While federal regulators mull the possible antitrust ramifications of the proposed US$45 billion merger between Comcast and Time Warner Cable, the companies’ customers also are considering the fallout from this deal.
Both companies have a reputation for poor customer service, and the fear is that a combination of the conglomerates may result in the achievement of a new low in customer relations.
Their reputations for shoddy service aside, a merger of any two large companies is bound to result in glitches and miscommunications and possible service interruptions. Companies need a solid communication and outreach framework in place to navigate these changes, and it is debatable whether a Comcast-Time Warner Cable entity can put one together.
Last year, the American Customer Satisfaction Index ranked Comcast last and TWC second to last among Internet service providers. Among pay-TV providers, Comcast ranked third from the bottom and TWC second.
An Industry Held in Scorn
To be fair, customers’ reactions to the service provided by the industry in general range from askance, to horror, to outright rage. Some — much — of this is justified by hours-long wait periods for appointments, rising rates, and undesirable product bundles.
Some of this scorn might be traced to consumers’ just-in-time sense of entitlement, though, Rich Hanley, associate professor and director of the graduate journalism program at Quinnipiac University told CRM Buyer.
“Cable companies, Internet service providers, telecoms, and other public utilities have lousy customer service ratings because the American consumer is impatient when they can’t access what they want at a given moment,” he said.
The companies basically can’t win the consumer satisfaction wars, Hanley said.
“The Comcast-Time Warner deal is not going to materially impact dissatisfaction ratings, as people are going to complain if a connection is not repaired immediately,” he predicted.
The other bogeyman haunting the proposed merger — an expected jack-up in prices — is not likely to materialize, Hanley suggested.
The company depends on the broad middle class to remain profitable, he said. “The middle class is shrinking, and it’s under intense economic pressure even in good times, so any rate increase for any service will lead to an immediate drop in subscribers.”
An Unforgiving Spotlight
As Comcast and Time Warner Cable feel their way through these issues — assuming, of course, the merger is greenlighted — any missteps they make will be magnified by a closely watching public.
“Most organizations experience a drop in sales and increased complaints about customer service shortly after a merger,” Joe Aberger, executive vice president of Pritchett, told CRM Buyer.
“The company is already caught in the glare of the spotlight, with analysts, management, employees of both organizations, and customers all studying how the deal will affect business. If sales and service start to suffer, people blame the merger and typically begin to question the viability of the decision to merge,” he explained.
One silver lining for the two companies is that with service viewed so poorly now, the bar is set very low, and any change may be viewed as positive, said Joe Silverman, owner of New York Computer Help.
“Time Warner Cable customer service is slow, painful, and usually just reads for a robotic script,” he explained. “We have averaged an hour each call logged into Time Warner Cable, which is way too long, and our customers are upset with how long it takes to even get to the right department.”
Customer service can only look up with Comcast and be better than it currently is, he said.