This is the age of the sale. It’s all about getting that new customer and/or ancillary dollar. If you don’t get it, the competition will. That’s why it’s important to do things right the first time. While J.D. Power has rated DirecTV and EchoStar’s Dish Network tops in customer satisfaction, neither satellite nor cable has this customer service thing down to any kind of science, if my own experience — and that of a friend’s — is any indication. A friend of mine called Comcast to upgrade to digital and inquire about high-speed data services. He was quickly transferred to a very polite and pleasant customer service representative. Things went downhill from there. The CSR couldn’t tell my friend what was on the digital tier. HSD is apparently not yet available in his neighborhood, so he was shut down there as well. Moreover, the CSR couldn’t tell him when it would be available, and she fumbled when asked about the cost. The customer stuck with his expanded basic package and signed up for DSL. My own experience with Comcast wasn’t much better. My husband owns a bicycle shop, and I thought it would be nice to have cable service at the shop rather than ferry from home — by bicycle — tapes of bike races and shows telecast by ESPN and Outdoor Life Network. I called Comcast and was sent to audio response unit hell, from which I am still recovering. After almost 10 minutes of pushing buttons, the ARU asked me to leave my name and number and promised someone would get back to me within 48 hours. I hung up in disgust. If my husband sold bikes that way (“Come back later. I can’t talk to you now.”) he’d be out of business in a heartbeat. Yet cable isn’t alone when it comes to misfiring on the sale. I live in an area in which cable is not available, and have a satellite dish instead. I initially signed up for EchoStar’s Dish Network. The service was OK and the reception was fine. But I did get a bit perturbed when, after seeing EchoStar ads criticizing cable operators for raising their rates, Dish Network hiked my rate by $2 a month later. I eventually became a churn statistic, disconnecting Dish Network in favor of DirecTV. But I kept getting bills from EchoStar. Every time I’d call the customer service office to inquire about the glitch I was assured the problem would be solved toot sweet. How wrong that was! Four months after defecting from EchoStar, I started receiving letters and phone calls from a collection agency demanding payment. All the while I kept getting calls from EchoStar pleading with me to reinstate my Dish service. They cared about me, they said. I was a valued customer, they said. It was touching — like poison ivy, especially when the collection agency was simultaneously threatening to ruin my credit unless I ponied up for service that I didn’t even have. I’ve enjoyed DirecTV so far, but it’s still not an ideal situation. Since I can’t get cable modem service or DSL, I figured I’d look into DirecWay, Hughes Network Systems’ satellite data service, to meet my high-speed data needs. You’d think I had asked for some kind of communicable disease when I called to inquire. The CSR clearly didn’t want to sell me the service. No, he said, there were no bundled packages for DirecTV customers. Yes, it is technologically disadvantaged compared to DSL and cable modems, he said. It’s going to cost you $700 up front plus $60 a month to get the service, he said. Is it worth it? I asked. Honestly? … No, he said. I appreciated his candor, but I doubt he got employee-of-the-month for it. If Hughes doesn’t want to sell the service, it should drop the 24/7 channel it uses to hype the service from DirecTV’s lineup and stop running ads for it in consumer and trade publications. Again, it is all about the sale. But more importantly, it’s about the execution of the sale. A bad first impression will linger longer than the smell of bad fish. It’s one of the reasons cable continues to have low customer satisfaction scores, even though many customers can’t remember the last time their service was out or their questions weren’t answered quickly, efficiently and correctly.