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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sarahthomas1011 5/23/2014 | 11:56:12 AM
Re: My TV Update For the first time ever, AT&T called yesterday to see how I liked my U-Verse service...the day after I canceled it. And when I told him I canceled, he said "okay, thank you for using AT&T U-Verse. Have a nice day!" Hilarious. Right idea; very wrong timing.
sarahthomas1011 5/22/2014 | 12:38:09 PM
Re: My TV Update Nevermind, I am back to hating their customer service. After he switched my services, none of my devices will connect to WiFi outside of my laptop, and Comcast will charge me to tell me how to connect them...Wow.
Mitch Wagner 5/21/2014 | 9:50:21 PM
Re: Laser focus KBode - "After ten years of bad reports like this an bi-annual promises that things are getting better, I think one thing is pretty clear: Time Warner Cable and Comcast don't really care what we think or about reports like this. They probably care a little about the bad press, but pretty clearly they've been so confident in earnings, subscriber adds and retention rates they just figure it's ok to ignore these."

Indeed. Investors care about profits. They only care about customer satisfaction to the extent that it impacts profits. 

"If more people voted with their wallet (or we had more competition so people COULD vote with their wallet) ... "

That's the key: If you're unhappy with your cable provider, where are you going to go? Your phone company is probably similar. 
Mitch Wagner 5/21/2014 | 9:45:08 PM
Re: Laser focus I wonder if more competition would result in better customer service. 
Mitch Wagner 5/21/2014 | 9:36:03 PM
Re: Comcast 14 is low. IIRC, I get 24 Mb at my home office. 

At the airport now-- rocking a big 2.7 Mb here. 
sarahthomas1011 5/21/2014 | 6:02:44 PM
My TV Update Got my Comcast installed today and canceled U-Verse. Must give credit where it's due, both companies were lovely to work with. It was funny, however, that I got a much better offer from AT&T now that I actually canceled and it's too late. In fact, if I would've gotten this when I just threatened to leave, I would've probably stayed. He said faster Internet speeds at $100, down from the $170 I was paying. I have a feeling it was too good to be true once I dug into it, but he did give me his personal email if I ever change my mind.
VictorRBlake 5/21/2014 | 7:55:35 AM
Re: Service vs. Customer Service davidhoffman,


While what you say may be true in some individual markets, it isn't universally so. In many markets the telcos (AT&T or Verizon) offer FTTH services with the same or higher data rates. More broadly VDSL is widely available in large markets and is obviously a competitive price/feature product.

But notably if you look at markets where there is NO CABLE service at all, customer service ratings for telcos are even lower. That is to say, where there is no competition customer service is worst.

Your argument, if i understand correctly, is that ADSL is not competitive, well it might not be in some markets, but in others it might be available where cable is not.

I think my point still holds true, which is that customer service in telecom -- wireless, telco, and cable is notoriously poor. I think its worth understanding and fixing, but I don't think the majority of complaints are about the product itself -- they are more often about customer interactions with the company, billing issues, etc.
davidhoffman 5/21/2014 | 5:42:35 AM
The only way to get improvement is with competition. Look what has occcurred in Kansas City KS and Kansas City MO. Google Fiber comes in, and after a relatively short interval, Time Warner Cable(TWC) brings in some technicians who actually have some knowledge, tools, parts, and authority to fix problems that TWC subscribers in the area have complained about for many years. TWC was not going to do anything to fix these issues on its own in a monopoly environment.

We in the USA need some way to encourage and support alternative wireline service providers. Municipal public utility FTTH or Google Fiber type arrangements to get the cable industry to take the customer service issue seriously. One of the interesting stories that is told about the Chattanooga TN EPB Fiber deployment is how much EBP had to upgrade its customer service in going from being an electric power public service company to an electric power service company and triple play FTTH service company. What was acceptable customer service as an electric power delivery company was determined to be unacceptable as a FTTH triple paly service provider. EPB was worried they could loose the whole FTTH deal because they would not be able to deliver a better customer service experience than the local cable company, so they had to make sure they exceeded in a positive way the customer service level of the local cable company. 
davidhoffman 5/21/2014 | 5:21:08 AM
Re: Service vs. Customer Service If cable and telephone company services were roughly equal you could state that the subscription percentages show that cable is the preferred service. Sadly the services are not roughly equal. Th typical telephone company triple play offering involves limited low end ADSL2+ internet speeds(below 3 Mbps in the real world), telephone voice, and an offer to use satellite pay TV through some coordination with Dish Network or DirecTV. 

We in the USA do not have large scale widespread ubiquitious VDSL2 based telephone company offerings to seriously compete with cable DOCSIS 3.0 internet services, VOIP, and video(TV) offerings. We also have numerous multifamily(apartment) building owners who strictly interpret the FCC OTARD rules, thus limiting the ability to use satellite pay TV. 

The end result is that cable triple play, or at least double play for video and internet, is the only "choice" available.

We need more competition in the wireline market, perhaps by easing the rules about public utility municipal FTTH deployment.
victorblake 5/20/2014 | 9:34:00 PM
Service vs. Customer Service Mari,


I think there are two different terms here potentially being used interchangeably. The first is the service and how it works. In the case of a service provider -- the service is their "product." I think the macro enconomics show that cable services (having more than 60% of broadband market share in the US) are preferred over telco services. That is "a better product."

The second term is "customer service". As we all know, this is not how the product or service works, but how -- for example, the company providing the service responds to customer queries, handles billing, makes customer appointments, and other interactions with the customer. Its an area of great challenge for all telecom operators (telcos and wireless operators also have notoriously poor customer service).

I think it is important to distinguish between the two and unfortunately I feel that the title of your article is either potentially misleading or at the minimum blurs the disctinction between the two terms.
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