PrimeStar Inc. topped the list of 14 video providers in a
J.D. Power and Associates survey on subscriber satisfaction released last week, marking
the second year in a row that the company grabbed the No. 1 slot.
PrimeStar's direct-broadcast satellite competitors,
EchoStar Communications Corp. and DirecTv Inc., ranked close behind. With a score of 100
serving as the industry average, PrimeStar scored 132, EchoStar's Dish Network 131
and DirecTv 126.
Cox Communications Inc. (106) won top honors among cable
operators for the third year in the three-year history of the survey. Ratings for the
cable industry in general -- most notably for Jones Intercable Inc. and
Tele-Communications Inc. -- improved compared with a year ago.
The rating came as a sorely needed piece of good news for
PrimeStar president and chief operating officer Dan O'Brien and his employees, given
all of the turmoil that they have had to endure over the past year.
PrimeStar moved its headquarters from Philadelphia to
Denver; rolled up from a partnership into a single corporate entity; and consolidated its
work force --all while waiting for government approval to move to a more competitive
high-power DBS business.
"To go through all of those changes and still have
customers rate us No. 1 is very gratifying," O'Brien said. "It makes the
many long hours worthwhile."
O'Brien vowed that PrimeStar would not rest on its
laurels, noting that its ratings had slipped a bit over last year's.
Other players in the industry are gunning for the top slot.
Soraya Cartwright, vice president of customer service at
EchoStar, said she was very proud of the company's customer-service representatives
and managers for winning second place for the second year in a row -- especially given the
growing subscriber base that the CSRs have had to accommodate.
Cable executives made the best of their showing, pointing
to most MSOs' rising ratings.
"I'm encouraged that the study reflects
across-the-board improvements" in customer satisfaction among cable subscribers, said
Chuck Ellis, executive vice president at Time Warner Cable and chairman of the National
Cable Television Association's and CTAM's On-Time Guarantee Task Force.
"The perception is beginning to catch up to reality."
Ellis added that while there's reason for
encouragement, it's not time for cable operators to become complacent.
Char Beales, president of CTAM, cable's marketing
trade group, agreed.
"They can't take their eye off On-Time," she
said. "There's still a long way to go in building awareness."
Beales suggested that operators could do simple things to
help communicate the On-Time Guarantee message, such as putting the initiative's logo
on service trucks and employee uniforms.
"Of course, operators have on-air, and that's
very powerful," she said, "but they can't overlook other tactics."
Beales added that the DBS industry has a
customer-perception advantage over cable because it came in fresh, without a history.
"Everything that we know about customer service tells
us that people remember a bad experience for a very long time," she said.
Ellis predicted that over time, the halo effect surrounding
DBS as a new service would begin to dim.
Cox has been doing its own customer-service surveys since
the mid-1980s, said Ellen East, the MSO's director of public affairs.
"The results say that customers think that we provide
a good price value," she said. "As we continue to add new products and services
to the mix, this becomes even more important."
Cox has aggressively rolled out voice, data and
digital-television services in some of its markets.
Cindy Winning, group vice president of marketing at Jones,
said her company was pleased, but not surprised, that its customer-satisfaction ratings
have gone up. Over the past year-and-a-half, Jones has redefined its operations to focus
on customer service.
"Research told us that to be competitive, we had to be
customer-centric," Winning said.
J.D. Power did not ask its survey respondents how long
they'd subscribed to their particular services.
DBS providers were not listed in the 1996 results,
according to Peter Dresch, director of telecommunications-market analysis at J.D. Power,
because their subscriber-sample sizes were too low to be statistically significant. But
J.D. Power analysts noted that based on the responses that they received, DBS subscribers
were happier with their service than cable customers were.
Starting with last year's survey, J.D. Power
oversampled to make sure that it had enough responses from DBS customers to measure that
In a random survey of more than 11,000 consumers this year,
about 1,300 were DBS subscribers, Dresch said. Of those, 411 were PrimeStar customers.
Wireless cable companies, cable overbuilders and smaller
cable companies were not listed in the results because their sample sizes were too small,