Can Comcast Scale Social Media Customer Engagement?

Authentic social media engagement has the power to transform brands that have a declining reputation for customer service. Microsoft, led by Robert Scoble and the Channel 9 team, reversed their image as a company out of touch with its developers. Dell, spurred on by the public complaints of A-list bloggers like Jeff Jarvis (here’s a recent post with links to the highlights of that story), has now become a case study for excellent corporate social media engagement.

One of the most entries into the field is Comcast. As my business partner Jay Deragon points out in his blog, Comcast customer satisfaction is in the dumps.

But Comcast is stepping out into social media, dealing with customers directly to cut through clunky corporate processes where possible, as Carter Smith (another biz partner of mine) details on his blog. If you’re active on Twitter, you may have seen @ComcastCares doing their thing.

Now I have no doubt that Comcast can start reversing their reputation for customer service, and that social media will be a key component in that strategy. But I do have to wonder about a couple of things:

Scalability – While Twitter has exploded in popularity, it is still very much an early adopter tool at this point. I asked Frank Eliason if what they’re currently doing on Twitter will be sustainable. He said he thinks so, but admitted, "The difficulty is having one voice with others assisting." If it were straightforward to replicate the customer service experience of dealing with someone like Frank vs. the typical customer service agent you get when you call in, Comcast wouldn’t be in the situation they are in the first place. Once people start realizing they can bypass the clunky phone process with a tweet to @ComcastCares, will Comcast be able to maintain the quality of experience there as it gets to be more than two or three people can handle?

The Digital Divide – Sure, Comcast is an ISP and a lot of their customers are online. But what about those who aren’t? Or what about those who are online, but not on Twitter? Not a blogger? How does Comcast engaging in social media improve the customer service experience for those customers? And if Comcast starts giving preferential treatment to bloggers and Twitterers, they run the risk of being accused of simply oiling the squeaky wheel. Do they really want to improve the customer experience, or just improve their visible reputation for customer experience?

Social media is a powerful tool for engaging customers and improving a company’s reputation. But a social media initiative undertaken for PR purposes can’t stand on its own — it has to be an integral part of more comprehensive changes at the company. Improving the experience of your company for bloggers and Twitterers is great, but if you don’t improve it for all your customers, it’s a house of cards.

Is Comcast prepared to make that kind of full organizational commitment? It will be interesting to watch.