This article has been taken from The Wall Street Journal. The original article can be found here.
Is your pay TV provider listening to you—not eavesdropping, that is, but feeling your pain?
In what is now a highly competitive, fast-evolving market, it’s imperative that pay TV companies—cable, satellite and over-the-air service providers—pay closer attention to what their customers are experiencing. One way for them to do that is through their set-top boxes, that package of silicon and wires still squatting somewhere near most consumers’ big screen TVs.
Pay TV operators have no choice but to improve their customer service and support, as streaming and other competitors are finding more and better ways to make an end run around them to go directly to consumers. Samsung TVs, for example, soon will be able to access and play a user’s Apple iTunes library of music and movies, the two companies said at the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
By incorporating emerging technologies such as Internet of Things sensors, machine learning-based predictive analytics, sophisticated mobile apps and intelligent chatbot tools into their systems and, in particular, their set-top boxes, pay TV companies can make the experience of using their services more satisfying and less frustrating. At the same time, they can cut their customer service costs and reapportion resources in more efficient ways.
How to Address Customer Frustrations
Pay TV companies need to listen more carefully to the frustrations customers are experiencing with their most basic functions: installing the service, addressing hardware problems and keeping the network up and running. This is where emerging technologies can play an important role.
1. Installation. Initiating pay TV services most likely means hooking up a set-top box in a customer’s home. It’s a process that’s complicated and frustrating for all participants, whether it’s forced on a far-from-expert consumer “plug and pray”-style or fulfilled by a hard-to-schedule technician with no bedside manner.
But what if self-installation could be made easier, faster and more successful, by discarding conventional techniques and leveraging the know-how of an increasingly digital-savvy customer base? In other words, goodbye printed-out instructions and multiple support calls, hello smartphone app.
A mobile app that features an intelligent chatbot service as an interactive, step-by-step guide, supported by a remote video link that makes available experts to provide direction and examine the customer’s progress in real time, would make the installation process so much easier. It would also help improve customer satisfaction and reduce the time and resources the service provider must devote to supporting the installation process, in terms of both field service technicians and telephone support personnel.
2. Problem-Solving. Pay TV operators should take a lesson from manufacturers using IoT sensors to track the functioning and performance of their engines, farm equipment, railroad cars, power-generation systems and other machines. By installing sensors in their set-top boxes and at other strategic points in their networks, pay TV companies can gather data about how those STBs are functioning in the field, data that they can analyze for insights into where and how they should allocate support resources.
If customers experience problems with their set-top boxes, the IoT sensors will help service providers determine where those STBs are located and understand why they’re malfunctioning. A field service agent who knows what the problem is and how to fix it before knocking on a customer’s door will be much more effective, reducing customer inconvenience and cutting time spent on each assignment.
Even when dealing with problems caused by outside factors, such as damages to satellite dishes due to a windstorm, the IoT-enabled set-top boxes will give the service provider more specific data on the extent of the problem and the specific geographic area affected. The service provider’s local subsidiary can then dispatch its service teams more strategically.
3. Service Uptime. Pay TV providers can use machine learning algorithms to analyze the aggregated data relayed by IoT sensors to spot trends in functionality and even predict future performance. Knowing in advance that 100,000 STBs in northern California likely will fail in the next several weeks, and why—defective components or some unanticipated factor—will head off expensive and frustrating outages.
It’s also a good way to build loyalty. Predicting the malfunctioning of a set-top box and replacing it before the customer experiences problems with the service will go a long toward turning around a pay TV provider’s negative customer service reputation.
Not Dead Yet
Despite predictions of its demise, the set-top box is alive and well. The global STB sector is expected to grow, albeit slowly, over the next few years, from 280 million units shipped in 2017 to 302 million units in 2022, according to research firm Ovum.
STB manufacturers are keeping up with tech trends, such as adding voice control for selecting channels and content. Some ambitious pay TV providers are eyeing the “smart home” market, touting a future central role for their set-top boxes in controlling integrated home functions such as security and energy usage.
When it comes to service and support, however, pay TV companies need to improve considerably just to catch up with their online streaming counterparts. I know from my experience in the industry earlier in my career that pay TV providers spend a lot of money on support, so investment isn’t the problem. It’s time for a new approach.
Reducing service costs and mitigating frustration by empowering customers to help themselves is a trend in just about every consumer industry, one that pay TV operators must embrace. The same goes for generating and analyzing detailed information about the functioning and performance of the componentry integral to their business, such as set-top boxes. Savvy use of emerging technologies will help pay TV companies get better results from the money and resources they apply to supporting their basic business services.
They must listen to their customers a little more closely.