Big ISP Customer Service Still at the Bottom

This time each year we get a peek at how customers view the telecom industry, and for many years running it’s not been a pretty story. The annual American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) was recently published and shows ISPs still ranked at the bottom of all industries in terms of customer satisfaction.

The survey to create the ACSI rankings is huge and involves over 300,000 households and looks at services that households use the most,  considering 400 companies in 46 different industries across 10 economic sectors.

Customers really hate the big cable TV companies and big ISPs. The ACSI index ranks companies on a scale of 1 to 100 and the two lowest ranking industries are Subscription TV Services (62) and Internet Service Providers (62) – both with the same composite ranking as last year. All other industries have rankings in the 70s and 80s, with industries like breweries (85), TV manufacturers (83), soft drinks (82), food companies (82), and automobiles (82) at the top.

The companies ranked just above ISPs have much higher rankings and include the US Postal Service (70), Fixed-Line Telephone Service (71), and Social Media Companies (72).

The big cable companies rank from the low of Altice (55) to a high for AT&T U-Verse (69). The only other companies that rank higher than the industry average of 62 are Verizon FiOS (68), Dish Networks (67) and DirecTV (66). The biggest cable companies fare poorly – Charter (59) and Comcast (57).

Internet Service Providers didn’t fare any better than cable companies with the overall industry ratings at the same 62. The only three ISPs with rankings above the average are Verizon FiOS (70), AT&T Internet (69) and Altice (63). At the bottom of the rankings are Frontier (55), MediaCom (56), and Windstream (57). The big cable companies don’t fare well as ISPs – Charter (59) and Comcast (61).

This continues to be good news for competitive overbuilders that provide good customer service. It’s been obvious over the years that customers hate calling the big cable companies and ISPs because the process of navigating through live customer service is time-consuming and painful.

But these rankings go far deeper than that. At CCG we conduct surveys for our clients who are usually looking at entering a new market. We also interview a lot of telecom customers during the course of a year. The poor opinion of the big providers in our industry runs deep. I see customers that really dislike the process that many of these companies force upon customers who have to negotiate to get lower rates every year or two. People don’t like to find out that they are paying a lot more than their neighbors for the same services. People also dislike service outages which happen far more often than they should. In the last year, we had several headline-grabbing major outages, but more aggravating to customers are the small daily outages that can hit without notice. Households have come to rely on broadband as much as they do for other household necessities like electricity and water, so outages are becoming intolerable.

Competitive ISPs are not automatically better at customer service than the big companies. Some competitive providers also offer too many product options and are willing to negotiate rates with customers. Small ISPs can also fall into the trap of turning every phone call to the company into a sales pitch. Good ISPs are learning to deal with customers in ways tailored to each customer. I know I personally would be thrilled to have my entire ISP relationship be handled by email or text, as long as by doing so I could be assured that I’m getting a good price. Most ISPs still have a long way to go – although I doubt that any ISP is ever going to be liked more than beer!

How’s Your Competition Doing?

comcast-truck-cmcsa-cmcsk_largeA large percentage of my broadband clients compete against some of the biggest ISPs in the nation – either the big telcos, the big cable companies, or both. And so it’s worth taking a look from time to time to see how those big companies rate in terms of comparative customer service. The 2016 ASCI (American Customer Satisfaction Index) was recently released and reveals some of the following things about the biggest players in the telecom space:

The ASCI survey each year talks to 70,000 customers about more than 300 large businesses in 43 industries and 10 economic sectors. The survey gives each company a grade on a scale of 100.

As a sector both ISPs (overall rating 64) and Cable TV companies (overall rating 65) are still the two lowest rated sectors within the overall survey. To put those ratings into perspective there are a number of industry segments at or above a rating of 80 such as full-service restaurants, credit unions, household appliance makers and shipping companies.

ISPs as a whole are up slightly from an overall rating last year of 63 to a rating now of 64. There was a lot of change in positions of the big companies. Verizon FiOS is the highest rated company and went from a 68 rating in 2015 to a rating of 73 this year. At the bottom of the scale is Frontier Communications that fell from 61 last year down to a 56 rating for 2016. The other big gainers were Time Warner Cable (58 to 66), Bright House Networks, (63 to 67) and Charter Communications (57 to 63). The other big loser for the year is AT&T U-verse which dropped from the highest rated in 2015 of 69 to 64 this year.

Cable companies overall improved slightly last year from 63 to 65. But most companies stayed about the same except for moves upward by Comcast (54 to 62), Time Warner Cable (51 to 59) and Suddenlink (57 to 62). Verizon FiOS continues to top the list with a 70 rating with AT&T U-verse just behind at a 69. It will be interesting to see how the Charter / Time Warner Cable / Bright House merger will change these ratings for next year. I’ve read several industry analysts that predict that customer service at those companies will suffer during the transition. As might be imagined, cable customers are pretty happy overall with things like picture quality but the survey showed that they are very unhappy with the call center experience.

Perhaps the most surprising change this year among big companies was the noted improvement of satisfaction for Comcast. Last year they were dead last among cable providers and 2015 saw a rash of negative news articles about customer service fiascos. Comcast says every year that they are taking steps to improve customer service, but perhaps they are finally starting to make some changes that are noticeable to customers.

In the telephone world Vonage leaped to the top of the list moving from 73 to 78. What I find interesting is that everybody else rated between 64 and 72 – not a lot better than the cable companies. I wonder if that rating reflects general dissatisfaction with the telephone product or with these large companies in general.

One thing this survey does every year is to remind us how poorly the general public views the big telcos and cable companies. The industries consistently rate at the bottom for all major industries – far below banks, insurance companies and hospitals.

But these ratings also remind us that it’s possible for these larger companies to get their act together to provide better customer service. I know one of the most dreaded events in our household is having to make a call to Comcast. But the last few times my wife called she said it ‘wasn’t so bad’, and perhaps that explains their improved satisfaction score.

There are certainly new tools and technologies coming to customer service that ought to make customers happier. Companies that provide alternate ways for customers to communicate without having to talk to people are finding that this makes a significant segment of their customers happier. And it looks like we are on the verge of getting some fairly intelligent AI agents to handle routine customer inquiries, and that, sadly, will end the very entertaining news articles about the outrageous things said by Comcast service reps. But it might improve the customer service experience.