Cable Ups Customer-Sat Scores In 2010: Survey

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Competition drove up customer satisfaction for pay-TV customers 5% in the first quarter of 2010, with notable gains among the four biggest U.S. cable operators versus a year earlier, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index.

"It's a big, meaningful bump up for the sector," ACSI managing director David VanAmburg said. "What this study is suggesting is that as competition becomes more meaningful, everyone is stepping up their game."

Still, cable trailed both satellite and the telco TV services from Verizon and AT&T, which were included for the first time on the ACSI survey. FiOS TV topped the category -- with a score of 73 out of a 100-point scale -- followed by AT&T U-verse TV at 72.

The survey results released Tuesday show a three-point improvement among all TV providers, to an average of 66, the highest score for the segment since ACSI began measuring it in 2001. Last year, the ACSI's average score for pay-TV services fell 2%, to 63, compared with 2008.

Similarly, customer satisfaction for fixed-line telephone service was up 4% for 2010 from a year ago to an ACSI score of 75, with most providers showing improvement. AT&T moved up 6% to a score of 75, closely followed by Cox Communications, unchanged at 74, and Verizon, up 3% to 73. Comcast's Digital Voice improved 2% to an ACSI score of 68 but remained in last place.

On the TV front, the four largest cable providers each showed improvement. Cox gained 2% to 67 to lead cable for a seventh straight year, and while Charter Communications made the biggest leap -- gaining 18% to 60 -- it remained in last place. Charter is now statistically tied with Comcast and Time Warner Cable, both up 3% to 61.

Dish Network also stood out, boosting its score a whopping seven points, to 71. The satellite operator's "dramatically improved ranking in the ACSI survey is testimony to the considerable strides we made over the past year to re-establish our leadership in customer service," Charlie Ergen, chairman, president and CEO of Dish Network, said in a statement.

DirecTV, meanwhile, dropped three points from last year, to 68. According to ACSI, DirecTV's recent price increase combined with Dish's aggressive pricing promotions "has the two satellite TV providers moving in opposite directions."

Overall, cable and satellite TV services trail the other major industries ACSI tracks, including wireless phone service (72), energy utilities (74), healthcare (77) and motion pictures (76). The ACSI survey measures customer satisfaction on two primary criteria: price and quality (which includes reliability and customization).

Overall, ACSI's national index across multiple service categories remained unchanged from the previous quarter, at 75.9 out of a 100-point scale, although the research firm noted that level remains high and every industry improved with the exception of healthcare. The overall ACSI score factors in scores from more than 200 companies in 44 industries and from government agencies over the previous four quarters.

The ACSI had been produced by the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business, but the project was spun off last year into a standalone company that remains based in Ann Arbor, Mich.