As Merger Mania Rises, Cable And Broadband Customer Satisfaction Worse Than Ever

from the bang-up-job dept

As Comcast pushed tirelessly to try and sell regulators on its doomed acquisition of Time Warner Cable, the company repeatedly stated it was making customer service a top priority, even going so far as to hire a new "customer experience" VP. But what became an almost comical series of horror stories in the media continually showed that simply wasn't the case. If you have a memory, you'll recall that companies like Comcast have been promising to make customer service a priority for the better part of the last decade, yet things somehow manage to actually get worse.

The American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), for example, shows companies like Time Warner Cable and Comcast performing worse than ever. They're doing so badly with consumers, they're rated not only the worst in telecom, but the worst in any U.S. industry. The latest Consumer Reports ratings for pay TV and broadband ISPs back up this narrative, noting that mediocrity was a high bar for the industry in the latest survey findings:
"Only one of 39 Internet providers received a middling score for value, with the remainder failing to reach even that level of mediocrity. TV-service providers also took a beating, with 20 of the 24 companies earning our lowest scores for value; the rest managed to do just a little bit better. Bundles also weren’t deemed especially good deals, since only one of 20 bundled services got an average mark for value—the others all did worse."
Take a moment to let that sink in. In broadband, only one ISP managed to be seen as utterly mediocre in terms of offering a decent value. On the TV front, the vast, vast majority of companies scored as poorly as was technically possible. That's the kind of abysmal performance that can only be perfected after a generation's worth of effort. According to Consumer Reports, these ratings are a seven year low for the broadband and television industry.

On a positive note, the study did find that it still pays to haggle with your cable or broadband provider, assuming you live in a semi-competitive market:
"One other finding from the survey: It pays to negotiate. Among the 42 percent who said they tried to negotiate a better deal, 45 percent reported that the provider dropped the bundle price by up to $50 per month, 30 percent got a new promotional rate, and 26 percent received additional premium channels."
That only 42% of consumers even try to get a better deal is fairly pathetic. But as cord cutting's slow-trickle-statistics suggest, there are tens of millions of customers that hate nearly everything about cable, yet continue to pay an arm and a leg each month. There are a number of reasons for that: lack of competition, being downright lazy, loving sports, or being a Luddite. The horrible customer service itself has been caused by two things: companies merging and growing too quickly without spending the money necessary to scale their customer service operations, and the lack of competition ensuring things stay that way.

Enter Charter Communications, which is busy promising regulators that all of these problems will magically go away if they're only allowed to acquire Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks in the industry's latest $60+ billion mega merger. Like beaten house pets, most loyal, older traditional cable customers aren't optimistic that things will change. But as the Consumer Reports survey suggests, with younger demographics veering toward internet video and such choices on the rise in 2015, the clock is ticking for America's love-hate relationship with the legacy pay TV industry.
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Filed Under: broadband, cable, customer satisfaction, mergers
Companies: comcast, time warner cable


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  • icon
    ThatFatMan (profile), 3 Jun 2015 @ 6:53am

    I'm optimistic that things will change...

    But not for the better.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Jun 2015 @ 6:55am

    Most important sentence in this article:

    On a positive note, the study did find that it still pays to haggle with your cable or broadband provider, assuming you live in a semi-competitive market


    That's a big assumption in the U.S.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    DannyB (profile), 3 Jun 2015 @ 7:26am

    How to interpret the results

    If you do not have Comcast, (lucky you)

    and if you hate your ISP, (very likely)

    then just realize that Comcast is actually worse than your ISP. You might not have thought it possible, but it really is.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Groaker (profile), 3 Jun 2015 @ 7:27am

    The customers that rate cable services above "the worst of any industry," simply do not know any better. And the industry wants to keep it that way.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Geno0wl (profile), 3 Jun 2015 @ 7:29am

    Local Telco

    Just had Local Telco Cincinnati Bell set me up with 1Gig Fiber for $70 a month.
    The next week TWC sent me a letter begging me to come back with their "blazing speed" 15 Mb for $50 a month.
    Go suck lemons TWC.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Geno0wl (profile), 3 Jun 2015 @ 7:35am

    Banking conspriacy

    My one friend has a large conspiracy theory that the large banks purposefully want the big ISPs as bad as possible.
    Think about it. They Steal Millions and BILLIONS from people. They do their best to screw with international currencies(and just got caught doing so). The big banks literally RUIN lives.
    But Comcast is so terrible they consistently get rated worse than the people who actually ruin lives and steal millions and billions of dollars.
    How?
    Never mind how a video game company, EA, could win most hated company in America over won who literally made people homeless and bankrupted people.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      John Fenderson (profile), 4 Jun 2015 @ 2:31pm

      Re: Banking conspriacy

      "But Comcast is so terrible they consistently get rated worse than the people who actually ruin lives and steal millions and billions of dollars."

