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Customer Experience

Despite Efforts, Cable Service Still Sucks

Nobody likes the cable guy.

In the latest American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) report, US pay-TV providers and Internet service providers saw their customer satisfaction rankings fall again. And, as usual, US cable operators led the way down in both categories, with MSO giants Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) and Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC) occupying the last two slots respectively.

As a group, pay-TV providers dropped another 4.4% in the ACSI rankings, scoring a total of 65 on a 100-point scale. The only companies that fared worse in the annual assessment of communications industries were Internet service providers. As a category, ISPs fell 3.1% to a score of 63. In both cases, cable operators ranked at the bottom of the pack,

The 2014 ACSI report is based on interviews with more than 12,000 consumers across six industries: cellular telephones, computer software, fixed-line telephone service, ISPs, subscription TV service, and wireless telephone service. Cellphone companies, with a score of 78, were the only ones to improve their industry ranking year over year, while both computer software and wireless service companies stayed steady with respective scores of 76 and 72. Fixed-line phone companies saw their industry rank drop 1.4% to 73.

Survey respondents blamed the drop in cable satisfaction scores on high subscription prices, unreliable service, poor performance, and poor customer support. And while cable companies may not want to lower their monthly fees, the continued negative response to customer support comes as a blow after the industry's very public efforts to boost service quality. Not too long ago, for instance, Time Warner Cable proclaimed that it has been "laser-focused on improving customer service and the customer experience." (See What's Next for TWC.)

Not only have cable executives made a point of saying that they're trying to do better, but they've also spent a good deal of money in the attempt. According to Alex Mitchell, president and founder of self-service technology company StepOne, Inc., cable and telecom providers have opened their wallets wide in an effort to improve customer support.

"That is the largest sub-segment of spending in the CRM support [market]… [It's] telco and cable providers," Mitchell told Light Reading.

StepOne launched its own customer relationship management product last week, called Contextual Care. It has already landed Telstra Corp. Ltd. (ASX: TLS; NZK: TLS), Australia's largest telecom company, and an unnamed US Tier 1 cable operator as customers.

The StepOne technology predicts subscriber problems through contextual information, such as order and product status, billing data, location, and more. The software then triggers a response so that users are presented with relevant support information. Over time, the self-service platform adapts to user behavior and improves support recommendations accordingly.

In Telstra's case, the telecom company is combining StepOne's Contextual Care product with smart tags on products, which embed a near-field communications (NFC) code, a service code, and a QR code. Customers can scan these codes with a mobile device and find out how to resolve support issues.

Amdocs Ltd. (NYSE: DOX), a leader in the telecom back office market, has also been working on addressing customer support problems through data analysis and predictive algorithms. One solution that the company highlighted recently at The Cable Show is Proactive Care. Proactive Care allows service providers to leverage structured and unstructured data to try to pre-empt service calls and improve customer retention rates. Amdocs also has a Social Care solution for managing customer support over social networks and an Order to Activation solution for guiding the customer process from service order and service activation.

As cable's customer satisfaction scores keep dropping, there are a wide array of solution providers looking to help companies improve their service records. Market pressure has put customer support high on the cable priority list, and the higher the priority, the higher the budget. So some firms are primed to cash in on cable's woes.

— Mari Silbey, special to Light Reading

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