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Employee metrics show how Comcast pushes customer service reps to make sales

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Sales are typically worth about 20 percent of employee performance metrics, according to documents provided to The Verge

Many of the more than 150 current and former employees interviewed for The Verge's Comcast Confessions series cited excessive sales pressure as one of the main reasons the company gets poor customer satisfaction ratings.

Despite the fact that Comcast has departments devoted to both inbound and outbound sales, the company encourages its employees in customer service, tech support, and other departments to make sales as well. This often puts the employee's interests at odds with the customer, who may be calling in to report a technical problem, billing issue, or to downgrade their service.

Sales pressure is enforced through monetary incentives, disincentives such as being put on a corrective action plan, and pressure from managers who instant message reps while they're on the phone to ask why they haven't pitched a sale yet.

Employees told us that they felt like failure to sell would get them fired

"I don’t want any of our employees to feel that pressure to go through and sell…or feel like they’re going to get fired," Tom Karinshak, Comcast’s senior vice president of customer experience, tells The Verge. "That’s not good for us."

However, employees told us in no uncertain terms that they felt like the failure to make sales would get them fired. In some cases, employees told us they knew coworkers who had been let go for failure to make sales, or had been let go themselves.

The Verge obtained some of the internal training materials and metrics for customer service employees, which show the company considers sales to be worth about 20 percent of performance.

Guidelines for repair reps, which show how a trouble call can be segued into a sales call, are part of S4, Comcast's "universal call flow." S4 is an evaluative measurement to ensure that all agents "give every customer a great call experience every time." It stands for: start, solve, sell, summarize.

Part S3, or "sell," includes four parts: "transition to relevant offer," "present offer," "overcome objections," and "proactively close sale."

For transitioning to a relevant offer, Comcast suggests lines like, "Did you call us from your home phone today? I noticed that you didn't have phone service on your account," and "Other than Boardwalk Empire, what kind of TV shows do you like to watch? Great, me too." The "sales" portion of the call is worth 20 percent of the total score.

Similarly, a scorecard for customer service reps in the Pennsylvania area shows that sales are explicitly worth 18 percent of an agent's performance. Sales are measured again in the general customer service "Pinnacle" metric, which is worth 27 percent. An excerpt from the Pinnacle guidelines says "Sales/Conversion" is one of eight categories measured in an employee's interaction with a customer.

Comcast lists situations in which a "transition to offer" is not such a good idea

As with Comcast's retention guidelines, which explain how to keep a customer who wants to cancel their service, Comcast lists situations in which a "transition to offer" is not such a good idea: "Customer is irate or doesn't seem happy with the resolution," "Customer in a delinquent status," "Customer volunteers a 'do not sell to me' statement."

Comcast points out that customer service will inherently include some sales: a customer who complains that their internet is too slow may want to upgrade to a faster tier, for example.

But after an especially frustrating customer service call went viral, Comcast admitted it has to change: "This situation has caused us to reexamine how we do some things to make sure that each and every one of us — from leadership to the front line — understands the balance between selling and listening," chief operating officer Dave Watson wrote in a memo.

Comcast is now in the process of reviewing "all training content for customer service and sales processes." The company says it is also "reviewing and changing the messages we use in emails or calls to customers, in our automated phone system and in other communications to reinforce that the overall customer experience is our top priority."