      That's not hard to understand at all. When the large banks fuck you over, there's almost never a direct and obvious connection between what they did and your hardship. When the telecoms fuck you over, they're looking in your eyes and grinning while they do it.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Rhiadon (profile), 3 Jun 2015 @ 7:48am

    Amazingly, I've had positive experiences with both Charter and Brighthouse. Charter in the Holland, MI area and Brighthouse in Marion, IN. Both places I only had internet. Both places were quite responsive when things would go wrong, and things didn't go wrong very often. I'm especially impressed with Charter's pricing. Sure it's no gigabit for $70/month, but 60 Mbps for $40/month is a pretty good price and consistently I get slightly over the stated rate. Brighthouse was more expensive ($75/month) but the service quality was just as good.

    That being said, I don't see how acquiring TWC will make them better, just larger.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Jason, 3 Jun 2015 @ 8:02am

      Re:

      I have Charter as well, and in the same area. Small world.

      Generally speaking, I've had fairly decent experiences with them too. Plenty of general cable company nonsense of course ("between 1 and 4pm", and asking them to call you when they're on the way is like pulling teeth) and a few occasions where I actually had to inform the service tech how their system actually worked, but for the most part I've had good luck with both cable and internet.

      My biggest complaints with them have always been regarding TV service. Too expensive by far, too much bundling (which relates to the expense), and repeated glitches during the digital switchover.

      Don't get me wrong, I'm as worried about any merger as the next guy. But from everything I've heard about Comcast (and TWC, and others) I'm at least cautiously optimistic that things won't get any worse.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Teamchaos (profile), 3 Jun 2015 @ 8:11am

      Re:

      I'll echo your comments about Charter. I've had Charter and AT&T Uverse internet and Charter was much better in terms of customer service and pricing. I consistently get more than 100Mbs and they upgraded me from 20Mbs without raising my bill. Uverse never delivered promised bandwidth and cost more.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Jun 2015 @ 9:22am

    Missing reason

    There are a number of reasons for that: lack of competition, being downright lazy, loving sports, or being a Luddite.
    Another reason: unusably painful competition. Netflix goes out of their way to be difficult for Linux users, as evidenced by the absurd complexity of trying to use it. As far as I know, they're the most friendly, and you still have this as the set of choices:

    - Use Chrome with DRM.
    - Use crazy Wine hacks to run Silverlight DRM.
    - Use a virtual machine to run Windows.

    Source: MythTV Wiki

    Proper way to support Linux users (and pretty much everybody else): offer a clean streaming service and/or clean downloadable video stream (e.g. mp4).

    Ordinarily, I would not bother to post this, but the claim that people stick with cable out of laziness or Luddite-ism is just wrong in my case.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      ltlw0lf (profile), 3 Jun 2015 @ 9:56am

      Re: Missing reason

      Another reason: unusably painful competition. Netflix goes out of their way to be difficult for Linux users, as evidenced by the absurd complexity of trying to use it.

      A valid reason, but certainly not Netflix's fault. You can blame the MPAA and the studios for that. I suspect that if Netflix could get away with it, their DRM would disappear.

      Ordinarily, I would not bother to post this, but the claim that people stick with cable out of laziness or Luddite-ism is just wrong in my case.

      Not sure how this would actually *keep* people on Cable (except maybe for premium channels,) since most of the cable content doesn't even appear on Netflix until months or even years after it shows on cable (if ever, try streaming Game of Thrones on Netflix.)

      Though I suspect, if a legal streaming company existed that had all the content anyone would want, cable wouldn't exist any more.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 3 Jun 2015 @ 10:10am

        Re: Re: Missing reason

        Cable content is delivered in a form that is very PVR-friendly (at least in some areas of the country). Even when you get stuck using a set-top box (all of which suck), the operation is relatively simple, but more importantly, fully automated: PVR software pokes the set-top box to go to the right channel, waits several seconds (because who wants to change channels quickly?), and then the set-top box provides a usable unencrypted video/audio stream to a capture card. The capture card provides an unencrypted stream to the application, which can write it to disk or show it live.

        If you are lucky enough to live in an area with very good over-the-air broadcasting, and have no one in your household who insists on non-OTA content, you could cut the cable company out of this and go back to rabbit-ears based recording. If you can't get a good signal via OTA or you do want non-broadcast content, then your choices are: cable, horribly painful legal online, BitTorrent, or go without.

        Your remark about some content not being available on Netflix is a good one, and is another example of how copyright combined with obnoxious contracts leads to Netflix being unable to serve willing customers. I do not necessarily blame Netflix for making Linux use so painful, but whether they do it voluntarily or contractually, the point remains that they do it, and until they stop doing it, they are not a valid choice for some would-be cord-cutters.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          ltlw0lf (profile), 3 Jun 2015 @ 12:01pm

          Re: Re: Re: Missing reason

          Even when you get stuck using a set-top box (all of which suck), the operation is relatively simple, but more importantly, fully automated: PVR software pokes the set-top box to go to the right channel, waits several seconds (because who wants to change channels quickly?), and then the set-top box provides a usable unencrypted video/audio stream to a capture card. The capture card provides an unencrypted stream to the application, which can write it to disk or show it live.

