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Does IPTV need more technological miracles?

Or is customer service the answer?

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But now that AOL is losing customers, that same self serving deception that's become part of its service culture, is the basis for disdain for customers, who in the AOL culture need to be led and manipulated, and not given what they want.

So the blog of Vincent Ferrari that was reported in this week's newspapers comes as little surprise to us. He begged for almost 30 minutes to cancel his AOL subscription and was bullied in return. He was pretty sure what was coming so he taped the entire thing and has left it out there on the internet for hundreds of thousands of people to see.

If you were running AOL, which would you prefer, one customer lost painlessly, with a chance of getting him back at some future point, or 500,000 people sniggering at your approach to customer care? No, that's a rhetorical question don't answer it, and this story should immediately affect the share price of AOL, largely understood to be for sale in Europe.

Perhaps suitors would like to take a long hard look at those customer service recordings and draw their own due diligence charts on how rapidly the number of paying customers are falling.

All the talk of success or failure in the US press regarding AT&T has ignored all of these lessons however, as has the entire concept behind the creation of the U-Verse service over the past year or so. Pundits have talked about creating "better TV", in order to take customers away from cable.

When satellite, that is usually considered "slightly worse TV" is what's cooking cable's goose right now. But it's doing it on the back of better systems and fiercer marketing, despite no promise, as yet, by the satellite companies of a full triple play. Pundits have called for high definition in IPTV before it will stand up to the challenge of cable.

Cable is known to be individually hunting down IPTV customers in San Antonio for specialist discounts and free high definition, but they will desert in droves due to service issues, and anyway, at some point in the next year HD will come to AT&T's service.

What was really needed instead of picture in picture, rapid channel change, or a mosaic interface, was maybe a far simpler promise. Same old TV, at roughly the same price, but "we'll send an engineer within two hours of when you call and we'll answer the phone on the third ring or that month's rental will be returned".

Instead, we are waiting for the technological miracle of the internet age and when it arrives in numbers, a number of people will find parts of it don't work and they will pick up the telephone. What happens at that point will only be spread all over the internet if it's bad news, and that's the most important thing for AT&T, and every other IPTV service on the planet, to avoid.

Copyright © 2006, Faultline

Faultline is published by Rethink Research, a London-based publishing and consulting firm. This weekly newsletter is an assessment of the impact of the week's events in the world of digital media. Faultline is where media meets technology. Subscription details here.

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