OPINION: MILLS ON ... CABLE

As you do in our part of town, I’m sitting in a Hammersmith traffic jam looking at a poster. ’Daft not to,’ it says in dayglo green lettering on a black background. Inside the uppercase ’D’ of ’Daft’, I can just about make out a spotted cartoon cow. After some minutes (binoculars would have helped), I am finally able to make out a logo and some small print about the multi-channel benefits of subscribing to cable. Yes folks, it’s an ad for Telewest.

As you do in our part of town, I’m sitting in a Hammersmith traffic

jam looking at a poster. ’Daft not to,’ it says in dayglo green

lettering on a black background. Inside the uppercase ’D’ of ’Daft’, I

can just about make out a spotted cartoon cow. After some minutes

(binoculars would have helped), I am finally able to make out a logo and

some small print about the multi-channel benefits of subscribing to

cable. Yes folks, it’s an ad for Telewest.



My first reaction is that the poster specialist should get full marks

for buying that site. My second is that the creative agency should be

summarily dismissed for producing such tat. Even if I could tolerate

being told not to be daft (I can’t - it’s bad manners to hector your

customers), I’d guess nine out of ten passers-by wouldn’t bother or

couldn’t read the real sales message.



Now that’s off my chest, let me turn to the real point of this

column.



Received wisdom has it that cable’s time is now. There are a lot of

reasons for believing this. A once fragmented industry has rapidly

consolidated to an NTL-Telewest duopoly. At some stage, a monopoly must

be on the cards.



Indisputably, cable is the product for the digital age - at least, it

ought to be.



You can pump everything down those fibre-optic cables - from TV to

interactive shopping to telephony and, as Telewest announced last week,

high-speed internet access 100 times faster than now. Despite this

plethora of services, cable continues to look like an industry late for

the ball.



The answer, of course, is marketing - whether there’s a lack of it or

whether it’s just plain poor, as evidenced by the ’Daft’ poster

campaign.



But the kind of marketing I’m talking about isn’t just a question of a

few bad posters or the obscure NTL campaign by J. Walter Thompson.



It’s things like advertising to customer connection-related services

such as subscriptions and billings; all the stuff once dismissed as back

office but which increasingly ought to be viewed as front-of-house.



My own experience was bad enough - it took me ages to persuade my cable

company to wire me up and then, once I’d decided I hated it, even longer

to get them to disconnect me. But if you want a sample of the full

horrors of dealing with cable companies, try reading The Guardian’s

Thursday consumer complaints page. There, without fail every week, one

anguished customer after another writes in with a tale of billings or

connections woe.



So it was with some amusement last week that I read Campaign’s interview

with Barclay Knapp of NTL. Anything BSkyB can do, he said, cable ’can do

better’.



Some hope, Mr Knapp. Both BSkyB and ONdigital’s advertising is light

years ahead of cable’s and, judging by its Livingston call centre, BSkyB

seems to have no trouble grasping that treating and communicating with

customers properly is the sine qua non of running a business like this.

The irony is that all the technological advances in the world won’t help

cable until it learns the importance of something as old-fashioned as

customer service.



dominic.mills@haynet.com.



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