expecting the chief of any major police department to put up with hookers or panhandlers on his own doorstep.
For the wealthy and the powerful, there are always underlings ready and willing to ensure that their masters do not suffer the same indignities as ordinary mortals.
Such as the ones who sign up for Comcast TV, cable or Internet services.