          Absolutely agree. When I was a cable subscriber, before I cut it, I would often use this method to space/time shift videos in order to watch them at a time that was more appropriate to my busy schedule. At least until they started encrypting the video/audio stream and my video capture card broke and I replaced it with one that didn't ignore the "do not copy" bit.

          Your remark about some content not being available on Netflix is a good one, and is another example of how copyright combined with obnoxious contracts leads to Netflix being unable to serve willing customers.

          Most of the streaming companies/options are difficult in this regards. Don't get me started with the blackout stupidity with MLB.tv. I'd happily pay them for content, but no dice if I want to actually watch the team I have season tickets for.

          I do not necessarily blame Netflix for making Linux use so painful, but whether they do it voluntarily or contractually, the point remains that they do it, and until they stop doing it, they are not a valid choice for some would-be cord-cutters.

          As a Linux user, and one that has had to deal with the pain that is Netflix, I agree with everything you have said, but I am a cord cutter that is doing perfectly fine. I've found that those shows I couldn't live without are things that I am living without perfectly fine. Youtube has replaced a great deal of my entertainment, along with Netflix (which works fine on many DVD players and other set-top boxes, though not on my chosen platforms, as a workaround,) Amazon, and Spotify/Pandora.

          I wish companies cared more for their consumers, and would not implement stupid restrictions based on obnoxious contracts by people with a vested interest in maintaining their monopoly rents and status quo, but that is where we are now.

          Getting rid of copyright, or at least making it more in line with the original goal of giving an author (not a large multi-national corporation,) a reason to produce, and restricting stupid restrictions like being able to prevent someone who buys or rents a product from viewing it on their chosen platform instead of being forced to buy something they don't need or want in order to view said product would be the ultimate goal.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 3 Jun 2015 @ 11:34am

        Re: Re: Missing reason

        A valid reason, but certainly not Netflix's fault. You can blame the MPAA and the studios for that. I suspect that if Netflix could get away with it, their DRM would disappear.
        No. People have tried to get Netflix to publish their work without DRM, and have been unable.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          ltlw0lf (profile), 3 Jun 2015 @ 11:45am

          Re: Re: Re: Missing reason

          No. People have tried to get Netflix to publish their work without DRM, and have been unable.

          DRM is built into the Netflix client, which is likely not possible to remove for one product but keep for others. Since you appear to be a word lawyer, let me fix my statement by saying "I suspect that if Netflix could get away with it, their DRM built into their client would disappear." with the caveat that the majors won't let them get away with it.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Jun 2015 @ 11:38am

    It shouldn't take a merger to improve your customer service experience. This should be something that is done before a merger.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    RadioactiveSmurf (profile), 3 Jun 2015 @ 11:51am

    The pricing is what always gets me. It's nonsense that they can't give you a rate and make any attempt to stick to it. Promotional pricing is a joke and they know it or else haggling would never work. The fact that you can haggle over your bill tells you right away how overpriced it is even at the "lower" rate.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 3 Jun 2015 @ 12:17pm

    'Fix your problem, then we'll think about letting you make it bigger'

    Would be nice if any and all mergers required as their first step a minimum customer satisfaction rating from the prospective buyer. Higher than say 60% customer satisfaction rating, they pass the first step, and it can be considered on other grounds. Fail to meet the minimum amount? Merger is immediately denied, and the company is barred from any potential mergers until the rating is high enough.

    Any evidence suggesting that they are trying to game the system by artificially raising customer satisfaction ratings is grounds for permanently being barred from any acquisitions or mergers.

    Give even those in monopoly positions a real reason to care about what their customers feel about them, and then they might start bothering to try and actually keep their customers happy.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Lawrence D’Oliveiro, 3 Jun 2015 @ 5:45pm

    USApathy, The National Disease

    For a country which prides itself on freedom, its citizens seem to show remarkably little enthusiasm for exercising what little freedoms they have. From voting for the Tweedledum or Tweedledee political parties, to choosing to be shafted by this big corporation or that one, to futilely trying to rein in the gun nuts, it’s like all the established dominant groups are just too powerful to make much headway against.

    This is not a capitalist system, this is a feudal system. And the majority of US citizens are just serfs.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      John Fenderson (profile), 4 Jun 2015 @ 6:36am

      Re: USApathy, The National Disease

      This is nothing new. As Alexis de Tocqueville wrote:

      I know of no country in which there is so little independence of mind and real freedom of discussion as in America.


      That's from Democracy in America, written in 1831. Anyone who hasn't read this book yet, should.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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