…..And the Cable Customer Victimization Continues…..


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Professionally speaking, I’m not a proponent of either Net Promoter Score (NPS) or Customer Effort Score (CES). Many are familiar with NPS, the single question recommendation score technique; and I’ve written about it’s myriad application and actionability challenges with some frequency, including my 2011 customer advocacy book and a CustomerThink blog (http://www.customerthink.com/article/customer_advocacy_behavior_personal_brand_connection).

CES requires a little more explanation. It is a measure created by the Corporate Executive Board. CES looks at customer experience, especially around service, based on cognitive (thinking) effort, emotional (level of distress) effort, physical effort, and time effort (versus expectations). The thesis is that the more effort required on the customer’s part to resolve an issue, the less likely they will be to continue the relationship in the future. In the main, this measure also has practical application challenges.

There are times, however, when both of these measures have some merit. This is especially true when companies have difficulty executing even the basics of customer experience. If and when customer experience processes are creating negative relationships, and even repelling customers, direction can be taken from NPS and CES.

Let me recount a personal example, the recorded interchange between my wife and our cable provider’s recent service ‘chat’. The following quotes are taken, in sequence, from actual dialogue between my wife, Susan, and the cable company service representative, whom I’ll protect by calling Zelda. The full transcript was much longer, but I’ve compressed it to highlight the key elements:

Zelda: Hello, Susan. Thank you for contacting DDDDD live chat support. My name is Zelda. Our goal is to provide you with a consistently superior customer experience – that’s our guarantee.

Susan: I am waiting for the disputed amount of $60 to be removed from my last statement. It has been 16 days since the ticket has been issued. If I do not get this resolved today, we will be moving to XXXXX.

Zelda: Thank you for bringing this to our attention, Susan. I’ve checked your account and the notations. It shows that the amount of $60 has already been credited last December 7th.

Susan: I’m sorry, but that is not correct. The billing date of December 14th shows a charge of $60 for an unreturned converter. I want the charge removed. I have no equipment that needed to be returned!!! If equipment is missing or unreturned, you need to check your information and ask the technician, not the customer.

Zelda: Let me do research, Susan.

Susan: If you do not have the authority to reduce my bill, please turn this matter over to someone who does.

Zelda: You have reached the right person, Susan. Alright, here is what I’ll do for you. I’ll create an e-service ticket. You will receive a call within 24-72 hours from our DDDDD representative with regards to the issue.

Susan: You stated I was speaking to the right person. Obviously, that is not the case. I am paying my bill today, less $60; and I expect that it will be the last I hear of this issue. No need for anyone to call me. Either the $60 is removed or I will switch to XXXXX. This dispute is ridiculous. Lucicrous to be spending my time over this.

Zelda: Alright, Susan. I’m so sorry for the inconvenience. Let me go ahead and try processing the $60 credit since there are supported notations in your account. Please bear with me. Please stay on the line.

Susan: I am going to presume that the credit will be made. I’m ending this conversation in 5 minutes.

Zelda: Congratulations! The credit of $60 went through successfully. Please be reminded as well that the credit will appear on the next month’s bill. Also, I would like to thank you so much for your loyalty. For security purposes, would you please provide me with the account holder’s full name or the phone number associated with the account?


Zelda: Before we end this chat, I have resolved your issue by processing the $60 credit. Please take note that there are no additional steps needed from here. Just to let you know, at the end of this chat there will be a short survey.

Susan: Thank you. Rest assured, I will not be doing this again, and I will be sure to tell everyone I know how bad DDDDD has treated me. I should not have had to spend ALL THIS TIME first on the phone and then on this CHAT for an hour to get a $60 dispute resolved.

Case study of how to create customer negativisim, leading to word-of-mouth sabotage, as well as potential churn. Only the continued (and real, because we both decided to close our account if this couldn’t be appropriately resolved) threat of immediate defection to a competitor was sufficient to get action from our cable provider. This impressed me as a real-world set of cultural, process and training deficiencies where the customer is concerned, and from a company that has been actively trumpeting its recent service improvement results and experience guarantee.

If this cable company wants even the minimum standard of customer retention – never mind customer loyalty or advocacy – a serious, and strategic, trip back to the customer experience and customer culture drawing board is in order.

Michael Lowenstein, PhD CMC
Michael Lowenstein, PhD CMC, specializes in customer and employee experience research/strategy consulting, and brand, customer, and employee commitment and advocacy behavior research, consulting, and training. He has authored seven stakeholder-centric strategy books and 400+ articles, white papers and blogs. In 2018, he was named to CustomerThink's Hall of Fame.


  1. Hello Michael
    You have set out what shows up as the central lie when it comes to the whole customer conversation. Yes, there are some industries where customers have genuine choice – there is a diversity of options – and thus can get their needs met by shopping around. And yet this does not apply to all industries.

    There are industries like cable/broadband, like gas & electricity here in the UK, like mobile telecommunications, like UK banks where each players works the same model, the same business practices, pretty much the same products and treats the customer the same. So the customer really has no choice other than plead with the supplier to do the right thing. Threaten switching. And if forced to switch. To end up where? In exactly the same place. Is it any wonder that few people actually switch. Which kind of explains why your wife has put up with what she has put up with.

    The customer is king was fiction and continues to be fiction. Take cable, your wife’s choice is limited to that which is provided by the cable industry. And if she does not like that choice? Does she go and set up a cable provider?

