PHILADELPHIA — Gripping his TV remote, Bob Klewans, 75, wandered into a Philadelphia Xfinity store one recent afternoon, and unlike in years past he was met by a Comcast greeter and chatted up by one of the store’s managers.
He had a problem with his remote, he said, flourishing it.
They talked, and Klewans was told he could get a new one. Klewans, a retiree who seemed happy for the friendly interaction, gushed about his treatment and the remodeled store, one of the busiest in the Philadelphia area and that officially reopened this month.
Of the old format, Klewans remarked, “It was like going to a bank and like a bank there would be 14 teller windows and only two people working. You would get in line and wait and wait then there would be no lollipop at the end.”
Comcast has had its share of customer service embarrassments in the last year — first names changed to vulgarities on bills, bottom-of-the-barrel national satisfaction ratings, outages and repeated reports of missed technician visits.
But the cable-TV giant says it’s on a path to improving its dismal customer service reputation. As one example of the broad efforts underway, corporate executives point to its hundreds of company stores that are being remodeled, relocated and infused with technology to cut wait times — part of a multiyear and multimillion-dollar project.
Most Comcast customers use the centers to pay bills in person, or get or drop off set-top boxes.
“It would be safe to say the opportunity is huge,” said Sian Doyle, Comcast’s senior vice president of retail who was hired three years ago for the project. “We are at the beginning of a long journey.”
Customers in the new stores “feel that they are part of the Xfinity brand rather than being there with something utilitarian” — Comcast stores could one day retail electronic or TV-related products, company officials say.
Doyle says there are 580 Comcast-owned stores in the U.S. and so far the company has modernized or improved 120. It intends to “touch” — or do something — with most of the 580 within three years, she said.
Comcast officials say about 200 people a day visit a suburban store, while 300 to 500 people could visit busier stores. The idea is to make them bright and modern — and welcoming.
Comcast filmed a training video at NBCUniversal for store employees with a program called “GREAT” — which stands for Greet, Relate, Explore, Ask and Thank.
Visitors can wander the store and watch TV while they are waiting for service — an electronic board tracks when it’s their turn at the customer service desk. The stores also have TVs for people to watch while they wait, and ATM-like payment machines.
Eventually, Comcast plans to text customers when it’s their turn — so they can wander around a mall or strip plaza — and enable online scheduling for store appointments.
Doyle, who was raised in Wales and spoke Welsh until she was 16 years old and now speaks with a delightful accent, got her start in retail at Wal-Mart’s British subsidiary Asda.
Doyle ran the Orange wireless store chain, owned by France Telecom, in Britain. She began with 250 Orange stores in 2006 and grew the chain to 420 by 2010.
She crossed the Atlantic Ocean, taking a retail position with Rogers Communications, a Canadian telecommunications and media company, closing about 200 stores and opening 50.
Comcast’s plan is for 80 percent of its subscribers to live within a 15-minute drive of an Xfinity store.
“We’re nowhere near that now,” Doyle said, adding, “As we evolve our products, the stores will evolve as well.”