For the third straight year, direct-broadcast satellite
providers outscored their cable counterparts by a wide margin in the annual J.D. Power and
Associates cable and television customer-satisfaction study released last week.
EchoStar Communications Corp.'s Dish Network earned the No.
1 spot for the first time, with DirecTV Inc. following closely behind.
PrimeStar Inc., which has since been folded into DirecTV,
was named No. 1 in 1997 and 1998 -- the first two years DBS companies were counted in the
Nashville, Tenn.-based InterMedia Partners topped the list
of cable providers -- a place that had been held by Cox Communications Inc. for the past
several years. This was the first year InterMedia made the study, which requires 100
respondents to name an MSO as their provider before it is counted.
"We might have been No. 1 all along," InterMedia
executive director of marketing Donna Young said.
InterMedia chief operating officer Steve Crawford credited
system upgrades with helping to drive customer satisfaction. More than 70 percent of the
MSO's customers have access to advanced-analog, digital-cable and high-speed-data
services, he said.
In addition, InterMedia has improved its call centers and
trained its customer-service agents to sell its new services. Throughout the company,
bonus programs are tied to customer-service levels. InterMedia executives make regular
"mystery calls" to call centers to see whether their agents are following
through with what they've been taught.
Young predicted that DBS customer satisfaction would begin
to wane once the category ages and the service is no longer considered new in customers'
eyes. With DBS still in a rapid growth stage, nearly one in four subscribers has had the
service for less than one year.
Ironically, the customer-service capabilities of DBS
companies have come under fire in recent months due to heavy volume to their call centers.
DirecTV in particular saw such a dramatic spike in calls in July and early August that
many callers couldn't get through despite repeated attempts.
The 1999 survey was conducted among more than 10,000
households in March and April, J.D. Power director of media relations Peter Dresch said.
The J.D. Power study found that one in eight cable
subscribers would likely switch service in the next 12 months, with one-half saying they
would switch to DBS.
Fewer than one in 10 DBS customers said they would switch
service, Dresch said, adding that two-thirds of those said they would switch to another
Cost of service and programming offerings have the most
direct impact on customer satisfaction, the study indicated. And while Dresch said DBS
customers pay more, "The key is that the customer perceives they're getting more
value for the money."
Cox and Adelphia Communications Corp. also ranked higher
than the industry average in the study.
Companies that were sold over the past year --
Tele-Communications Inc., Charter Communications, Marcus Cable and Falcon Communications
Inc. -- scored at the bottom of the list.