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Comcast CEO: "We reinvent ourselves every couple years"

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Updated on Thursday, February 13, 2014: Comcast CEO Brian Roberts announced a $45 billion deal to buy rival Time Warner Cable. Roberts told CNBC he was confident the deal will be approved by federal regulators, despite concerns about the country's two largest cable operators merging.


Few CEOs today can say they’re running the company their father started. Fewer still can say they’ve turned their father's cable company into a thriving media conglomerate. But Brian Roberts, CEO of Comcast, can.

Comcast/NBC Universal celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2013. Brian Roberts became the CEO in 2002 – his father, Ralph Roberts founded the company in 1963.

"It's an exciting time. Technology is changing everything really fast," says CEO Roberts, acknowledging Comcast’s many iterations. "By probably next year, we will have more broadband connections to people's homes than cable connections and we started as a cable company."

Roberts sees that as a positive: "The beauty of this business is, we reinvent ourselves every couple years," he says.

For our Conversations from the Corner Office series, we asked Roberts about the inner workings of his business:

What's more important: The pipes or the content?

"We hope we will, five years from now, have compelling programming, compelling choices, compelling sports, compelling television on all these devices and you’ll say, of course I want to buy their triple play and it’s a great deal because they also offer me a telephone and home security and energy management and wherever we go next during that five years."

"The key for us is to move quickly, to have a company that feels like a 50 year old start up, that feels young," he adds.

How does he answer criticisms about the company’s customer service?

"What unfortunately happens is we have about … 350 million interactions with consumers a year, between phone calls and truck calls. It may be over 400 million and that doesn't count any online interactions which I think is over a billion. You get one-tenth of one-percent bad experience, that's a lot of people – unacceptable. We have to be the best service provider or in the end, this company won't be what I want it to be."

Conversations from the Corner Office:
Marketplace's Kai Ryssdal goes one-on-one with leaders from some of the world's great companies to talk about what drives them, what their passions are, how they look at the world and how they put it all together in a way that adds up to success. Download the app

What does he draw from his family's history with the company?

Roberts says the company has benefited by being a family-business.

"My dad's 93. He comes to work ... he says [all this new technology] is crazy stuff and I can't believe it but let's keep going ... Changing a company that's 50 years old and keeping the culture of a founder is what I think my job's all about."

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

Download the Marketplace Reader for your iPhone or iPad. Android version in development.

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"one-tenth of one-percent bad experience"?! This is a perverse joke, indicative of the arrogant contempt with which Comcast showers its customers. They are by far the worst company with whom I do business on any basis, personally or professionally.

Kai: Can we start with the pipes? I mean customer service has been a problem, but a minor one compared to the product. I'd like internet access that is faster than Bulgaria's at a price that's not four times the price of internet access in South Korea. Better customer service is always nice but can we just have a product first? And can you interview someone at the FCC about why the entire industry is at the bottom of everyone's like list? (that's the half-full way to put it). And perhaps about the recent federal court decision that threatens to make the problem worse? (the non-net-neutrality decision…).

Mr. Roberts misses the point when he talks about why Comcast has such a bad reputation with the general public. His statistics are correct about the number of people its employees touch per day. The fact that so many people have had bad experiences when dealing with customer service reps or on site technicians, myself included on many occasions, is a management and training issue. There appears to be a universal disregard for their customers in how they are treated. I grew up in business in my parents retail store and am now a small business owner. I was taught by my parents from the age of 10 the importance of 1) respecting the customer, even when the customer isn't right, and 2) providing your customer base with a positive customer experience. Comcast does neither. It acts like the monopoly it is. It has earned its reputation because it simply doesn't care enough to care what customers think. I remember when the Detroit automakers were riding high and mighty, and they fell. My parting words to Mr. Roberts are simply "think customer," or you may rue the consequences.

What kind of interview was that? It seemed like a 5:47 second Comcast commercial! How about some real journalistic questions? What is Comcast's stance on network neutrality? Are they planning or have they already instituted port throttling for file sharing like they used to do? What about data caps? What about pricing... especially in areas that they have a monopoly? Labor issues?!?! Their long history of not only bad customer service but deliberate horrible customer relations? How about the rebranding their name to Xfinity to avoid the Comcast reputation?

I expect better from Marketplace & NPR. Did Comcast make a large donation lately?