    The reality is that in many industries the customers have no practical power. Yes, there is churn. So what? I lose 10,000 customers to you, you lose 10,000 customers to me – and at the aggregate level we both maintain our market shares.

    Which is my way of say that the only true source of customer focused behaviour is genuine competition based, ease of entry, different value proposition, different business models. Take the UK mobile telecommunications market, thankfully there is a competitor(giffgaff) that is different on these aspects from the big players (who are all the same) and I am happy to be a customer. If this competitor did not exist I would pay more for the same product with a shoddier service.


  2. …in the U.S. Customers may not be kings, but neither are we pawns. We are endowed with life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; and we can select from many banks, electric companies, cable, telephone, and broadband suppliers. There’s growing likelihood to switch if the key elements of tangible and emotional value erode. In the cable supplier example presented, we have multiple choices, and among these are vendors known to provide more proactive and positive service experiences. One of the reasons the service rep at DDDDD told my wife about their ‘guarantee’ at the beginning of the chat is that this particular supplier has been beaten up over substandard service for years. They have made some systems and process improvements – but not nearly enough.

    Maz, you and I absolutely agree that the most effective ‘barrier to exit’ any supplier can provide is high perceived value, and consistently positive experiences, over the entire customer life cycle.

    Thanks for your comment.


  3. … especially when amplified by social networking. When I had a ridiculous Comcast issue, I tried the customer service phone line first. Comcasticly useless. So I tweeted @ComcastCares and all the other @Comcast Twitters and within a few hours the problem was not only solved, but they reduced my bill and gave me a free year of HBO (which was offered up as an apology) – and then threw in free faster internet for a year.

    I guess I’d have to score them E for Effort on that one, but who cares? I’m still not a satisfied customer, much less an advocate.

  4. Hi Michael,

    I’m echoing my reply to your comment on my own blog post about a recent service failure. Sadly, these situations are too common:

    Your wife’s chat exchange with “Zelda” at the cable company reflects a few problems common to many contact centers. If I had to guess, I bet the following assumptions are true:

    * The first line of the chat exchange was scripted. Someone in marketing may have come up with it because it sounds positive, but it doesn’t feel very authentic to an upset customer.

    * Zelda’s job responsibilities require her to carry on several chat discussions simultaneously. I don’t think your wife had Zelda’s full attention.

    * Rules and work procedures are emphasized over customer satisfaction in Zelda’s contact center. This leads reps like Zelda to focus on process rather than quickly resolve problems like the one your wife experienced.

  5. Hello Michael

    Great, I am delighted to hear that over in the USA you are blessed with life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Though I suspect that is merely a slogan nowadays – a discussion for another day!

    My question for you is this, given that you are blessed with choice and there are vendors known to provide more proactive and positive service experiences why are you a customer of your current provider? Put differently, why is your wife spending time with this cable provider would she not be better off switching to another provider? Or is it a matter of principle – getting that $60 refunded because she should not have been charged?

    Even in the latter case, my logical brain asks: why not switch to the better cable providers and demand my $60 back?

    Which all reminds me of what I learned from reading Sherlock Holmes, often it is what did not happen that is most useful place to start the investigation.

    All the best to you Michael.


  6. …with, hopefully, an equally insightful answer.

    There’s at least some inertia associated with potentially switching suppliers in any b2b or b2c situation. In the case of the cable company, they are also the supplier of our broadband Internet service; so, there is some bundling involved (they also provide home telephone service, but we use another vendor for our home and wireless/wifi). The level of anticipated inconvenience with making a switch needs to be evaluated in the context of how much diminished value we are now seeing as a result of the current cable supplier’s poor service. The alternative supplier we are considering is known to have better service and slightly lower prices.

    As my wife would state it, an act of G-d shouldn’t be required to get decent, basic service that maintains the customer relationship. Based on this most recent, and negative, experience (representing a breakdown of both systems and processes), we are very close to a tipping point with this supplier.


  7. Hello Michael,

    Setting aside the reactive web chat experience Susan encountered, it seems the root cause for Susan’s dissatisfaction is found in her comment:

    Susan: “I am waiting” for the disputed amount of $60 to be removed from my last statement. It has “been 16 days since the ticket has been issued”. If I do not get this “resolved today”, we will be moving to XXXXX.

    This example underscores the need for companies to embrace the concept of Proactive Customer Care….Developing personalized outbound contact strategies that proactively engage and service your customers, using the most appropriate interactive contact channel. If the company genuinely engaged Susan in a proactive way immediately after her first complaint, would that have positively influenced her experience/loyalty?

    Effective proactive care strategies can eliminate multiple inbound contacts for the same issue… improving customer satisfaction, loyalty, and reducing company cost.

    Your thoughts?


  8. Ed –

    I completely agree with your perspective, and the points you’ve made. For years, beginning before I was an active speaker for SOCAP (Society of Consumer Affairs Professionals) in the early 1990’s, my position, based on a great deal of customer experience research, has been that Customer Service should be both proactive and a profit center, rather than a passive, tactical and reactive function, and a cost of doing business. I even led off SOCAP’s mid-1990’s book on the future of customer service by documenting some of the significant financials associated with positive and negative customer service, and the cultural, systems, and process underpinnings of same, which are applicable to any industry and any location in the world.

    Irrespective of channel, companies need to be mindful that there are true, strategic loyalty and profitablility implications to both long-term customer experience and individual transactions. For example, there are opportunities to build stronger relationships through proactive, customer-friendly first call resolution. This is just one of the basic ways that taking a more customer-centric approach to service tightens the bonds between the supplier and the customer.



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