DTV transition approaches as customers express greater satisfaction with competing alternative

With the DTV transition about 40 days away, broadcasters, regulators and even members of Congress are beginning to wonder how viewers will react to this unprecedented changeover in TV.

For many stations, the heart of the question is what will viewers perceive about their TV experience — whether they receive SD or HD over the air — once digital transmission begins.

While no one has a crystal ball to predict accurately what will happen, the whole topic of viewer experience with media services seemed particularly timely. That’s why “HD Technology Update” spoke with Anthony Piniella, director of corporate communications with customer management strategies expert Amdocs prior to the holidays. Late in 2008, the company released its Experience Matters Index, which measures customer satisfaction with the service cable TV, telcos and satellite providers are delivering. Amdoc’s data indicates overall customer satisfaction with these service providers is growing even as broadcasters approach their digital transition.

HD Technology Update: What’s the background of the Experience Matters Index?

Anthony Piniella: The Experience Matters Index is something we started last year. We strongly believe customer experience for what we call the service industry is a driving factor and continues to be a driving factor moving forward in terms of brand strength and usage of new services.

What we have done is started an index and every year we want to measure the impact of the customer experience, and we want to understand what is happening right now with customers and how the customer experience is impacting them, and utilize that to help out customers build their business strategies and move forward.

HD Technology Update: What were some of the key findings from this year and how did they compare to last year’s findings?

Anthony Piniella: The first thing we noticed is both in the U.S. and the U.K., the two markets we currently deal with, there was an overall increase in customer satisfaction levels — what we call “very good” satisfaction. The good thing is we are finding year over year that the service providers are delivering a better customer experience, and customers are happier overall with what they are getting.

If you go back four or five years ago, perhaps they weren’t so happy. So we see customers are getting better experience, and we think that a very big part of that is that service providers are focused more on delivering a better customer experience in general.

HD Technology Update: Does this pertain only to cable, when you say “service providers”?

Anthony Piniella: No, this isn’t just cable. We ask a qualifying question: Do you have cable, wireless and Internet? We look at all three of these as a whole.

HD Technology Update: In general, there has been a long-held view among some in the public that cable TV operators could improve customer service. Do your results show headway for cable operators in this area?

Anthony Piniella: We do feel there has been an improvement. We can’t say there has been a complete turnaround. You are absolutely correct: The history of the cable industry has not been the best when it comes to the customer experience in general. But we do see a general increase in good feelings among the public toward all of the service providers.

I do think there has been some improvement in providing a better customer experience across the board.

HD Technology Update: Could you be a little more specific on how you define “service providers”?

Anthony Piniella: What we call service providers, we don’t differentiate it; I know cable providers will call themselves MSOs and phone companies will call themselves telcos and telecommunications providers and many other names. But, essentially, anyone that is a telecommunications provider and they can provide triple play as well as anyone that is a cable or satellite provider would be covered by our umbrella label of “service provider.”

For our purposes, we just wanted to get a barometer of the experience. What are you feeling as a user of these services? Do you feel your service provider is delivering the right customer experience? Do you feel they are trying to anticipate your needs? Do you feel like you are getting the latest and greatest technologies delivered to you in a timely manner? The good news is there has been an increase in that, and the majority of folks feel they are getting good service across the board.

HD Technology Update: What areas did you identify as needing improvement?

Anthony Piniella: We asked many different questions. One was, “What are your drivers of satisfaction, and what are your drivers of dissatisfaction?” Some of the areas that came out would pretty much be the expected areas, such as unreliable, inconvenient service, and that can be only having one choice of cable provider in your building, for example.

Another area was resolving issues. It is something that is really important to users. Another is pricing issues, and then lack of desired features is really important to customers. Those are some of the drivers of dissatisfaction.

We also found that users would be willing to pay more. Now, keep in mind this survey was completed about a month and a half ago, so you have to take into consideration the economy and its continued decline. But having said that, what we found is customers willing to pay for an experience that they perceive has value associated with it.

One of the questions was, “Would you pay an extra quarter for better service?” — and “Would you pay an extra $1?” and “Would you pay an extra $5?” I think 30 percent actually said they would pay an extra $5, which was pretty good. It shows that if the service is valuable and the provider is giving them something they need, that customers are willing to pay money, even in these tough economic times.

Again, you have to take into account what’s happened in the last month and half, but I do think it shows how vital these services have become to consumers. They are no longer just nice-to-haves, they are now somewhat of must-haves. As your lifestyle becomes more digital and you become more mobile and the information flow is constant, having access to this becomes more crucial for people.

HD Technology Update: Do you have any idea how your customers used last year’s data to adjust their approaches to customer service?

Anthony Piniella: This is just one of the many things we do to help them understand their customers. We will talk to our customers about the findings, look at what they are doing from an experience standpoint and a feature or product capability standpoint, and try to help them figure out how to serve their customer base better. What we do as a company is enable those backend and front-end systems, the billing systems, the OSS systems and the CRM systems so they can activate the services and respond proactively to any issues the customers may have.

That’s what we do, and we talk to them about the findings to help them make their service a whole better customer experience.

For more information on the Customer Experience Matters Index, visit,18.

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