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Alleged Comcast customer service handbook: 'Take Control'

The release of a handbook purportedly given to customer-retention agents reveals an intense series of steps to stop customers from leaving.

It was not a good ad for Comcast. Ash Semvalavich/YouTube screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

The legend of Comcast's customer service has now gone before it and taken on a peculiar life of its own.

With just one recording of a customer service agent, in which he attempted to choke the life out of a customer's simple request to have his service terminated, the whole company was tarnished by the notion that its agents would make fine interrogators in a time of war.

Now an edifying document has emerged that might explain some of the rep's behavior.

What is said to be a 20-page series of official guidelines to Comcast staff was slipped to the Verge. It contains the basic steps that so-called retention agents should use to put departing customers back in their cages.

The guidelines involve a 13-step program to bliss. Where bliss is defined as keeping an unhappy customer and making them feel good about being kept.

Some might wonder whether the infamously recorded agent followed step number 3: "Relate and Empathize."

To most objective ears, he displayed the empathy of Kathy Bates in "Misery."

However, let's assume that, in some strange part of their cortexes, customers feel they are related to and empathized with. The next step that this purported handbook suggests is telling: "Take Control."

In the suggested-dialogue lines, you'll find: "You're in the right department. I am going to take care of this for you today."

There is also: "I am glad you got me today, because together we can set this up for you."

I wonder how glad tech journalist Ryan Block was to get the particular rep who was so keen to set up Block's head exploding.

I have contacted Comcast to confirm whether this is, indeed, a genuine item. I also asked whether the company has decided to institute changes in the wake of its fatally flawed attempt at customer retention in Block's case. I will update, should I hear.

The company's COO, Dave Watson, has already confessed that the rep did exactly what he was trained to do. (Other than the annoy-the-customer-to-eternity part.)

This type of guide may well be typical in the call center industry. In the "Close the Save" section, one suggested line of dialogue is "I believe this offer meets the needs we discussed. Can I go ahead and set this up for you?"

Well, of course the rep is going to believe that.

There is, you will be relieved to hear, a section called "Auto-Fail Behaviors." This includes "Rudeness (verbal)."

In this section: "Acting rude, disrespectful, or arguing with the customer." This, Block's rep surely failed at.

What's entertaining, though, are the circumstances in which these guidelines allow the rep to give up.

One is "Natural Disaster." Another is "Account holder is deceased/incapacitated."

What if the rep has caused the customer to become incapacitated due to the rep's obstinacy?

Comcast Quality Guidelines - Retention