Business

Aug. 13, 2010 11:30 am

Frank Eliason formerly of @ComcastCares talks customer service and moving on

In the pantheon of social media, Frank Eliason is certainly something of a celebrity. He was the start of a social media craze from Comcast, chasing down and responding to online complaints from customers. In the history book of social media, Eliason, who popularized Twitter handle @ComcastCares, will be among the forefathers of the movement. […]

In the pantheon of social media, Frank Eliason is certainly something of a celebrity.

He was the start of a social media craze from Comcast, chasing down and responding to online complaints from customers. In the history book of social media, Eliason, who popularized Twitter handle @ComcastCares, will be among the forefathers of the movement.

After beginning in September 2007, his role was buffeted with a team of Comcast tweeters and blog readers and outreach specialists.

Nearly as well known as complaints about Comcast service were the signs of that Eliason’s team was listening. It was a strange juxtaposition, an attempt to move a mountain of negative perception with a relatively small team of persistent web-based professionals.

And Eliason was at the start of what has become accepted as the norm.

He hasn’t been shorted any attention.

A splashy New York Times profile first put Eliason on the map in July 2008.  Businessweek followed suit and the Wall Street Journal gave him its own due. Wired magazine covered the Comcast customer service movement, and, by then, Eliason was the obvious choice for any USA Today or ABC News story about social media and its use by companies.

With the team and perspective very much established, Eliason is leaving.

In fact, he already has. Earlier this month, Eliason left his post at Comcast’s Center City headquarters for a similar position with Citi, starting the process of building an online brand all over again with another industry reviled by consumers.

As always, edited for length and clarity

You started your new gig last week. Tell us more about what you’re up to now.

I am returning to the banking industry at Citi. I will be joining their Internet and mobile marketing team leading social media.

This new role for me will be a challenge that will help me further enhance my skills and learn a new side of the business. Social media has brought a new focus on customer service, which has been my career focus, as well as marketing and communications.

Together with my Citi team, we can bridge each of these areas and further build relationships with our customers. Since my days at Vanguard Investments, I have always enjoyed the industry, and with the transformation that has been taking place, now seems to be a great time to return. Prior to joining Comcast in September 2007, I was manager of quality assurance and Customer satisfaction with Advanta.

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Can you give both a very specific, tangible and a broader accomplishment that you were a part of in your role as @ComcastCares?

We have watched Customer satisfaction grow over the past few years  — nine percent and three percent in the past two years, according to ACSI [Editor’s note: Those increases do follow Comcast customer satisfaction reaching an all-time low in 2008].

More importantly, I have seen an invigorated focus on Customer satisfaction at all levels within the organization. I have also watched silos come down throughout the organization. I am really excited about the hiring of Neil Smit as (Cable Operations) President and Mike Decandido as Senior Vice President of Call Center Operations. Neil’s background is customer service, and every action I have seen him take has been focused on the customer. Mike is a customer Service guy (too) and his background has been bringing together customer service organizations. Both have been doing a great job.

I have also watched the company become much more transparent. This has been seen as benefit by all levels, especially with (CEO) Brian Roberts. (T)here is a video from Brian at Web 2.0 discussing changes to our culture based on Twitter.

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You and Comcast did receive a lot of adulation for leading a push using social media for customer service. Is there still space to be innovative there?

The space is still in it’s infancy and will continue to evolve. No one can say for certainty where it will go, but the one thing I can promise is it will change how we interact with companies and each other.

So I do believe there is a lot of room for innovation. What excites me the most are the possibilities with video. With all the new phones, like he iPhone 4, video will be at our finger tips. Imagine the day going on the web and having a video chat with your business, or sharing video of trouble with tech support at a company — at Comcast we have done that, most notably with Steve Garfield, a video blogger and author from New England.

I firmly believe that customer service for all companies must improve. Over the past 20 years, the focus as been on efficiency and not as much on the customer experience. Over the next several years, this will change as companies look to better connect with and retain their customers. The costs are too great if they don’t.

