Does IPTV need more technological miracles?
Or is customer service the answer?
The answer is simple. If it doesn't change the service operation, enliven it, increase staffing and retrain everyone in the Virgin ethic, then any day we'll be seeing a new website (how about VirginTerritory.com) which its customers will dedicate to slagging off all things Virgin, and the brand will gradually become tarnished with the service image, not the other way around.
It is a chance for a fresh start for that organisation and billionaire and largest shareholder Branson is likely to have a few words to say about his rapidly tarnishing image if customer care doesn't get a face lift.
By comparison, UK IPTV operation HomeChoice, currently seeking a new owner, has a fantastic service operation. One customer said to us: "Their set top may not be the most reliable, but I don't mind because they always come and fix it straight away." Which is perhaps how you build a brand in the first place.
But there is something of an alarm bell going if the engineers that have built up the work ethic (or lack of it) in cable, turn out to be the self same people that failed to come and fix a US homeowner's new IPTV system.
We would hate to hear conversations like, "Hey aren't you the guy I waited in for, for about a week, then you turned up and left straight away and said you needed a part, and I never saw you for another two weeks and so I missed the Olympics?" "Yeah I work at AT&T now."
That's not going to inspire confidence. And are the cable teams going to let their best guys get poached, or instead let go those on lower salaries that are more of a liability?
This is the kind of scrutiny that AT&T is under day to day from here on in. We said a week or so ago that we would finally find out what kind of service AT&T will produce, because once real live customers begin to take it, they will show it to the competition and the press and the picture will instantly form.
But one thing that is certainly to change the "pass the buck culture" of US TV installation engineers is sure to be using the internet as a means of complaint.
AOL was also this week cited as being involved in a customer care nightmare. AOL has been losing oceans of the paying dial up customers that it has held onto so tightly since year dot, but has been unable to convert to broadband. Its customer service help desk has now taken to arguing with customers who ask to cancel their subscriptions, placing impossible barriers between them and cancellation. First there are the constant layers of menus, and then the belittling comments from the customer service rep.
AOL began life as a proprietary content hierarchy, which was a paid for dial up service. AOL customers, like Chinese internet users today, complained that the internet was slow compared to AOL. And it had a lot in common in those early days with China's internet today. Contact with the open international internet was discouraged by closing the bandwidth pipe narrower and narrower. It only took an AOL customer back then (or a Chinese internet user now) one experience with the open internet on another connection, to realise that they are (were) being duped and their praise for their supplier turns to suspicion.
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