News

Consumers Want Some Satisfaction

7/11/2008 8:00 PM Eastern

Some things never change, apparently. Bashing your cable company is one of them.

Cable has had serious competition for video customers for years — from the national satellite providers, both of which have had tremendous fun from time to time depicting cable firms as pigs, and, more recently, from greedy boardroom incompetents whose answer to declining customer-satisfaction marks is to look for different customers. Verizon and AT&T are emerging as serious competitors on all of cable’s business fronts.

Not a good time to be among the lowest-rated industries by consumers for helpfulness on the phone, as in the well publicized CFI Group survey that came out the other day. Only computer makers, with their outsourced, offshore call centers, came out lower.

The biggest cable company, Comcast, particularly suffers in these surveys. To its credit, company officials acknowledge that consumers “are not particularly crazy about our brand,” as operations EVP Dave Watson told our Linda Haugsted in this week’s cover story. Comcast is trying hard to train its people to deal with customer issues quickly and effectively, as Linda’s story details.

Part of the problem is, cable is a multifaceted business now. Beyond operators’ selling phone and high-speed Internet in addition to video, each of those categories has many sub-categories.

“Should you be getting an HD box? How about a DVR? And do you want faster speeds on the Internet?” CTAM president Char Beales asked, playing the role of a customer service representative for a moment. “It’s just getting incredibly complicated.”

Comcast is right to make improving the customer experience a priority. “Companies are moving up that are really focusing on it,” Beales said. “But the bigger the company, the harder it is.”

She pointed to Bright House Networks and Cox as examples of companies that have had consumer-ranking success, in J.D. Power surveys and the like.

Consumer marketer Bruce Leichtman, though, notes that Bright House and Cox have reinvented themselves as something other than cable companies, in the monopoly sense of the term. Bright House did it partly by breaking free of big old Time Warner Cable. Cox became an alternative to the local Baby Bell.

“In picking a cable television company, consumers don’t necessarily feel like they’re making a choice,” Leichtman said. They do feel they’re making a choice picking a broadband provider, or a phone company, or satellite TV. “It’s psychological. They feel better when they’re making a choice.”

“To a large degree, it’s the legacy of the cable industry that holds it down,” Leichtman said. “I think you’ve got to be careful about customer-satisfaction ratings as truly a measure of satisfaction.” He also says Leichtman Research Group surveys don’t necessarily find a correlation between low satisfaction and likelihood to switch providers.

True. But anything that can help improve cable’s reputation for keeping the customer satisfied has to help when consumers make that initial choice.

November