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We’ve seen a lot of attention for your work, but not you. Now that you’re leaving, why don’t you introduce yourself a bit more?

I am a simple customer service guy. Those who know me, understand that is my focus. I like to surround myself with people who have this same focus. This is why I know my team at Comcast will continue to be successful.

I grew up in Bucks County, attending Archbishop Wood in Warminster — graduated in 1990 — followed by Bucks County Community College. I worked in retail for a number of years, then joined Vanguard as a customer service agent in 1997. I worked my way up to team manager.

In 2000, our daughter Gianna Rose was born premature. She spent the first three months of her life in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. While she was there, we started a family website to communicate her health to our family and friends.

After she was released from the hospital, we continued to use the website to communicate her health and educate people about Cystic Fibrosis. At the age of three, she was diagnosed with hepatoblastoma, childhood cancer of the liver. We again turned to the website to educate and provide updates to our family and friends. She passed away during a liver transplant surgery in July 2004.

In 2006, our second daughter Lily was born, followed by Robyn in 2008. We have them on our family website, although I have been too busy to update the site — I will soon. I am married to my wife Carolyn and we live in Chalfont, Pa., near Doylestown. With my new role [in New York], we do plan to move to the Princeton/Hamilton area, but still close to the Philly area and our families.

Do you have a particularly memorable — perhaps amusing or maybe even frustrating — experience in your outreach role?

I am loaded with stories.

Instead of rewriting the post, (show the blog item that explains) the most powerful aspect to Twitter and the reason I am a firm believer in personal connections. It is the reason my team has their own id’s and why I listed my family website along with Comcast links on my Twitter page:

My soon to be 3 year old daughter, Lily, was born on July 25.  Last year we had a variety of different things going on, so the only day we could have a party was July 26.  I still can not believe that we had a party on the day, but we would have felt guilty if she did not have a party, which we did think about.  This is because our other daughter, Gia, passed away on July 26, 2004.  In many ways the party turned out to be a good thing, because we were so busy and focused on creating a good day for Lily that it made it much easier on us.  I will never forget the day for so many reasons, from the running around in the morning picking up cakes, balloons, beer, soda at all different places (having it all piled in the Prius must have been a funny thing to see) to the waiting when everyone arrives late after rushing to have it all prepared.  Anyway, the day went well and we were hanging with some neighbors after everyone left.  I swore I would not even look at Twitter that day.  We were sitting in the family room drinking and talking.  My Mac sits on the counter, and I was sitting on the bar stool, so I could not help myself.  I started glancing through my search and I started to notice some interesting tweets.  People responded to others that tweeted me.  Some told Twitter users to let me have my day, others offered suggestions to help, while others simply offered to help.  All I can say is I was touched, and to be honest amazed to see it.  This is when I realized what Twitter is really about. MORE

Another favorite story was a day after Robyn, our two year old was born.

My wife was in the hospital, and I was waiting for our other daughter to wake up from a nap. While waiting, I did a search of blogs for Comcast. I accidentally typed it wrong, but still came across a blog with a customer service concern.

I picked up the phone and called the customer. He answered the phone, and I apologized for the trouble. He did not understand and was rushing me off the phone. I, of course, obliged. A few days later he did a blog post congratulating me on the baby and asking if I could call him back.

It turns out the customer was about 21 and was ‘out’ the prior night late. When the phone rang he thought I was a girl he met the night prior, and then when he heard Comcast, he thought it was our legal team because the use of a logo.

A few days later when he thought through the conversation, he knew I just wanted to help.

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Every Friday, Technically Philly brings you an interview with a leader or innovator in Philadelphia s technology community. See others here.

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Christopher Wink

Christopher Wink is a cofounder and Editorial Director of Technical.ly, the local technology news network. Previously, Wink worked for a homeless advocacy nonprofit and was a freelance reporter for a variety of publications. He writes regularly about news innovation and best business practices on his personal blog here. The bicycle commuter loves cities, urban politics and squabbling about neighborhood boundaries.

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