Poor Customer Service Puts New Plans at Risk

Fred Dawson, Editor, ScreenPlays Magazine

Fred Dawson, Editor, ScreenPlays Magazine

How can it be that after years of discussion and efforts aimed at improving customer service the performance in the pay TV and telephony sectors remains so awful?
The question is prompted by a spate of anecdotal experiences registering on our radar of late, which track well with what customer satisfaction surveys are saying. If it makes sense to consider taking a hit on revenues by cutting service package costs in order to retain customers, why hasn’t more investment in customer service become a top priority?

In its latest report on multiple industry customer satisfaction ratings, the American Customer Satisfaction Index, which is updated each quarter with scores from more than 225 companies in 47 industries, shows pay TV and fixed and wireless voice segments near the bottom of the rankings and well below the pan-industry average of 75.6 on a 0-100 scale. Subscription TV service comes in at 66, wireline voice at 73 and mobile at 71.

On the pay TV front Verizon’s FiOS TV leads the group at72; DirecTV is second at 69; AT&T U-verse is next at 68, and Cox and DISH are tied for fourth at 67. Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Charter Communications are tied for last at 59.

With the exception of Cox and DirecTV all these players were down year-to-year. AT&T showed the biggest drop at six percent, which ACSI attributed to customer complaints about HD picture quality as the telco “grapples with bandwidth challenges across several of its telecommunications services.”

What ranks worse than subscription TV among the 47 industries covered by the ACSI? Newspapers and airlines, both at 65. Meanwhile, Internet portals and search engines are sailing along at 80, one of 11 industry segments registering 80 or higher.

While rankings among pay TV providers vary a bit between the latest report from ASCI and that of JD Power, which uses different methods to track consumer satisfaction, both entities show cable companies trailing telcos and satellite by significant margins. In fixed voice the roles are reversed with cable well ahead of the telcos. But regardless of who’s on top the overall performance is pathetic judging by ASCI’s multiple-industry ratings.

At the anecdotal level the horror stories keep coming in. People are left hanging on the phone for an hour or more, in one case with a customer service rep who was so nasty that the customer demanded that a supervisor get on the line – and this was a simple new service order, not a service complaint. Following a recent power outage that knocked out one customer’s service, it took the service provider three days to send a technician to find out why the customer’s service didn’t come back on after the power was restored.

A consulting company recently called in to examine why a cable company’s launch of a new service was generating high levels of complaints and disconnects discovered the customer service operation assigned to handling the new service was in violation of just about every standard practice ever devised for call centers.

The average abandoned call rate was over seven times the best-practice average. Average call handle time was four times the best-practice average. Call hold time was five times the norm. Rather than answering calls within the time target set by the center at least 80 percent of the time, another industry standard, CSRs were only hitting the target 25 percent of the time.

At a time when the complexities of dealing with so many services are being addressed by major advances in customer service management systems, this MSO had chosen to use a system that guaranteed long call times – not to mention the immense amounts of time lost to CSRs’ daily log-ins. The consultant says they had to activate over 25 systems before they could take their first call.

Why would a major MSO go to all the trouble of developing and launching a new service only to ensure its failure by failing so abysmally to follow the basics of customer service 101? Whatever the answer, it goes to the heart of what’s ailing the pay TV business. New strategies, bells and whistles, multiscreen service, new price tiers – it’s all great but totally beside the point if customer service sucks.