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Comcast hiring thousands of customer service reps

CHICAGO - Comcast (CMCSA), long dogged by a reputation for terrible customer service, is planning to hire thousands and is rolling out new tools to improve its interactions with customers.

"There are times you just need to transform things and rethink things from the base level. That's what we've done," Neil Smit, president and CEO of Comcast Cable, said at a recent cable-industry trade show in Chicago. The company has set aside $300 million for efforts to improve customer service and will add to that, he said.

The Philadelphia company will add 5,500 customer service jobs over the next two to three years. It's also building three new call centers and adding technicians.

Comcast is the country's biggest cable company. Its attempt to buy its next-biggest rival, Time Warner Cable, was recently quashed by regulators because of antitrust concerns.

Asked if Comcast's customer-service issues were a factor in the government's rejection of the $45 billion deal, Comcast Corp. CEO Brian Roberts said he didn't know, although he didn't think it was decisive.

But he said the company's products "weren't getting some of the excitement they deserved because you're waiting on hold on your phone or we missed an appointment."

The cable giant has made some highly publicized customer service missteps, including an incident with a women whose billing account was renamed with a profanity after a run-in with a Comcast customer service representative.

In 2014, one customer was put on hold for three hours while trying to cancel service. Another customer recorded the difficulty he had canceling service over an eight-minute phone call.

Comcast has been rolling out its latest set-top box, the X1. On Tuesday it announced a remote that responds to your voice.

Among the company's new efforts, starting in the third quarter, it will give customers a $20 automatic credit if their technician is late for an appointment.

It also wants to be more transparent about prices and promotions in its bills and will begin testing new versions in Portland, Oregon, in June.

In addition, it is redesigning its 500 stores and testing a posh new retail location in Chicago that will have cushions for customers to lounge on and products for them to try out. It opens in June.

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