Cable, Telco, ISPs Generally Score Very Low on Customer Service: Why?

Many would not agree that it is simply a huge volume of customer interactions that causes most cable TV companies, fixed network telcos or ISPs to get very-low scores for customer service.

Comcast CEO Brian Roberts does.  "What unfortunately happens is we have about … 350 million interactions with consumers a year, between phone calls and truck calls. It may be over 400 million and that doesn't count any online interactions which I think is over a billion. You get one-tenth of one-percent bad experience, that's a lot of people."

Others might think there are other impediments. Installs require that someone be home. That often means a person has to take time off from work to activate service. That is a real cost, bound to increase irritation.

To be sure, most service providers work at getting better, and most arguably have done so over the past decade. But the need to take time off work to initiate service is bound to be an irritant. 

Install windows also have gotten measurably better, in some cases. Comcast now promises install windows of only two hours duration, where it once was standard for windows to be essentially four hours long (morning, 8 am to noon, or afternoon, noon to 4 pm). 

Recurring service bills can be horrendous, hard to understand and complex. That probably doesn't help, as it causes customer service representative interactions, with the chance that a consumer will be kept waiting "on hold." Online chat helps. Email queries arguably do not help very much, as the latency of a response is too high.

Communications and entertainment monthly bills also are likely an issue. Consumers are reminded every month just how much their service costs, and many likely are irritated by the many above the line or below the line taxes, fees, assessments that are part of most bills in the communications and video entertainment business.

It is hard to measure, but consumers might express frustration with customer service because they already are dissatisfied with the value and price relationship of the underlying service. 

ISPs get terrible reviews, for example, but the reasons might lie more with unhappiness about the service than the customer service. 

However, the 2013 Information Sector report from the American Customer Satisfaction Index shows that customers are happier with telecommunication services and technologies than they were a year ago.

The Information sector benchmark—the combined aggregate score for wireless telephone service, Internet service providers, subscription television service, cellular telephones, fixed-line telephone service and computer software—climbed 0.6 percent to 72.3 on a 0 to 100 scale.

“High monthly bills combined with problems across a broad spectrum of customer experience benchmarks—such as service reliability, data transfer speed and video-streaming quality—leaves customers less than satisfied with their ISP service,” the ACSI indicates.

Subscription television service ended a three-year run of stagnating customer satisfaction with a three percent gain to an ACSI benchmark of 68. While the boost is good news for cable, satellite and fiber-optic television providers, the industry remains the third worst of the 43 industries covered in the ACSI.

Among TV service providers, those offering service via fiber optics or satellite earn the best marks for customer satisfaction.

On average, fiber-optic/satellite service received an ACSI score of 72 compared with 63 for cable service.

While most cable providers did better in 2013, all remained below the national ACSI average.

ACSI director David VanAmburg noted that “the industry’s pattern of yearly price increases, coupled with sporadic reliability, keeps customer satisfaction low relative to other household services and vulnerable to new technologies that enter the market.”

ISPs earned a customer satisfaction benchmark of 65, the lowest score among 43 ACSI industries.

“High monthly bills combined with problems across a broad spectrum of customer experience benchmarks—such as service reliability, data transfer speed and video-streaming quality—leaves customers less than satisfied with their ISP service,” said Fornell.

Only Verizon’s FiOS and the aggregate of all other smaller ISPs break out of the 60s with identical ACSI scores of 71.

The mobile phone industry reversed a two-year trend of declining customer satisfaction with a 2.9 percent gain to an ACSI benchmark of 72. Despite matching its 10-year high, wireless service remains well below the national ACSI average.

“Barriers to switching, including contracts with cancellation fees, make the wireless industry less competitive,” said VanAmburg. “ACSI research shows that customer satisfaction is almost always lower when consumers have less choice and more headaches when it comes to switching to another seller.”

Fixed network phone service customer satisfaction increased  5.7 percent to 74. The paradox is that since unhappy customers are abandoning fixed network voice service, the remaining customers are those who value the service more, leading to higher scores.

The point is that unhappiness with the product tends to lead to unhappiness with opinions about customer service, even when providers are working to improve that element of the experience.
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