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Top Places to Work | Top Large Employer - Comcast

A cable company that listens

Workers say the biggest player in the industry has a personal touch

By Robert Gavin
Globe Staff / November 8, 2009

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Love the cable company? Yes, it’s possible - especially if you work there.

Comcast Corp. is The Globe 100’s top place to work, the result of a corporate philosophy that aims to have even its subscribers love the cable giant as much as workers do. The underlying principle is simple: Happy employees make happy customers.

“Everything is delivered through our employees,’’ said Stephen L. Hackley, senior vice president for the Greater Boston region. “If employees are satisfied and happy, it comes through on the phones, it comes through in the field. They are the difference makers.’’

Comcast employs about 4,000 people in Massachusetts, and is the number-one large employer on our list. They enjoy competitive pay and generous benefits, including a choice of health plans, a company-matched 401(k), free financial planning, and even pet insurance. They can choose their schedules, from five eight-hour shifts to four 10-hour shifts to split shifts that allow parents to work a few hours, head home for family dinners, and return later. They receive quarterly bonuses, regular training, and plans for advancing their careers.

But what really makes Comcast a great place to work? Bosses listen. While Comcast scored high in all categories of the Top Places survey, the cable company scored highest in one: managers. Employees time and again praised the openness of the workplace, the approachability of managers and top executives, and their willingness to take seriously employee comments, suggestions, and ideas.

Take Peter McLinn. The engineer was monitoring field performance, using a computer map that pinpoints equipment locations, when he got an idea. Why not write software to integrate the company’s organizational chart with the map so engineers could quickly know whom to contact when trouble arose? McLinn brought the idea to his manager, who put him to work on it.

The system is now used for Comcast’s operations in Greater Boston and will eventually be adopted companywide, executives said.

“When I figured it out and showed it to my boss and some of the senior leaders, they gave me their support to develop this application,’’ said McLinn. “It’s clear that everyone on the management team wanted to help move this forward because it delivered such positive results.’’

Comcast, based in Philadelphia, is the nation’s largest cable provider. It entered the New England market about seven years ago, following its acquisition of AT&T Broadband. Today, the company has more than 1.6 million customers in Massachusetts - roughly eight of every 10 cable subscribers, according to the most recent statistics from the state Department of Telecommunications and Cable.

Despite this size, Comcast strives to maintain an entrepreneurial spirit that encourages employees like McLinn to find ways to do things better, Hackley said. Employees are given wide discretion to solve problems and given the authority to keep customers satisfied. Say, for example, a subscriber has repeated difficulties with service. Under a new guarantee program, a customer service representative or field technician can discount the bills or even give the customer three free months of a premium channel without prior approval. No questions asked.

Customer satisfaction has been rising steadily in Greater Boston, executives said.

“It’s a matter of trusting that our employees will make good decisions in the moment,’’ said Hackley. “We want them to be discerning consumer advocates, and you can’t put that in a metric: This happens, do this.’’

That trust goes a long away with employees, who frequently cited the freedom they’re given as a major reason they love working at Comcast. About 200 customer service employees work from home. James Mendes, a field technician, goes into the office once or twice a week, leaving from home for his first appointment and heading straight back after his last.

It’s a far different atmosphere from his last job as a supermarket’s assistant grocery manager, where it seemed his every move was watched and every decision questioned. Mendes has worked for Comcast for two years. He gets his daily assignments and other information about customer service calls through a handheld wireless device, which also allows him to troubleshoot equipment and fix problems before they affect service.

“I have more freedom and more responsibility, and as long as I don’t make any mistakes, no one is on my back,’’ Mendes said. “I’m allowed to fix all the problems and make the customer happy. I’ve never been happier.’’

Such feelings were common among Comcast employees in the Top Places survey. They said they felt appreciated. They received training and tools to do their jobs better. They had opportunities to advance.

“We want our people,’’ Hackley said, “to go home and say, ‘I had a good day.’ ’’

Robert Gavin can be reached at rgavin@globe.com.

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Methodology

More coming Sunday

Pick up The Globe and go to boston.com/topworkplaces on Sunday, Nov. 8 for the top 100 list and more.