A silhouetted coaxial cable is photographed with the Comcast Corp. logo in the background in Philadelphia in this file photo illustration.

Comcast customer service upgrades

$300 million investment to improve customer services at all levels
Hire 5,500 more customer service representatives to help handle calls, service requests
$20 credit if a service technician is late for appointment
New Tech Tracker app allows customers to track technician location via smartphones.
Triple the size of Comcast's social media care team to serve customers quicker via social media networks.
* Redesign and upgrade of 500 U.S. Xfinity stores

The days of waiting for hours for the cable guy to arrive or being on long holds on the telephone waiting for help with your telecom questions or bill payments should soon be a thing of the past for Comcast customers.

America's biggest cable TV provider is in the midst of a $300 million upgrade of its customer service that will add more technicians and operators and provide new computer apps and billing systems to expedite and improve how Comcast delivers its cable, Internet and telephone services.

Comcast's Xfinity stores, including four payments centers in the Chattanooga area, also will get a new look and technology upgrade next year to help make it easier to sign up, get equipment and find out answers to customer questions.

If a technician is late for an appointment at your home or business, Comcast will automatically credit your account $20.The cable giant also is launching an Uber-like app by the end of the year called "Tech Tracker" that allows you to see where your technician is in real time and rate his or her service after the appointment.

"This transformation is about shifting our mindset to be completely focused on the customer," Comcast CEO Neil Smit said in May when the new initiative was announced. "It's about respecting their time, being more proactive, doing what's right, and never being satisfied with good enough."

Comcast is adding 5,500 more employees and three new call centers — while also expanding its call centers in Knoxville and other markets — as part of what company officials say is one of the biggest customer service initiatives of any major corporation.

Tonya Webster, a vice president of customer experience for Comast's eight-state Southern region hired in April after working in customer service for more than two decades at other companies, is one of those new employees.

"This is not only a huge change in the way we look at our business involving every single one of our 80,000 employees (including 260 in the Chattanooga area), but it also involves some cutting-edge things around the technology we use to deploy our workers and equipment, both externally and internally. We're trying to redesign all of that work and it involves our technologies, our hiring, our training, and our communications in how we go out and interface with all of our customers.

Webster said the goal is to set a new "best in class" for the industry.

Comcast officials concede they have their work cut out for them to overcome years of negative customer comments and ratings. The cable company was named the least loved brand on Twitter earlier this year and Comcast got a subpar 54 in a recent American Customer Satisfaction Index, one of the lowest among major customer service companies. The Comcast rated last for the second year in a row in the most recent Temkin Customer Services rankings released this fall. Reddit even has a category for Comcast customers to post their service complaints.

"It won't change overnight since it took decades to get to where we are," Webster said. "It won't take decades to fix, but it will take some time. We're definitely on the right track and you'll continue to see us get better."

Already, Webster said late appointments are down by 30 percent and call response times are 18 percent faster than a year ago.

Comcast is paying more attention to customer complaints from all venues, including Twitter and other social media sites, and trying to react quicker to address problems and concerns.

"We always hear that our products are great, but when there a problem or question we need to make sure we address that in a timely way," Webster said.

In Chattanooga, Comcast has been displaced as the city's No. 1 telecom provider by EPB, which pioneered America's first gigabit-per-second Internet and touts itself to customers as a local company with local employees and service technicians. Comcast offers lower rates for base TV and phone services, but Comcast generally requires a contract for an extended period while EPB does not.

"We'll be successful when our customers see and feel this change in every interaction with us from the first time they order and use our products to the way we communicate with them or respond to any issues," said Charlie Herrin, Comcast's executive vice president of customer experience.