We were fed up with Verizon Fios jacking up the monthly rates on us like there's no tomorrow, so we switched back to Comcast on the promise that the rates for the same services would be about 1/3 less. Now the headaches begin. We were charged a fortune on our first bill and wanted to hold the person who made those promises to us accountable. After hours on the phone, we found out that the person in question had been reassigned and could not be reached. From our experience, Comcast's business model is a bait and switch. If I had the opportunity to leave Comcast for a better less expensive service, I'd do so in a heartbeat -- I'm sure some entrepreneur will see the massive opportunity & figure out a way to do this and then watch the exodus. There is a reason Comcast has had so many hundreds of millions of interactions with its customers -- they are pissed off! If Comcast were to become customer friendly, then that number could be cut tenfold and the cost of doing business would go down, whereupon Comcast should pass the savings on to its customers. I see the writing on the wall for Comcast. If the Comcast CEO wants his company to survive, then he'd better get in the trenches and see for himself the slaughter that's being done, and make fundamental changes, otherwise it's Sayonara Baby!

"What's more important: the pipes or the content?" asks Kai Ryssdal. In Comcast's case, the question is as irrelevant as asking when a herd of elephants are charging toward you "What's more important the trumpeting or the path they're stampeding on?" Either way you're gonna get trampled.

That's the way I feel about this company. It's about time that Congress fixes our patchwork of telecommunication policy with its damaged public interest, diversity, spectrum and ownership laws and regulations. The mega media oligarchs have been trampling on U.S. residents access to real choice for far too long, as well as pressuring our federal and states into giving up much of our control of public rights of way and noncommercial public spectrum space under a banner of "diversity, choice and innovation." It's been a deal with a very wealthy and powerful devil.

I place Comcast firmly into the category of a monstrous horizontally and vertically integrated behemoth, which controls not only too much content--either through direct ownership (NBCU) or purchasing power--but also a huge distribution infrastructure.

Remember Lili Tomlin's Ernestine the telephone operator/spokesperson? "We don't care, and we don't have to. We're the phone company!" http://stopthecap.com/2012/08/23/were-the-phone-company-we-dont-care-we-...
Just replace "phone company" with "Comcast" and you'll get the idea that maybe it's time for another big breakup?

Brian Roberts Sr. should have relegated Brian Roberts Jr. to peddling infomercials. Comcast has degenerated into an overpriced joke run by boiler room mentalities. Their marketing is an outright slap in the face of Truth in Advertising. Even though my monthly bill sometimes approaches $200, half the the channels I switch on are blocked by messages stating NOT AUTHORIZED or SUBSCRIPTION REQUIRED. Their so-called FREE MOVIES ON DEMAND are by and large an assemblage of one-star flops. Their "bundles" feature the slowest-speed internet. Dialing 1-800-COMCAST gets you a $2-an-hour "Customer Care Executive" on the other side of the planet; that is, if you hold the line 10 hours whilst being bombarded for screaming pitches for all the other garbage they sell. Why the FCC awarded Comcast the NBC television network is beyond me. No wonder he looks like Sad Sack.

I am an avid Marketplace fan and it took this story to prompt me to register so that I could comment. Comcast is one of the sneakiest companies at increasing your monthly rates without telling you. Over and over and over they continue to inch up my monthly rates for Internet service until I call and complain and they bump it back down and then three months later they bump it up again. I'm a pretty organized person. I feel bad for the majority of the population who think it's too much trouble to call and complain. Go local. Support your local family owned telecommunications company.

"Fastest internet on the planet". Only if you are discussing a planet other than Earth. South Korea, France etc have much faster AND cheaper access. Plus better health care too.

Here here!!! Comcast's customer service is deplorable! Since the middle of August my computer has not been right. I've kept a log of all the people I've spoken with, date, time, outcome. Tech support is laughable! And the "chat room" expert that is supposed to help you, uh huh, they don't even log In. And if by the off chance one does, they don't know jack either. I was on the phone for 53 minutes and he got fed up and told me to use the Comcast service and I'd only be charged $49.95! WTH? Spending a small fortune on Triple play as it is. I wonder if the president has ever visited the "help forums"? If so he'd realize how many pissed off customers hate Comcast. I've filed 2 complaints with the Better Business Bureau. I'd switch to Verizon's Fios in a heartbeat, but it's not in my area yet. I know this because I call them at least 2 X's a week. Instead of offering home security, it's new money maker, they should instead be offering customers refunds for a service that is unreliable. I called the billing dept. today because the bill was $50.00 more than it should be. I asked about a refund for the times from Aug. 15 till now. She told me could offer me a refund for 5 DAYS! 5 DAYS?? Did I mention I DESPISE, HATE, ABHORE, ETC.... COMCAST???

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