Everyone loves whiz-bang technology and the possibility of a Star Trek future. But sometimes it’s the simplest tech that yields the best returns and makes the biggest near-term impact on customer satisfaction.

Take the telephone, for example. We’ve all called customer service and found ourselves cursing the Muzak Arthur theme as we try desperately to reach a human being. But with telcos and HD-crazy DBS distributors targeting cable’s best customers, frustrated subs can quickly become ex-subs. That’s why MSOs are looking to improve the customer-on-hold experience with technology that plays into today’s consumer-in-control culture. One company turning some heads (and snagging contracts with MSOs like Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Cox) is Virtual Hold Technology, whose call-center software actually gives customers the option of hanging up on the cable company—but in a good way.

Here’s how it works: A customer calls during a busy time and gets that dreaded message: “Your call is very important to us.” But with Virtual Hold’s software installed at the call-center switch, after a couple of minutes the customer gets another option: Hang up and let a CSR call you when it’s your turn. Or better yet, schedule a time for a CSR to call back. It’s a simple concept devoid of any real techno-wizardry, but MSOs are already reporting that once-cranky subscribers are cheering. “We kind of give the control back to the customers,” explains Cindy Gallanger, VP, customer service, for Comcast in Washington state. “We’ve received a great response…and you avoid starting out the call with the customer complaining about holding.” She says the system has cut down call times and improved staff efficiency.

Indeed, that’s pretty much Virtual Hold’s pitch. The company puts installation costs at about $110,000 to $500,000 per MSO division but estimates ROI within three to six months. That’s a pretty quick return for any technology deployment. Furthermore, the install is easy, with no CSR training required. “It was seamless for us,” says Gallanger. Time Warner Cable and Cox even provided testimonials for VHT’s corporate site.

Virtual Hold has yet to reach many small and midsize MSOs, which have decidedly less spending money for these sorts of upgrades. But in smaller affluent markets under (or soon to be under) siege by Verizon, Qwest or AT&T, using tech to improve customer satisfaction may at some point become a necessary cost of doing business. Customers are waiting. Maybe it’s time to call them back. Michael Grebb is executive editor of CableFAX Daily. He can be reached at mgrebb@accessintel.com.

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