Advertising No Substitute for Good Customer Service

An Ad Age Editorial

Published on .

"Comcast and all other enslavement brands like them had better take note. Your days are numbered. ... We are fed up with the lies, the betrayal and the avoidance."

No, that's not Bob Garfield speaking. It's Karen Evans from Atlanta, one of 115 comments and counting on Ad Age's website in response to columnist Garfield, who has declared a jihad on the cable giant for its abysmal service and callous treatment of its customers. His crusade has led to the establishment of a website, Comcast Must Die, where consumers share their grievances with the goal of shaming the company into correcting them.

"I will not be satisfied until Qualmcast is on its knees, weeping," writes Garfield. "In fact, I won't be satisfied until it is heaving with sobs, squealing and hyperventilating with snot dripping from its nose."

OK, it's hyperbolic. But it's also true that it should never have come to this.

And it's not simply Comcast. When Sprint Chairman-CEO Gary Forsee stepped down earlier this week, our online commentators fomented with frustration and fury over the company's disrespect for its consumers and shocking service.

What's really shocking though, is that the two companies combined spend some $2.3 billion on advertising. And every dollar of it is wasted.

What's the point of pitching your "Comcastic" service when that adjective has come to mean something radically different to consumers? And Sprint's tagline, "Yes, you can," takes on a different meaning in the age of consumer empowerment: Yes, you can change service, and you don't have to take it anymore.

And no, no one believes a company's claims that outrageous customer service is "an isolated incident."

Here's a radical idea, Sprint and Comcast (and other cable and wireless providers). Why not spend even a portion of those marketing billions on upgrading consumer service rather than empty claims?

But don't take our word for it. Listen to this unsigned poster from Minneapolis: "Instead of spending $1.78 billion on ads and $5 billion developing a new network matrix, all [Sprint] had to do was spend a few million dollars improving its customer service. No advertising campaign can produce loyalty when you have a lousy product."

And consumers will find you out. "It's time for customers to take back control," wrote Phil Smith of Charlotte, N.C. "Time for our voices to be heard. Isn't this the reason Al Gore invented the internet?"
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