Top cable and satellite executives testify about industry customer service practices before the Senate

Egan-Vicky-174-4By Vicky Egan, RCDA Senior Consultant

On June 23, 2016, cable and satellite television executives testified before a Senate Government Affairs subcommittee about their industry’s customer service and billing practices. Senators presented stories from personal and constituent experiences, and they asked what each witness was doing to address ongoing consumer confusion and frustration with service package options, equipment and billing.

Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri) opened the session with a good old bipartisan tongue lashing of the executives. They had example after example of complaints from their constituents involving overcharges, poor customer retention practices and failure to disclose promotional pricing end dates. To make matters worse, Senator McCaskill reviewed a congressional investigation of the cable and satellite providers in which one in five customers reported having a bad experience and highlighted they are one of the most disliked industries in the U.S.

Senator McCaskill proceeded to read the transcript of a recent personal experience over a $7.99 charge on her cable bill. Her painful phone call with the provider, who she declined to name, lasted more than 20 minutes while she went around in circles over why she was charged a 7.99 fee that was now included with her service. After the representative finally agreed to remove the fee, she was told she would have to pay a $10 disconnection charge to have the $7.99 removed. Senator McCaskill continued about her bad experience while absolutely underscoring her point that the industry needs to rectify its billing and customer service practices.

Testimony was provided by: Tom Karinshak, Comcast SVP of Customer Experience, Kathleen Mayo, Charter EVP Customer Operations, John Keib, Former Time Warner Cable COO and EVP of Residential Services, Kathleen Schneider, DISH SVP Operations, and Rasesh Patel, AT&T SVP Product Management.

Despite the severe censure delivered by the sub-committee, the executives were impressively composed and professional. Each gave a five-minute statement describing what they are doing to fix the problem. Almost all referenced initiatives to simply billing statements and make significant financial investments in call center representative training and customer service initiatives. Especially impressive was Kathleen (Kip) Mayo from Charter. Charter has move thousands of jobs back onshore, and now 90% of their inbound customer calls are handled in the U.S. Tom Karinshak from Comcast reported they are adding 5,500 new customer service representatives and investing an incremental half million dollars this year in customer experience programs. Tom delighted Senator McCaskill by telling her that he sometimes handles inbound phone calls from customers. Not too many executives connect with the customer at this level. AT&T is also making a significant investment of $1 billion in 2016-2017 towards enhancing the customer experience. Mr. Patel was quite candid when he stated that AT&T’s great product isn’t complimented with a great customer experience.

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