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Why Do Cable Customers Stray?

5/23/2009 2:00 AM Eastern

So why do cable customers stray from the company that has nurtured them, and given them the joys of VOD, high speed Internet, cheap telephony and high-definition TV, to name a few recent innovations?

Were you as shocked as I to hear AT&T chief financial officer Rick Lindner say that more than 60% of the telco’s U-verse TV customers are switching from cable? Or surprised to see offers from Verizon Communications that tout an “easy and affordable” way to switch from “old-fashioned cable,” with $150 back for subscribing to a FiOS service bundle and a two-year price guarantee with premium installation at no extra cost? Well, if that’s not a wake-up call to the cable industry, I don’t know what is.

As a member of the board of directors for RCH Cable, the country’s largest at-the-door cable-exclusive customer-care company, I’ve experienced new insights since my days of selling the value of the bundle as chief operating officer of Charter Communications or head of operations at Cox Communications. And in today’s climate of job loss, home loss and cable subscriber churn they are really worth considering.

OK — so besides relying on inertia, is there something the cable industry can do better to combat these competitive elements? I say let’s start by putting ourselves in our customer’s shoes. Don’t let your cable customers experience:

  • Discriminating pricing policies: Low introductory rates for new customers, while ignoring existing subscribers;

  • Customer service exclusive to the phone or walk-up window, but not in the home;

  • Long hold times;

  • Call-center tech “experts” that show no demonstrative technical training;

  • Rigid billing rules in a new world that’s intensely competitive and calls for flexibility;

  • Too many convoluted packages, tiers and bundles that ultimately are confusing.

We all know how a significant number of customer disconnects aren’t because of price and how one bad customer or billing experience can even place a long-term relationship at risk. If we agree that it costs more than 20 times as much to acquire a new customer as to keep an existing one — where is that investment being spent?

Through my years of selling new services and especially voice, customers were refreshed to see a clean-cut, knowledgeable representative of the cable company at their door to inform, suggest, comfort and ultimately save. At Cox in Orange County, Calif., customers greeted us by saying, “This is the first time someone has come to my door to talk about my service!” It’s time that we take occurrences like these to heart.

I’m not here to tell any MSO how to run their business. I understand that not everyone has the manpower to accomplish personalized service to all of our customers, but I’ve learned that amazing expertise and innovation is being offered by industry vendors, and its time to listen — to them and to our customers.

There is no better place for customer education and relationships to be formed then at their door to their home. The war is going to be won in the trenches, one door to another. We cannot have too many “feet on the street.”

Customers really reveal what we need to do. Now all we have to do is listen to them.

September