With the majority of America’s pay-TV subscribers expressing dissatisfaction with their cable or satellite TV providers through consumer-oriented surveys and social media platforms, the pay-TV industry recognizes that it has a tarnished reputation with the public.
Millions of pay-TV subscribers annually look for competitive alternatives to their current service, prompting companies to launch extensive PR campaigns that use humor to poke fun at their own problems or to magnify the issues consumers have with their competitors – all built on the premise that their customer service is improving.
The inability of the pay-TV industry to do away with bait and switch billing and advertising practices and its failure to adequately address billing errors, poor service quality and deplorable customer service has created a quarterly round-robin of musical chairs in which subscribers switch to another service provider after their contract runs only to end up experiencing similar problems with their new service providers.
Companies like Time Warner Cable (TWC), believes the answer to low customer satisfaction ratings is to introduce humor into the conversation. In a recent commercial, TWC makes fun of its long customer service call wait times and its inability to honor in-home service appointments, but says it’s committed to making it all better. All promises from a company with the lowest customer satisfaction rating in the country.
Then there’s the commercial by DirecTV that uses humor to take a shot at future potential cable mergers (i.e. the proposed Charter/TWC/Bright House Communications deal), suggesting that their customer service and service quality are superior to what cable TV competitors have to offer. Some cable companies have countered these attacks with their own marketing strategies that push back on DirecTV’s business model, labeling it “yesterday’s technology today” and alleging that it’s just “TV from space” that often fails in inclement weather.
The Dish Network has a new commercial out this month attempting to demonstrate how DirecTV costs nearly three times more to subscribe to than its satellite TV service, mocking the fact that DirecTV hits subscribers with extra charges for premium cable channels and regional sports networks, in addition to annual monthly bill increases.
These commercials are aimed at drawing in new customers or to persuade old customers to comeback. We get it. But at the end of the day, empty promises by the industry will not improve the experience or quality of service for pay-TV customers.
On any given day, a visit to Downdetector.com, will show dozens of network service outages affecting tens of thousands of pay-TV/broadband subscribers across the nation – and they have nothing to do with programming disruptions. Scores of consumer complaints about personal pay-TV horror stories emerge on Internet social media sites daily. The problem is so prevalent on social media message boards that pay-TV companies, themselves, are acknowledging that things need to improve. Unfortunately, positive industry changes to improve the customer experience are slow to materialize.
If cable and satellite TV companies don’t voluntarily demonstrate to the public how they’ll proactively address subpar service quality, and bait and switch billing, then Washington’s policymakers should take action requiring the industry to be more open and transparent about the quality control measures they’re putting in place to address these widespread and pervasive market failures.
The anti-consumer tactics being used by the pay-TV industry to increase subscribers’ monthly bills can’t simply be fixed or laughed away with humorous commercials. It’s time for the industry to take real action to eliminate the consumer inequities that have harmed consumers for decades.
A commitment to dramatically improving customer service would be a positive start.
Kenny is director of public affairs for TVfreedom.org, a coalition of local broadcasters, community advocates, network TV affiliate associations and others advocating for preserving the retransmission consent regime. He is a former press secretary at the FCC.