UPDATE: Comcast agent 'did a lot of what we trained and paid him to do'

Comcast Cable's operations chief David N. Watson posted an employee memo where he admitted, "The agent on this call did a lot of what we trained him and paid him -- and thousands of other Retention agents --to do." (Joe Raedle, Getty Images, file)

MONDAY: Re the infamous Ryan Block customer service call (see below): Comcast Cable's operations chief David N. Watson has posted an employee memo, reproduced here by Consumer Reports' Consumerist site, admitting the company is "embarrassed by the tone of the call and the lack of sensitivity to the customer’s desire to discontinue service."

Watson wrote of his "regret" it all happened, but maintains it's "not representative of the good work that our employees are doing," and that most Comcast employees are "respectful, courteous and resourceful." Still, "it was painful to listen to this call, and I am not surprised that we have been criticized for it. Respecting our customers is fundamental, and we fell short in this instance.

"I know these Retention calls are tough, and I have tremendous admiration for our Retention professionals, who make it easy for customers to choose to stay with Comcast. We have a Retention queue because we believe in our products, and because we offer a great value when customers have the right facts... If a customer is not fully aware of what the product offers, we ask the Retention agent to educate the customer...

"The agent on this call did a lot of what we trained him and paid him -- and thousands of other Retention agents --to do. He tried to save a customer, and that’s important, but the act of saving a customer must always be handled with the utmost respect. 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. And that a great sales organization always listens to the customer, first and foremost."

FRIDAY: Did Comcast's recent mea culpa for an unusually public customer-service blow-up help its rep? "Comcast’s apology is a good start, but they are facing an uphill battle because the recording reinforces what many customers - rightly or wrongly – already think about Comcast,” says Daniel Korschun PhD, professor of marketing at Drexel's Center for Corporate Reputation Management. “The company needs to not only prevent this from happening again, but also to provide some concrete examples of how their customer service is improving.”

These days, "every customer you mistreat is a potential broadcaster" who can spread the word about their "negative experience" (especially if the customer happens to run a popular Web site), says Jordy Leiser, the Bucknell grad who runs NY-based customer-service analytics provider StellaService. "Comcast did the right thing by apologizing to Mr. Block, but the damage had already been done."

The apology "is totally disingenuous: what was done to [the Block family] is policy and practice. Not the actions of a rogue employee," says Barbara Pomerantz, a Chester County business consultant, who's been frustrated by Comcast reps at a Tennessee call center and their billing error, refund and pricing practices. "Until the lobbying funds stop flowing, we can only expect much more of the same."

WEDNESDAY: As Comcast bosses prepared to go to Washington yet again to beg the Philadelphia cable-video-phone-Internet giant be allowed to buy TimeWarner Cable and combine their low-rated customer service operations to tens of millions of Americans, the company last night issued an apology for making it tough for customer Ryan Block and his wife to cancel his service after Block, cofounder of the tech Web site Engadget.com, recorded part of the annoying Comcast service call on his site here, and drove it way viral.

So here's Comcast's apology, from Senior Vice President for Customer Experience Tom Karinshak: "We are very embarrassed by the way our employee spoke with Mr. Block and Ms. Belmont and are contacting them to personally apologize. The way in which our representative communicated with them is unacceptable and not consistent with how we train our customer service representatives. We are investigating this situation and will take quick action. While the overwhelming majority of our employees work very hard to do the right thing every day, we are using this very unfortunate experience to reinforce how important it is to always treat our customers with the utmost respect."

ABC News points out why call-service reps are sometimes as annoying as the Comcast person Block called -- because perverse corporate incentives make them desperate: Some are paid on commission to keep customers from dropping a service -- or at least to wring some data out of ex-customers, on their way out the door -- if they want to get paid.