Can Comcast improve its dismal customer service?

Comcast (CMCSA) CEO Brian Roberts, who is seeking regulatory approval for his $45 billion acquisition of Time Warner Cable, has vowed to improve the company's notoriously poor customer service.

In an interview with USA Today's editorial board, Roberts pointed to Uber, the popular Internet-based car rental service as a role model for the cable company. Comcast recently unveiled a mobile app that lets customers schedule service appointments.

Customer service is expected to be a key focal point of the government's regulatory review of Comcast's purchase of Time Warner Cable, which would give the combined company control over some 30 percent of the pay-television market.

Comcast has the lowest customer-service rating of any Internet service provider, while Time Warner Cable ranks last among pay-TV operators, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index.

A report issued last month by market researcher Temken Group found that providers of TV and Internet services were the most likely to disappoint customers.

"Comcast's customer experience can be described as the worst of the worst," said Bruce Temken, managing partner with the firm, in an email. "Its Internet and TV service businesses are ranked 261st out of 268 companies in the 2014 Temkin Experience Ratings. That places Comcast at the bottom of the TV services industry, which has the lowest-scoring customer experience across the 19 industries we examined."

Comcast also has lowest-ranked customer service among Internet service providers, Temken said, noting that the company's service scores had its sharpest drop over the last year.

Sixteen percent of consumers reported having a bad experience with Comcast in the past six months, according to the research firm. Time Warner Cable fared even worse, with 25 percent of customers reporting a bad experience.

"We believe it's pure lip-service and nothing more," said Chris Marron, deputy editor at the Consumerist blog, in an email about Comcast's pledge to improve customer service. "If anything, a combined Comcast/Time Warner Cable would have even less motivation to provide good customer service because there would be significantly fewer options for consumers to choose from for cable or broadband."

Comcast, the nation's largest cable company, has long argued that the Time Warner Cable merger wouldn't diminish customer choice because the companies don't directly compete. Comcast also says that its internal metrics show that service is improving. More customers are managing their accounts online, and fewer service technicians need to make repeat visits to customers because they are resolving problems the first time, the company says.

"Our goal is to transform the customer-service experience," according to a company spokesperson, adding "we are not there yet."

Despite such efforts, critics have long questioned how serious Comcast can be about improving customer service since it outsources some of its call-center operations to the Philippines. Comcast notes that most of its customers-service team members work in the U.S. and that it has been bolstering these operations.

The company's critics are unmoved by Comcast's pledge to do better by its customers.

"If you live in an area served by Comcast, chances are you can only get your cable service through Comcast," Marron said. "You can get satellite service, but satellite does not yet provide quality broadband at an affordable rate."

  • Jonathan Berr On Twitter»

    Jonathan Berr is an award-winning journalist and podcaster based in New Jersey whose main focus is on business and economic issues.