Comcast, Charter And TWC Vow To Improve Customer Service For Consumers, Business Users

Comcast, Charter Communications and Time Warner Cable have promised to improve customer service, and consumers aren't the only ones cheering. Channel partners who have been fielding complaints are also relieved.

A Senate hearing last week evaluated the customer service and billing practices for five cable and satellite television companies -- Comcast, Charter, AT&T Entertainment Group (DirecTV), Time Warner Cable (TWC) and Dish Network. A subcommittee determined that some providers were overcharging customers, not issuing refunds and having deceptive billing practices. Other providers had very low levels of customer satisfaction.

Charter and TWC landed in hot water at the hearing. Both companies were cited as often failing to identify overcharges and subsequently not giving refunds to customers. Comcast, on the other hand, struggled in the customer service department by frequently not resolving a customer's issue on the first try, preventing customers from canceling services and habitually transferring customers to the wrong department.

[Related: 5 Things Solution Providers Need To Know About Charter's Time Warner Cable Acquisition]

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Business customers, just like consumers, have also struggled with their relationships with their cable providers, and partners have heard the complaints.

For example, TWC, which was acquired by Charter in April, is often guilty of overpromising and under delivering when it comes to network speeds, according to one solution provider executive, who spoke under the condition of anonymity.

"The most general comment [we hear] is that the customer pings the network and it is much slower than what they signed up for," the solution provider executive said. "Sometimes, they aren't even getting half" the speed, the exec said.

Customers also have the same complaints about Comcast and Charter, the exec added.

Services from the incumbent cable companies are often an accessible, low-cost option, especially for small to midsize business customers. But as a result, businesses relying on these services are getting what they pay for, said Michael Bremmer, CEO of, a telecom consultancy firm.

"Candidly, we tell our customers those are consumer services branded as business class [services]. If these services work anywhere near the advertised speed, count yourself lucky," he said., based in Moreno Valley, Calif., works with midsize and enterprise customers, and sells cable services only as secondary, or "emergency" links, Bremmer said.

Having multiple connections from both cable and telecommunications companies not only serves as a good backup plan, but also makes good business sense, according to Bremmer, because its boosts overall performance. Regardless of customer size, businesses should have a minimum of one cable and one telco connection to their office locations, Bremmer said.

TWC, during the Senate hearing, acknowledged its customer service difficulties, and said that in 2013, the company launched an "aggressive plan" to improve its customer service. TWC also invested heavily in its network, and made "several technology augmentations" for broadband and video, according to John Keib, TWC's executive vice president and CEO of the company's residential services unit before the acquisition.

Comcast also recognized its customer service shortcomings during the hearing.

"We understand why we are here," said Tom Karinshak, senior vice president of customer service for Comcast’s cable division. "We and the industry as a whole have not always made customer service the high priority it should have been. We regret that history and have committed to our customers that we will lead the way with initiatives to change it."

During his testimony, Karinshak also shared the "Comcast Customer Bill of Rights," a list of principles that the company will be using to guide its customer service efforts moving forward. Karinshak said Comcast will be putting an incremental $553 million this year toward improving the customer experience.

Charter, for its part, said that the provider has been investing "significantly" to improve customer service and to create better products, including its high-capacity network to boost broadband speeds.

"We have made positive changes for our customers, but we recognize that it is going to be a long process to change perceptions," said Kathleen Mayo, executive vice president of customer operations.

The jury is still out regarding whether Charter's acquisition of TWC will help give either company a boost when it comes to customer service satisfaction levels.

"It is possible for both [TWC] and Charter to do better by their customers," the subcommittee said.