I want you to invent the ideal cable company. That may sound oxymoronic or just moronic, but I want you to try. Here’s why:
Bob Garfield continues his jihad against his cable company (and, by extension, all of them) at Comcast Must Die. He is inviting fellow cable-sufferers to come in and tell their tales of the foe. Garfield charges his congregation:
Congratulations. You are no longer just an angry, mistreated customer. Nor, I hope, are you just part of an e-mob. But you are a revolutionary, wresting control from the oligarchs, and claiming it for the consumer. Your power is enormous. Use it wisely.
Of course, parallels have been drawn to Dell Hell, of which Garfield confesses a tad of jealousy.
If Dell (DELL) can reform — and that’s what I’ll be asking in the magazine piece I’m writing on them, which has now been delayed a week — then can Comcast (CMCSA)? Of course, it can. Any company can. Or it can die.
But it’s worth asking the definition of reform. What would a good cable company look like? How would it act? I’ve just reread the open letter to Michael Dell that I blogged in August 2005. I’m not saying they followed my advice but they did end up doing what I suggested and I think they and their customers are better off for it.
So what should Comcast do? Under my post about airlines as prison wardens, Brett Rogers suggested that we should imagine what a good company would look like in various industries (and then hold them up to that standard). He wrote: “I haven’t looked for one, but why not create a venue where people can describe their dream ____________? Could be airline, could be mortgage company, could be dentist. Let people collectively brainstorm what could be, instead of just collectively complaining about what isn’t. Business plans by customers, rather than by an executive or two. If such a venue already exists, what is it?”
I love the idea, Brett. So let’s make this that place. And let’s start with the cable company.
What should a cable company be? What would make us love our cable company? Sounds like a stretch to even imagine, but why should any company hold itself to any standard lower than that. Now that we, the customers, are empowered, companies must recognize that we are in control and that they can no longer build business models on telling us what we cannot do.
It’s not our job as customers to worry about the business models of the companies that serve us, if they want to serve us. We do need to be realistic. But we should not assume that we know the definition of business realism. In the midst of Dell Hell, commenters to this blog said I was nutty to think that Dell could or should reach out to customers who blogged about their problems. But, in fact, that was the first reform Dell made and they’ll tell you that it was a great move that helped them solve problems efficiently and learn more about their products and customers and get good PR, to boot. So don’t get crazy with your wishes, but also don’t restrain a great idea.
Here’s my shot. Please add yours. Here’s my ideal cable company:
• I want my cable company to treat me with the respect it would give a business and issue me an SLA (service-level agreement) that guarantees me uptime, speed, and response time to problems on the internet, TV, and phones — with penalties if they fail. If a gas station can’t pump gas, I don’t pay them anyway. If a cable company can’t pump bandwidth, then I want my money back — plus. And if it’s mission-critical for me, it needs to be mission-critical for them.
• I want my cable company to guarantee that they will not restrict any content on the pipe I pay for. Let network neutrality start at home.
• I want my cable company to offer wi-fi all over my town and to come to roaming agreements that let me get wi-fi anywhere I travel. I’m willing to pay more for that. But I want it.
• Let me choose what channels I get. (Yes, I know that cable companies make money off of bundling but they need to shout back up the stream and change their relationship with the channels to make this happen or we’ll all revolt against both.)
• Give me the ability to watch the programming I’ve bought whenever and wherever I want, without having to pay extra on-demand fees or program my TiVoesque thing or buy a Slingbox. If I bought it, I want to watch it on my terms, damnit. Kill the schedule. For that matter, kill the channel. Serve me anywhere, not just at home. (And, yes, I know there are copyright challenges but the industry better figure this out or their stuff will be left behind.)
• The wise cable company will seamlessly merge programming from broadcast, cable, and the internet. I shouldn’t care where it comes from if I want to watch it.
• The wise cable company would enable the people formerly known as the audience to become critics, recommending programming to each other as part of their system. If cable companies had a business model built on desire — I want to watch that — rather than on mere monopoly, it would serve them and us so much better.
• And the wise cable company would realize that peer-to-peer would save them money, used well.
• The strategic cable company will start to think two-way and realize that many of its customers are creating, not just consuming. So give us the means to host our stuff.
• I want a means to report bad employees and know that action has been taken to fix the personnel problems that give these companies such a terrible reputation with their customers.
• When they have to come out for a service call, I want a guaranteed time. If something beyond their control happens, then I want to be notified. If they don’t do this, I want to be paid for my time.
What does your ideal cable company look like?
One more thing: If Comcast is smart, it will enter into a real dialogue — not just unconvincing apologies — about what it should be on these sites and with other blogging customers. Watch Dell.