Commentary

Customer Service Problems Still Plague Cable

Television hasn't always had the best customer service. Scores of viewers might tell you that TV and networks don't respond - or at least not quickly enough -- to their problems: the cancellation of their favorite shows, too much sex and violence on TV shows, or too little sex and violence on TV shows.

And not only viewers think this; TV and ad executives say they should do a better job. Much of the complaints in the TV business over the years has been directed at cable operators.

Shelly Lazarus, CEO of Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, who spoke Monday at the Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing (CTAM) conference, said the problem is still plaguing cable operators - especially when ordering services. For decades, customers have complained about cable's customer service problems - especially when it comes to installation. And what did those cable operators do? Add more digital services, Internet services, and more channels -- all with the belief that is what consumers wanted. But in reality, it was just to keep consumers at bay instead of running to satellite distributors. Cable operators didn't fix their customer service image.

Lazarus said every time she calls a cable operator she feels like she is 'imposing.' This harkens back to a typical utility mentality - whether at a phone, gas, or water company.

In an age of new technologies, it's a wonder that Lazarus and other executives would indeed focus on this non-profit, very unglamourous part of the TV business. But she has a point.

Some years ago, she noted American Express stopped using all the typical measures of telephone representatives' efficiency -- how quickly they can get the caller off the phone, how quickly the phone is answered. Instead, the company's sole measure of success is whether a customer is satisfied once they get off the phone.

That's is kind of a nostalgic form of business - politeness in the business world. But American Express and other companies must feel that it does them some good. Its customers probably feel better about them, which seemingly is what cable and other TV companies want in a competitive TV market.

In the TV Watch column, "Emmys Alone Don't Do the TV Marketing" (July 15), Showtime's "Huff" received seven Emmy nominations. The show is averaging around 400,000 viewers.

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