July 1, 2008

Cable, Satellite Customer Satisfaction Falls, Poll Finds

By David Lieberman

Consumers are losing patience with cable and satellite TV customer service operators who are supposed to help solve their problems, according to a survey out today.

Customers who've called for help rate their satisfaction with cable's and satellite's service desks at a score of 66 out of 100, research and consulting firm CFI Group says in its second annual Contact Center Satisfaction Index study.

That's down 3% from a similar poll taken last year, and puts the TV providers last -- behind insurance and personal computer companies -- among the seven industries that the firm monitors.

It also trails government call centers, which earned a 70 on the CCSI rankings.

Some 20% of those asked in the March survey said that cable and satellite help desks couldn't solve their problems. "Cable does worse than satellite," although they're lumped together for reporting purposes, says CFI CEO Sheri Teodoru.

Consumers' growing frustration with the help lines could become a serious problem, as competition intensifies from phone companies that also offer TV and Internet services.

Cable companies in particular "don't get it, and customers don't believe them," Teodoru says. "If I as a consumer had a bad experience with my favorite online retailer, I'd say that I'll still go back because it's been great every other time. If I get a bad experience with my cable provider, I'd say, 'There they go again.' They have a whole lot of work to do to convince me that they've improved."

Consumers in the firm's Internet-based survey, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3 points, said that cable and satellite representatives are slipping when it comes to effectively handling an issue, showing interest in helping, their knowledge and their ability to discuss the matter clearly.

That tracks with an increase in the number of cable and satellite subscribers who say that their calls went to centers based overseas -- which consumers generally consider less helpful than those based in the U.S. Some 14% believe their calls went outside the U.S., vs. 9% last year.

Cable and satellite firms also may fielding more complicated questions from consumers. HDTV, VOD, phone and other new services are more technologically complex than conventional TV programming.

CFI found that 17% of callers first went online or elsewhere for help, down from 35% last year.

The research firm "is a fairly well-respected source," says National Cable & Telecommunications Association spokesman Rob Stoddard. Improving customer service "is one of the seminal challenges for us as an industry, and everybody who works in cable is strongly vested in improving customers' ability to reach us with questions and concerns."

In other industries, CFI saw a big increase in satisfaction with cellphone companies. "They've just done basic blocking and tackling," Teodoru says. "They're solving more issues on the first call, and they're solving more issues overall."

She adds that computer companies have improved "due to the offshore (call centers) going from really, really bad to just bad." That's due in part to the growing use of technologies that enable a help provider to connect with, and take control of, a caller's PC to directly fix the problem. (c) Copyright 2008 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc. <>