Pay TV operators should invest with customer needs in mind

Jim Barthold, FierceIPTVI recently paid way too much money for a putter--at least according to friends, acquaintances and my better half. My justification for the extravagance is that I use the putter more than any other club in my bag. I believe, I told those haranguing me, that there are only two ultra important clubs in a golf bag: a driver to put the ball in the fairway and a putter to put the ball in the hole. The rest of the clubs are important, but interchangeable.

This is an approach that the pay TV industry should seriously consider adopting, at least if they believe the results contained in the Quarterly Update on U.S. Overall Customer Satisfaction released today by the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI).

Yet again, like a record with a scratch (records being those large black plastic things that were placed on those turntable things by those old people with long hair and funny clothes) the message is repeating. Customers are not satisfied with their TV experiences--or, more importantly, with the way their pay TV providers treat them when it's time to interface.

According to ACSI, customers rank pay TV service providers at the bottom in nearly every category--beneath even wireless service. They aren't unhappy with the TV product--giving picture quality high marks along with services like remote controls, on-screen menus and even TV signal reliability. They are unhappy about how they interface with pay TV provider websites and--stop dancing if you've heard this song before--call center satisfaction.

It's like pay TV service providers failed to invest in a quality, reliable driver that gets the ball off the tee and into play immediately. Right away they slice subscribers into the high grass with rough websites that make it difficult to understand service packages and order services. Once the subscribers slash out of that rough, they have a pretty pleasant experience all the way to the green with nice pictures and great features. Then, almost as if they've picked up their putters from the local mini golf course barrel, pay TV providers can't put the ball in the hole when customers call for help.

It reminds me of the experiences I had recently with two of my service providers and, just for the fun of it, the fact that I still can't get FiOS to compete with these two providers because, despite living in a fibered neighborhood, Verizon (NYSE: VZ) won't offer FiOS to me.

Anyway, Comcast (Nasdaq: CMCSA), with whom I have business service for voice and data, sent me a notice that my payment was overdue--even as I sat looking at a confirmation copy of payment I made online. Then, to add salt to the wounds, they added a "returned check" fee to my bill, when, again, I paid online. It was a pleasant enough experience getting it resolved through a courteous, and confused, customer service rep; it was an unpleasant experience getting sliced into that rough spot in the first place.

And later, as if to prove that satellite has its own issues, DirecTV (Nasdaq: DTV) was unable--and pretty much unwilling--to restore the universal remote features I'd been using for four years to control my home theater system. Seems that, according to the tech rep with whom I spoke, my equipment just all of a sudden failed to jibe with their equipment so my SurroundSound no longer could be controlled by their remote control.

When I say all of a sudden, I might note that things worked peachy Sunday night; not-so-peachy Monday night. Talk about slamming your putt eight feet past the hole and then missing the comeback.

Reading the ACSI report--at least as it pertained to the industry I follow--I came away with the impression that someone in the pay TV hierarchy believes that a good middle iron approach shot to the green from the rough saves par every time. From personal experience, I have to say, a shot in the rough almost always results in a bogey--especially when your putter is balky. And the ACSI report is, no matter how you look at it, a double bogey on the pay TV scorecard.--Jim