It is of paramount importance

Amidst the hoopla of The Cable Show earlier this year, there was a story that may have lacked the red-hot sizzle of programming news and the gee-whiz excitement of technology innovation, but it is of paramount importance to the long-term success of our industry.

Mark DzubanI heard a lot of talk about Hollywood glitz and the anticipation of 3-D, but one of the things that really got my attention was the industry’s reaffirmed commitment to customer satisfaction. The talk of 30-day money-back guarantees and two-hour service windows, and even specific appointment times, demonstrates a real commitment to keeping current customers and winning over new ones.

If you agree with the J.D. Power and Associates folks – and who doesn’t? – cable customer service has come a long way over the years. The awards that operators like Bright House Networks, Cablevision, Cox and Time Warner have earned in recent years show how the perception and reality of cable customer service are changing for the better.

And while our goal certainly is contented customers, there’s an equally important business story here. Let’s face it: We invest a lot in acquiring and maintaining our subscriber base. When we lose a customer based on our performance, we lose our entire investment in that customer. Attention to the smallest of technical details – tight connections in the home and fine-tuning in the network – can create a positive experience that retains customers, reduces the costs of truck rolls and customer support, and lessens the effects of churn.

At the SCTE, a big part of our mission is making sure that the industry keeps its eye on the engineering ball while it’s chasing exciting new multi-platform opportunities. Sure, programming and futuristic thinking often will vie for headlines, but it’s the nuts and bolts of operations and customer installs that are the frontline troops in cable’s relationship with its subscribers.

Service windows and guarantees provide the levels of convenience and comfort that will get a customer to make a purchase, but at the end of the day, their willingness to stay with cable will be a function of performance. Was the installer professional and knowledgeable? Does the quality of the video consistently meet or exceed the subscriber’s expectations? Are voice and data communications clear and reliable?

The answers to questions like those above have a direct impact on the bottom lines of operators. Every time our industry wins, wins back or keeps a customer because we’ve raised the technical performance bar, it’s a return on the investments that are being made to ensure that our field engineers are well trained and that our networks are in outstanding health.

I’m big on the concept of “applied science,” and I’m a firm believer that our role at SCTE is critical to shaping the total customer experience. From the headend to the home, we’re taking steps that are having real, positive impact on the industry.

Over the past 30 years, cable professionals have spent more than 227,000 hours improving knowledge and skills via SCTE training programs. Since last November alone, hundreds of installers and other personnel have taken advantage of our Drop Installation Fundamentals course to sharpen their skills in broadband installation and troubleshooting. I owe a nod here to the folks at CommScope who have committed their resources to expanding the size and knowledge of the industry’s installer base, but what’s even more important is how the operator community has gotten behind this effort. Operators of all sizes are continuing to recognize the value of this course and have made it a priority to get their installers involved whenever possible.

Deeper in the network, the members of our HFC Management Subcommittee have devoted considerable time to the creation of a series of standards (SCTE 168) that are designed to provide common methods of verifying the health of digital cable networks. Our goal is to create a common and comprehensive framework for allowing operators to monitor network performance and manage network components throughout the signal chain, from the headend to the customer premise. We’ve already announced standards for Transport Stream Verification Metrics, Monitoring of Multimedia Distribution Quality and Transport Stream Verification in an IP Transport Network. The HFC Management Subcommittee is working as we speak on additional members of the SCTE 168 family.

A few points here: First, all of us have individual roles in creating satisfied customers and building value for our industry. Second, even the most basic elements of our business (properly installing a cable or tightening an F-connector) can have tremendous impact on what the customer experiences and whether or not he or she is willing to pay for our service. Third, in today’s highly competitive communications environment, we need to continue to develop not only our networks, but also the procedures that will enable us to ensure that they deliver a high level of service.

While none of that is quite as sexy as the launch of new programming or a new technology breakthrough, all of it can unquestionably improve relationships with subscribers and support customer retention, and ultimately operators’ bottom lines. And there’s nothing more attractive than that.