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Comcast Really, Really Wants You to Like It

Rob Pegoraro
Contributing Editor
Yahoo Tech

CHICAGO — The nation’s largest cable provider wants its subscribers to know that it’s thinking about them. During a keynote speech at the cable industry’s INTX (Internet & Television Expo) show, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts took time to focus on how the company wants to fix some of the more painful parts of its pay-TV experience.

An app to track (and rate) your tech

“We want to make the customer experience our No. 1 priority and our best product,” Roberts said on Tuesday. It’s a line that may prompt many Comcast subscribers to laugh bitterly. The company has had a bad year in the news, as one customer-service meltdown after another has gone viral online.

A few recent features in Comcast’s My Account app (Android and iOS) may help you avoid those issues. Since December, you’ve been able to use the app to check your hold time or request a call back within a 15-minute window. But does this get you the same old phone reps? No, said product director Al Cho: Using the app routes you to a separate help desk, at which you shouldn’t be asked to repeat the basic troubleshooting steps that the app already walks you through.

Cho also demonstrated the app’s Uber-esque Tech Tracker feature, coming in a few weeks, which provides a technician’s estimated arrival time, his or her location on a map, and the employee’s photo. You can then rate each service visit from zero to five stars. Cho said a one-star rating should automatically trigger an alert to a supervisor.

Before you ask, I already did: No, you can’t use this app to cancel your service.

A remote control you can talk to

Finding something to watch using a dense, onscreen program grid and a button-strewn remote control has been historically dreadful. The updated remote Comcast introduced at the INTX show still features 39 buttons (older ones packed in 50-plus) but also includes a microphone for its voice-control feature.

I tried it, and it actually worked on the noisy show floor. You’re not limited to ordering up a TV channel or a movie or TV-show title, so I said “Washington Nationals” and within seconds was presented with a topic page listing the Nats’ current and upcoming games with options to watch or record each. Neat. Then I tried to test the system’s ability to recognize movie quotes by intoning, “We must not allow a mineshaft gap.” It heard me but did not get the Dr. Strangelove reference.

During the keynote address, Roberts did his own demo of this by saying, “Show me the Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger”; the screen played a clip from the Vin Diesel movie Furious 7, in which an explosion leaves a house engulfed in flames. It’s good to see the company show a sense of humor about this.

Things you can’t see at home

Comcast is also talking up some moves that won’t have any direct visibility at home. On the show floor, it demonstrated an updated remote-diagnostics system that lets technicians look up the health of the network, from a national level down to individual network nodes. The tech walking me through it showed how this data had pinpointed a fault in the system down to within 400 feet.

The company also says it plans to hire 5,500 new customer-service reps over the coming years and open three new customer-support centers this year. And it’s “setting a goal to always be on time for customer appointments” by the third quarter of this year; if the tech shows up late, the customer is supposed to get a $20 rebate.

But as Comcast subscribers know, with this company, they’re dealing with two entities: the Fortune 500 corporate giant, which in my estimation has hired some smart and capable people, and their local or regional Comcast operator and its own cast of characters. For this strategy to show results, Comcast will need to ensure that the employees who are the faces of the company Get The Memo in a way they have not.

Email Rob at rob@robpegoraro.com; follow him on Twitter at @robpegoraro.