If cable companies can modernize and improve their customer service, they will be on their way to competing with the more modern companies. But continually ignoring the warning signs means they are dinosaurs, and will soon die out.
I've been hearing a lot lately about how cable providers are more and more afraid that consumers are "cutting the cord" and watching TV programming from other sources (Internet, streaming, mobile, etc.). After all, this is exactly what happened with land lines and mobile phones. This year at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), Sony announced 4K TVs that would stream Netflix content in 4K, Roku announced Roku-ready displays, and everyone keeps an eye on Apple to see where they take AppleTV.
But, traditional cable has one thing going for it (for now) that the phone lines didn't have: content. If you want to watch the latest episode of your favorite sitcom the moment it comes out, or some live award show, you probably still need to watch it on cable. Even though technologies like HBO Go exist, they require (surely in an effort to respect their current distribution channels) cable subscriptions to work.
Cable companies internally search for solutions to this, fear their competitors, either raise or lower prices to make up for churn, and add new channels to bundles in an effort to show they are providing more value to consumers.
But one thing cable companies (and any other "old dinosaur" company) are not doing is improving the user experience. We all have similar stories, and none of them start with "I can't wait to have to call my cable company again. They are such a pleasure to deal with." Compare that thought to calling Apple's AppleCare line, or interacting with any other "modern" company that understands customer service.
Instead, places like the DMV, post office, and cable companies seem to be stuck in the 1950s, with no one able to steer their ships into the current century or decade.
Last night I wanted to try to add a TV station because a new series is starting and it's only available on a station I don't have as part of my current channel lineup. I was told I'd have to upgrade packages because that channel is not available on its own. I said fine, and asked them to do the upgrade.
I then waited on hold for 35 minutes before being disconnected. While the rep asked for my phone number in case we got disconnected, he never called me back, and my service (a day later) was never upgraded. Unlike AppleCare customer service reps who give you a direct line so you can reach them, I have no way of calling back and talking to the same guy.
So, do I go through this again, or do I just wait for the show to appear on Hulu, AppleTV, or Netflix, where it will be much cheaper to just watch the one show I wanted (and not have to upgrade my cable to a much more expensive monthly package)? The choice is obvious.
Companies like Comcast, the cable company I use, seem relentlessly stubborn and unwilling to join modern times. Their website took me in circles as I tried to accomplish the upgrade to my services myself. One wonders why they can't find anyone to head up digital strategy and actually affect any kind of real change in their organization.
I am sure these companies look at their competitors (the new, alternative content providers like Hulu and Netflix) and throw their hands up in the air, wondering what they can do. But making it a pleasure to deal with them is not seemingly on their lists. And for that reason, I firmly think they deserve the fate that is coming to them.
So what can you do, if you are similarly finding that competitors have better customer service, interactive user experiences, and generally "hipper" online presences? The smartest thing you can do is hire someone external to your company who understands how the new generation of online users prefers to interact with companies. Your company probably doesn't have this skill set internally - or there are too many politics for a good idea to be nurtured from within. You need to put egos aside and know when it's time to ask for help from an external company who "gets it" more than you do.
Competing in the marketplace so often becomes a "keeping up with the Joneses" feature race. But looking internally and understanding not why people like your competitor, but why they dislike you, is more important. Customer inertia means that people will want to stay with you if it's possible. It actually takes a lot of effort to decide to abandon one company in favor of another (especially in the case of a cable provider, because there is equipment to return). That means that customers who are leaving you not only probably like someone else's offering better, they actively dislike your offering or interacting with your company. And even if the competitor doesn't offer better service, they are simply tired of dealing with your company.
Fix that, and you are on your way to competing with the more modern companies. But continually ignoring these warning signs means you are a dinosaur, and will soon die out.
And, sorry to say, you will deserve to. If that upsets you, email me. Or better yet, FAX me.
Until next time...
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Jack Aaronson, CEO of The Aaronson Group and corporate lecturer, is a sought-after expert on enhanced user experiences, customer conversion, retention, and loyalty. If only a small percentage of people who arrive at your home page transact with your company (and even fewer return to transact again), Jack and his company can help. He also publishes a newsletter about multichannel marketing, personalization, user experience, and other related issues. He has keynoted most major marketing conferences around the world and regularly speaks at Shop.org and other major industry shows. You can learn more about Jack through his LinkedIn profile.
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