Cable operators were literally the best and worst of telecommunications services providers yet again in a new customer-satisfaction survey.
The good news was that cable operators, who have pumped money, resources and personnel into improving customer service across the board, stopped their two-year slide in the pay TV portion of the survey. The bad news was they still finished last.
But the data also shows something about the mindset of the typical cable subscriber. The same customers that rate their cable provider among the worst for pay TV service see them as stellar broadband service providers.
Never mind that both services are traveling over the same network and use essentially the same customer-service personnel. It’s almost as if hating your cable company is a birthright. Broadband hasn’t been around long enough yet to foster that kind of hatred.
BROADBAND IS ESSENTIAL
Part of the reason also could be that customers perceive their broadband service as more important to their lives. Maybe this is further proof that customers are paying less attention to linear TV, and when they do, it’s because their tablets don’t work.
Another anomaly: Telco TV providers are at the top of the pay TV ranks yet have been losing customers over the past several quarters.
For the most part, cable’s performance in the American Customer Satisfaction Index — an annual survey of 12,710 customers on the often-touchy subject of customer satisfaction — has been consistent. For the past five years, cable operators have mostly received scores in the high 50s to low 60s.
Cox Communications usually got the highest rating. The big exception was last year, when despite fullyear gains in basic video subscribers at Time Warner Cable (53,000) and Charter (11,000), some operators, including TWC, turned in their worst showings ever.
Mediacom Communications has been battling a PR war after being singled out by some news outlets as “The Most Hated Company in America,” based on its ACSI showing. Mediacom’s scores of 54 in pay TV and 57 in Internet service providers was the lowest in all of the industries ACSI tracks, including cellular, wireless and wireline telephone. TWC (up 15.7%) and Comcast (up 14.8%) bounced back this year off declines.
Mediacom has countered that the sample size of its customers was small, which could skew the results, and has pointed out that it has boosted Internet speeds and introduced night and weekend service calls and 30-minute appointment windows.
MERGERS AREN’T HELPFUL
ACSI director of research Dr. Forrest Morgeson said in an interview that cable’s performance will likely decline this year and next as Charter moves to integrate TWC and Bright House.
“What we generally see is in the wake of mergers, for a year or two after, both of the companies involved tend to do a little bit worse,” Morgeson said. “It’s tough to say what will happen in this case, but it is fair to say that neither Charter nor Time Warner are stellar in terms of customer satisfaction. My guess is you’ll see a little bit of erosion as new customers come on to the Charter brand and there are problems with accounts and expensive plans and so forth.”
Charter has said it has been preparing for the integration of Bright House and TWC for about two years and plans to take a slow, steady approach to minimize disruptions. It has said it plans to hire 20,000 customer-facing employees over the years to help improve the customer experience.
Charter’s intentions sound good, Morgeson said, but there is always room for unforeseen circumstances.
“It’s not the things that you prepare for that go wrong,” he said.