Comcast, DirecTV and others suffer another round of low customer satisfaction scores

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Among the services profiled, AT&T’s U-verse fiber-optic service ranked highest, with a score of 69; another fiber service, Verizon’s Fios, was right behind at 68. (Getty/FS-Stock)

After a round of rotten figures for cord-cutting—topped by a MoffettNathanson estimate of 1.4 million canceled traditional pay TV subscriptions in the first quarter—a new study gives cable and satellite operators yet another number to fear.

That would be 62, as in a customer satisfaction score of 62 out of 100 in the American Customer Satisfaction Index’s latest report, below even the industry’s 2001 score of 64. So while other sectors have clawed their way up—airlines improved from 61 to 74 over the same time—subscription TV has sunk to the bottom of the ACSI's benchmarks, based on annual interviews with some 300,000 customers.

Among the services profiled, AT&T’s U-verse fiber-optic service ranked highest, with a score of 69; another fiber service, Verizon’s Fios, was right behind at 68.

Satellite services Dish Network and AT&T’s DirecTV had scores of 67 and 66 despite massive subscriber losses. ACSI managing director David VanAmburg suggested that losing angry customers might explain that, noting via e-mail that past surveys have shown that “a significant bleed of the customer base actually leads to an improvement in ACSI scores.”

The highest-ranked cable service, Altice USA’s Optimum, only got a 61; the largest cable service, Comcast’s Xfinity, earned only a 57, the same score as last year.

The report cites an industry-wide lack of progress in such customer touch points as tech reps, stores—despite efforts by Comcast and, more recently, Altice to open slick retail outposts inspired by Apple’s--and, worst of all, call centers.

Two analysts who reviewed the ACSI findings concurred that pay TV both has work to do and bad reputations to overcome.

“Traditional providers suffer from customer satisfaction rankings both earned and perceived,” e-mailed Ian Olgeirson, research director for S&P Global Intelligence’s Kagan group. “Customers are less inclined to cut their providers slack when they question the value of services, and that perception of value may take precedent over actual improvements like two-hour windows or self install.”

The Diffusion Group co-founder Michael Greeson made a similar point in an e-mail, noting how such advances as Comcast embracing streaming video services on its X1 boxes don’t outweigh problems like inflexible program grid interfaces, and rate and fee hikes.

“You can spin it as Xfinity instead of Comcast, incorporate SVOD apps, add a voice-enabled remote, but in the end it’s still ‘the cable guy’ providing the service,” he wrote.

In contrast, streaming video services shined in the ACSI survey, with an average score of 76. Netflix led that sector with a score of 79, followed by Sony’s PlayStation Vue (78), the video branch of Microsoft Store (77), Amazon Prime Video (76), and Apple and Hulu (both 76). These services have seen their own rate increases, but they don’t require rented equipment installed by technicians and don’t arrive escorted by add-on fees.

But as good as online video looks in the ACSI’s latest report, even that sector can’t touch the top-ranked industry in ACSI surveys: breweries, with a score of 85.