Los Angeles -- The Cable & Telecommunications
Association for Marketing reported last week that customer-satisfaction levels for digital
cable rose in 1999 and more subscribers said they were likely to keep their digital
service than in a survey conducted a year earlier.
Of nearly 2,600 digital-cable customers polled this past
fall, 61 percent said they were "completely satisfied," up from 54 percent in
1998, and 34 percent said they were "somewhat satisfied."
CTAM vice president of research Barbara Gural called the
jump "great news" while detailing some of the findings during a panel on digital
retention at last week's CTAM Digital and PPV Conference here.
A total of 11 cable operators supplied names and phone
numbers of customers in 23 U.S. markets for the survey. Of customers polled, 90 percent
had upgraded to digital from analog cable, and 10 percent were new to cable.
Exceeding consumer expectations is the best way to retain
customers, Gural said. But she noted that of the 16 percent of customers who reported that
digital cable fell short of their expectations, nearly one-half (48 percent) said they
would keep the service anyway, and another 27 percent said they may continue.
"That group is still woo-able," Gural said,
adding that the areas that need the most attention in helping to meet expectations are
customer service, reliability and value.
The survey also unveiled that digital-cable customers are
likely to make good prospects for newer services, including video-on-demand. Of those
surveyed, 81 percent said they would "definitely" use a digital box to record a
show without the need for a VCR; 74 percent want the ability to pause and rewind live
programming; and 73 percent would use VOD.
In order to manage customer expectations, operators need to
be careful what they promise, Gural said, noting that even the best personal video
recorders won't be able to fast-forward through live video programming, for example.
"We all like to be wowed, so wow your customers,"
she added, "but only promise what you can deliver."
As cable offers additional services to digital-cable boxes,
customer churn is likely to drop, Charter Communications Inc. senior vice president of
marketing and programming Mary Pat Blake said.
"Our churn rates are low on 'Charter Digital
Cable,'" she said, "and getting lower each month."
New digital services will provide the kinds of killer
applications that take cable from a dispensable monthly item "to one that's
indispensable to the household," Blake predicted.
At a panel on driving digital penetration, Blake noted her
company's goal to push digital to more than 80 percent of its subscriber base in the
next three to four years.
She said addressing the need for whole-house digital
networks will help to reduce digital churn. "When you have multiple users in the
home, you have multiple voices" protesting if a parent wants to disconnect the
service, she explained.
At Time Warner Cable's Los Angeles division,
digital-cable customer-satisfaction levels are above 90 percent, according to division
president Tom Feige. "If we're able to maintain that kind of
customer-satisfaction level as we add new services, that will be a big help," he
"Our digital households are at least 30 percent more
satisfied than analog ones, and they're less likely to defect," AT&T
Broadband & Internet Services senior vice president of marketing Doug Seserman said
Seserman admitted that there's still room for
improvement in digital-cable satisfaction rates. In other industries, "you look for
the 'completely' satisfied rate to be about 70 percent," he said. "But
for cable, given our history of customer service, 61 percent is a very good number."
Seserman said two keys in reducing digital churn are the
price-value equation of how the product is packaged and good customer service. He added
that while interactive programming guides are not necessarily selling tools, they're
great retention tools. "The guide changes the way you watch TV," he said.
Digital subscribers who churn tend to do so within the
first four to six months of service, according to Comcast Corp. vice president of
marketing and new business development Andy Addis. He added that customer education and
good communication can help to control churn.