For the better part of two decades the newswires have been filled with horror stories about the dumpster fire that passes for Comcast customer service. From expletive-laced insults to simply refusing to let users cancel service, Comcast has long provided a master class to any company looking for a lesson on how not to behave when dealing with paying customers. Each time Comcast finds its name in print for the wrong reason, the company breathlessly promises that it has learned the error of its ways. Like back in 2014 when Comcast hired a new “consumer experience VP” the company promised would "reimagine the customer experience and ensure that we are delighting our customers at each touch point." Said delight never occurred. And year after year, these companies continue to rank among the worst of the worst, even when compared to some of the least-liked industries in America.
According to the latest ratings from the American Consumer Satisfaction Index, our collective disdain for companies like Comcast and Charter Spectrum is growing. The firm’s latest report, based on a survey of 45,292 randomly chosen customers, found that our hatred of traditional cable TV providers just reached another historic low.
"Customer satisfaction with subscription television service [fell] 3.1 percent to an ACSI score of 62, an 11-year low as the industry faces a seismic shift of subscribers defecting to lower-cost online video streaming services," the report observed.
And while a few cable companies have realized they need to offer cheaper, more flexible alternatives to traditional cable (Dish’s Sling TV and AT&T’s DirecTV Now) to compete with streaming, many industry executives are simply doubling down on many of the same, bad ideas that have fueled the cord cutting phenomenon in the first place. Charter Spectrum, for example, witnessed a particularly steep decline in the latest ACSI ratings for traditional pay TV satisfaction, thanks in large part to the massive rate hikes the company imposed on users in the wake of its $89 billion acquisition of Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks:
It’s the same story in broadband, where limited competition results in little incentive to shore up customer service or offer lower prices:
"According to users, most aspects of ISPs are getting worse," the ACSI said in its report. "Courtesy and helpfulness of staff has waned to 76 and in-store service is slower (74). Bills are more difficult to understand (-3 percent to 71), and customers aren’t happy with the variety of plans available (-3 percent to 64)." This was the first year ever that the ACSI has also ranked streaming alternatives. And given these services often provide users with cheaper alternatives to traditional cable channel bundles, the results aren’t surprising. Even the worst-rated streaming video service (Crackle) ranked better than nearly every major, traditional TV provider:
To be clear: scoring as poorly as cable and broadband providers routinely do takes some serious effort. Comcast and Charter rate worse than some of the most disliked companies and organizations in America, consistently beating the airline industry, banks, insurance companies and even the IRS in terms of consumer dissatisfaction.
Ultimately, cable’s image problem isn’t going away anytime soon.
As the nation’s phone companies refuse to upgrade their DSL networks at any real scale, companies like Comcast and Charter are only nabbing a greater monopoly over broadband. That monopoly lets them impose arbitrary price hikes and unnecessary usage caps designed to make switching to streaming alternatives as expensive as possible. Rampant media consolidation, which routinely prioritizes growth for growth’s sake over spending money to shore up lagging customer service, is compounding the problem. And after lobbying to kill net neutrality, these industry giants have been given the green light to give preferential treatment to their own services while hamstring streaming alternatives. In an ideal world, cable operators would respond to the rise of healthy streaming competition by more seriously competing on price and customer service. But if history is any indication, it’s far more likely that they’re going to double down on all of the bad ideas that helped fuel their historic unpopularity in the first place.