Time Warner Cable customer service number Ohio

Time Warner-Charter merger has competitors eager to lure new customers

Charter Communications’ recent purchase of Time Warner Cable is likely to create plenty of upheaval as the companies go through the process of combining.

Given that both companies’ consumer-satisfaction records aren’t stellar, competitors are looking forward to trying to lure some of Time Warner Cable’s 2.13 million customers in Ohio to their pay-TV services.

“These are two companies that have been challenged to keep customer care at an acceptable level, ” said Jeff Kagan, a telecommunication-industry analyst. “The question is, will anything get worse or will it stay just the same. But it’s not going to be better over the next year — or two or three.”

Other than a name change, from Time Warner Cable to Charter’s Spectrum service, customers in central Ohio won’t see many changes immediately.

The company eventually will switch its billing system and make other changes, but those rollouts are expected to take more than a year. Charter also has plans to convert all Time Warner Cable markets to digital, a process that could take 18 months. After each market is converted, Charter will introduce its products there.

“It will take a while, ” said Charter spokesman Justin Venech. “For the immediate future, customers aren’t going to see any changes. What we want to do is, when we launch the Spectrum brand, we will have the background work done and any disruptions are minimized.”

But, for the past four years since Thomas M. Rutledge became CEO, “Charter has been very much focused on improving customer care, ” Venech said. In the past few years, Charter has increased its workforce by 7, 000 employees, a 40 percent rise, with the majority of those employees in customer-facing positions such as call centers, which have all been returned to U.S.-based operations.

“That’s one of the things we’re doing here, ” in Ohio, Venech said.

Customer service has been an issue for Time Warner Cable for years.

In its newest ad campaign, Time Warner Cable acknowledges its past sins in the customer-service department, telling viewers that it’s “Changing for Good.”

Both Time Warner Cable and Charter have been among the weakest companies tracked by the American Customer Satisfaction Index in customer satisfaction, said Forrest Morgeson, director of research at the index.

In the most recent customer satisfaction survey, released last week, the two companies were at or near the bottom of the rankings. Charter Communications scored 60 points out of 100 and Time Warner Cable scored 59 out of 100.

“We’ve generally seen that when two service-providing companies that are already low in customer satisfaction merge, things tend to get worse, at least for the first year or two after the merger or purchase, ” Morgeson said. “So the expectation is not good for consumers.”

Historically, lack of competition is the reason cable companies haven’t improved their customer service, he said.

That’s beginning to change, though, with the advent of internet-delivered video services, which in turn have spawned a growing number of “cord cutters” who are dumping traditional cable services.

That has led to an unraveling of big pay TV companies, which picked up speed in the first quarter, according to the most recent report from SNL Kagan, an offering of S&P Global Market Intelligence.

The combined cable, direct-broadcast satellite and telecommunications sectors lost 162, 000 video customers around the nation during the first quarter of this year, according to the report, which predicts further declines.

But cutting the cord isn’t the only option for people looking to change pay-TV providers. In central Ohio, several choices are available, including Dish Network, AT&T U-Verse/DirecTV and comparatively smaller services such as Frontier Communications and WOW! Internet, Cable & Phone.

Charter’s local competitors, while happily anticipating new customers as a result of the merger, were vague in commenting about specific plans to take advantage of the situation, preferring to emphasize their customer service.

An AT&T official, for example, noted that, “Customers are our No. 1 priority. We are in a unique position to deliver an integrated, seamless and smart entertainment experience to virtually any screen, anywhere at any time.”

Frontier Communications has not “given much attention to the Charter transaction as we are in the midst of a major network expansion and upgrade program in Ohio, ” said Andy Malinoski, a Frontier spokesman.

A Dish Network spokeswoman wouldn’t talk specifically about the merger, either, but said, “ Customer service is about trust, and we work to earn the trust of consumers every day.”

The folks at WOW were more specific, saying that they know “it’s common during mergers for markets to experience service disruption, ” said Greg Argetsinger, vice president and general manager for WOW Ohio.

“Our reaction to any merger is: We have a strong legacy of being a very independent operator, ” Argetsinger said. “We’ve competed effectively for years. We’re here. If you want us, we’d be happy to serve you.”

In fact, Ohio is “one of the growth areas for our company, ” Argetsinger said.

Over the past four or five years, Colorado-based WOW has grown to more than 100, 000 customers in the Columbus market, roughly a quarter of the Time Warner Cable customer base. The company says it knows why.

“In Columbus, we have excellent customer service, ” Argetsinger said. “That sets us apart. We pride ourselves on our customer experience and service. That’s how we compete.”

In fact, WOW has been among the top two or three in several surveys, including Consumer Reports.

“We’re doing very well, ” Argetsinger said. “And we’re expanding into Delaware. We’ve started construction there and considering other areas.”

In the face of internet-delivered services and such vigorous independent operators, the newly expanded Charter is facing a significant, perhaps even fundamental challenge, Kagan said.

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