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Does IPTV need more technological miracles?

Or is customer service the answer?

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Comment The New York Times ran an enchanting piece about a cable engineer this week, deserting a 20 year career in cable to go and work for AT&T's new IPTV U-Verse service. They asked him why he's switched and he served the reporter a lot of platitudes about how AT&T's proposition is going to work out.

"We're on the ground floor of something that's going to revolutionise the industry. We have the whole world looking at us," he quoted in the paper.

And he's right, of course. History will either tell the story of a foolish telco in its last throes of existence, throwing good money after bad, chasing down a high share price and a triple, nay quadruple play, that turned out to have been already grabbed by the cable companies. Or it will tell the story of how big telco money finally grasped the nettle and turned itself around to become the great future, all purpose, utility.

The answer of which outcome materialises may well lie with that engineer, and that great unsung hero, customer service. Put yourself in the cable guy's position. Better still, put yourself in the customer's position.

You've seen the adverts (though not on your cable TV), you like the sound of that U-Verse TV. You call the number on the advert, what is it 123 U-Verse or some such? and that's when you'll know.

You are now in the clutches of the AT&T Customer Care team. And that's the big question. Do they? Care, we mean?

Well, before that ex-cable guy comes to your home AT&T invites you downtown to its San Antonio HQ and you see three TV sets, one with U-Verse on it, one with cable and another with satellite. They all look good compared to the 26 inch monstrosity you've been forced to watch TV on at home for the past 15 years.

You can't help noticing the other giggling families, the children that want to play with the cool messaging features and the overheard comments such as: "No way could I use that, Mom could see my messages."

You take a sandwich, sip the coffee. Is the sandwich stale or the coffee an inferior brand? Are you strong armed into signing up afterwards or is it a gentle sell?

The customer care has started and you're not even a customer yet. But let's say you agree to become one, a customer that is.

The first thing you experience is going to be that wait for an engineer to install the system. Of course right now, in San Antonio, that wait isn't going to be very long. There are probably engineers all over the place waiting to practice their new skills, but because they are new skills, they’ll be on the phone back to the head office, asking, just to be sure, how to do an adjustment just one more time, to make sure they get it right.

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