This week, Comcast invited business leaders, elected officials, and the media to an event at the company’s new warehouse and inspection station in Salem, NH. Although the facility officially “opened” on August 17th, it had actually been up and running for a couple of months. (The Boston Globe ran a story about the facility two days before the opening.) But, as Comcast of Greater Boston Senior Vice President Steve Hackley explained in an interview with State Impact, the company wanted to wait until the warehouse was out of trial phase before making its big splash. It’s especially important since the high-tech inspection program is new, and Hackley said there are no more than three other, similar facilities across the country.
The Salem warehouse is the biggest.
“It’s really a space that we have to bring in all of the equipment that goes into our customers’ homes,” Hackley said. ” It’s where we apply intelligent testing, so that when the equipment goes out the door and heads to our customers, it’s gone through a rigorous battery of tests, 70 diagnostic tests per box, so that when it hits the customer’s home, it’s rock solid.”
Among other things, the company hopes the new program will cut down on customer complaint calls.
Hackley wouldn’t give us an exact number, or ballpark figure, for how many complaints have been due to faulty equipment, but, “We keep elaborate records around what the cause of customer dissatisfaction is, …and…if you put [the defect rate] in a pie chart, it would be a big slice. But it isn’t always the equipment. There is a lot of…customer dynamics that go into place…Customers don’t always leave it be in their home. It’s an active environment. People are hooking up their own gear in the environment, and sometimes we just say, oh, it’s faulty equipment, and we swap it out. So it was a big enough piece of why customers were calling us that we needed to rally around it.”
Customer service and customer perceptions have been persistent problems for Comcast.
With a corporate footprint spanning 40 states, the company has a large subscriber base; Hackley told State Impact there are 2.5 million subscribers in New England alone. And the company consistently gets low customer satisfaction ratings. This year, for example, The American Customer Satisfaction Index rated Comcast the fourth most hated company in America. And last year, The Consumerist blog. (owned by the parent company of Consumer Reports) was even less kind to Comcast, naming it the worst company in America.
So customer service is definitely front-of-mind for execs like Hackley.
Talking with State Impact, Hackley cited a new customer satisfaction guarantee and a smart phone app that allows users to program their DVR’s long-distance as areas where Comcast is instituting improvements.
From the economic development perspective, the warehouse is good news for Salem. As John Toole of The Eagle-Tribune reports, the cable company rehabed a factory abandoned by Cisco Systems. But, Toole also reports that while the warehouse employs 140 people, the company didn’t create 140 new jobs. An unspecified number of jobs were “transferred from other Comcast plants in the region.” Still, it’s a net gain for the city.
The move also further centralizes Comcast’s New Hampshire workforce. Senior VP Steve Hackley told State Impact the company employs 1,500 people in New Hampshire. So a little more than nine percent of the company’s workforce is in Salem. Meanwhile, the bulk of Comcast’s employees–1,000 people, or 66 percent–work at the company’s Greater Boston Headquarters in Manchester. Hackley pointed out that Salem is well-located to serve the region’s customers in Massachusetts, Maine, and New Hampshire.
“It’s a great location in terms of access to highways. So we can move the equipment from here down 93 and over to 495, and we hit all the highways and byways that we need…to move the equipment out into our different field locations.”
From the warehouse location in the Merrimack Valley, trucks carrying Comcast equipment are a little more than 20 miles from the HQ in Manchester, and about 35 miles from the major customer base in Boston. Eventually, Hackley said the company wants to fold Vermont and Connecticut into the warehouse’s service area as well.
And he said, New Hampshire’s aggressive economic development policies helped bring the warehouse into the state, “When we decided that we were going to bring this facility out of the ground, the state of New Hampshire was very easy to work with…in terms of permitting, in terms of support…[the] lack of obstacles that were put in place…We didn’t get any special favors, but just the overall business climate that the governor’s office support is, I would say, differentiated from the other states that I look across.”
And the role of New Hampshire’s lax tax policy?
“Yeah, well, we do the economic analysis, and that, well, the tax situations and everything goes into it, and when you do the spreadsheet work, New Hampshire, in this case, came out on top.”