business

Comcast yet again ranks among worst companies for customer service

Bob Fernandez, Inquirer Staff Writer

Updated: Tuesday, June 2, 2015, 1:08 AM

A Comcast sign is seen at one of their centers on February 13, 2014 in Pompano Beach, Florida.

Comcast Corp.'s customer service satisfaction grade for television and Internet services slipped from a year ago and remains among the worst of all U.S. brands and services, according to the 2015 American Customer Satisfaction Index to be released Tuesday.

Over the last year, the satisfaction score for Comcast's TV service declined 10 percent - steeper than the average 3.1 percent decline for the telecommunications industry - to 54. Satisfaction with Comcast's Internet service fell 2 percent, to a score of 56 - the lowest in the sector in the new report. The index uses satisfaction scores from 0 to 100.

Last week, Consumer Reports also placed Comcast's customer satisfaction near the bottom of the telecom industry.

The two national surveys come after a year in which Comcast had its customer service record closely scrutinized as the Philadelphia company sought to acquire Time Warner Cable Inc. for $45 billion.

The proposed Comcast/Time Warner Cable deal brought close attention to customer service failures at both cable television giants, with critics saying that merging the two companies would lead to a bigger company that would frustrate tens of millions of subscribers nationwide. Comcast abandoned the deal in late April, after the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Communications Commission said they opposed it.

In early May at the cable industry's trade show in Chicago, top Comcast executives said they would invest millions of dollars to improve Comcast's customer satisfaction. To that end, the executives announced that Comcast would hire 5,500 call-center representatives and hundreds of additional technicians.

Comcast CEO Brian Roberts said that the resources that would have been directed at merging with Time Warner Cable now would be redirected into improving the Comcast customer experience and service. Cable division head Neil Smit said customer experience would become the company's best product and released a 10-point plan to make that happen.

Comcast subscribers have complained of long telephone waits on service calls, missed technician visits, billing problems, and being forced to purchase entertainment or news channels they don't watch.

"There are massive changes going on," Comcast spokeswoman Jennifer Khoury said. "But it will take time to get to the number of people to impact [customer satisfaction] results."

The national surveys give some idea of the huge undertaking required for Comcast to nudge the satisfaction dial with consumers. Not only is the company at or near the bottom of the satisfaction ratings in the telecom sector, the sector itself is dead last for customer service among economic sectors that include food, automobiles, soft drinks, hospitals, and banks, according to the 2015 ACSI index, owned by a private company, ACSI LLC in Ann Arbor, Mich., spun off a few years ago by the University of Michigan. The Michigan group surveyed 14,176 consumers online in the first quarter about their customer service experiences with telecom businesses offering Internet, TV and phone services.

"We are seeing things get worse," David VanAmburg, managing director of American Customer Satisfaction Index, said on Monday. "We are seeing some declines industrywide so that most [telecom] companies are either holding their own or declining."

Some of Comcast's decline may be attributed to the distractions over the proposed merger, VanAmburg said. "The two companies could have taken their eye off the customer," he said of Comcast and Time Warner Cable.

Since Comcast abandoned its deal, Charter Communications Inc. said last week it would buy Time Warner Cable. The customer service index scored Charter substantially higher in TV services than Time Warner Cable, but lower in Internet.

"If you want to look at it from a TV perspective, you could say that Charter is a better landing place for Time Warner Cable" than Comcast, VanAmburg said. But he added, "There is nothing outstanding about Charter. They are, in our survey - average."

As for Comcast's efforts to fix its problems, "there is no evidence to conclude that their efforts to improve are failing," VanAmburg said. "But what you can say is that there is a lot to fix and they have to start someplace."

The brand with the highest overall rating in the new customer survey is food company H.J. Heinz Co., with an index score of 87. Others at the top of the list are Amazon; Hershey; Mercedes-Benz; and Nordstrom.

In last place among 301 corporate brands or services is Time Warner Cable's TV service, with a score of 51 - lowest in the telecom sector. Mediacom Communications Corp. also got a 51 and rates No. 300. Spirit Airlines and Comcast's cable TV service placed No. 299 and No. 298, respectively. Comcast's Internet service placed No. 297.

Bob Fernandez, Inquirer Staff Writer

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