Who's Got Best Service? We Do … Just Ask!


When it comes to service, nobody tops cable TV … or is it satellite TV companies … or is it telephone?

Over the past six months, companies in these three industries have launched a torrent of press releases and surveys touting customer service superiority as they struggle for customer retention.

Research surveys are a favored tool to tout success. But in a world of increasingly bundled services, the picture can be fuzzy. Indeed, Websites carping about the poor service of all these industries are as busy as ever.

One Comcast customer in Chicago, for example, said in a posting on a consumer Website that he'd “spent countless hours on the phone and on hold, spent at least 24 hours either waiting for a technician or dealing with them, and lodged multiple complaints with the company to no effect.”

In its annual residential cable/satellite satisfaction study, surveying over 17,000 households, independent market research firm J.D. Power and Associates found marked superiority of satellite television service providers over cable when measured by their customer service, cost, billing, reliability, image and offerings and promotions.

Satellite companies swept most categories, led by DirecTV, which finished first overall in three of the four geographic regions. Most of the major operators finished below the industry average in overall satisfaction.

According to Frank Perazzini, director of telecommunications at J.D. Power, satellite providers need to have that edge in customer service to compete with cable providers that offer bundled services and that emphasis builds loyalty. “Their entrenched customer base loves their programming and loves their technology,” Perazzini says.

But cable isn't without a survey to spin. J.D. Powers residential telephone satisfaction rankings released in July, based on a survey of 11,911 customers, showed cable consistently beating the telephone companies at their own game with operators such as Cox Communications, Time Warner Cable and Cablevision Systems consistently ranked above the industry average.

Success for each of these companies depends on their ability to bundle video, data, and voice on one bill with discounted pricing. Cable TV operators currently are best at bundling and hold an edge over their satellite and telephone rivals.

“In telephone, the value swings to cable with features people find attractive at a reasonable price,” Perazzini says, “Pricing is always a predominant factor.”

Perazzini noted that there is a tendency for respondents to rate cable harsher on their television services and telephone companies on their voice services.

However, cable is increasingly vulnerable to the telcos as they roll out their video service and offer triple- and quad-play bundles with wireless, warns Philip Doriot, program director and partner for consulting group CFI Group North America.

CFI Group recently released a research study that surveyed 1,200 households finding that 20% of households without bundled services plan to have them within twelve months. Of that total, 54% said they preferred to do it with a telecom carrier.

“They have a hill to climb,” he says, referring to cable's service reputation, “The telcos are in a better position to attract customers to bundling because they have better customer satisfaction.”

Dorio notes that because of stricter regulatory requirements in their history, telephone companies have always had a minimum level of customer service infrastructure that cable didn't need to meet, which gives them an edge.

But cable companies can't rest on their laurels. “We know we have work to do,” says Jenni Moyer, a spokeswoman at cable giant Comcast Corp.