When Sky Pacific was acquired by Digicel near the end of 2015, the hope in Fiji was that this would mean nothing but good news for our only pay TV provider. Incoming management promised a long-overdue shift to digital service, lots of upgrades, and a full-spectrum choice of channels worthy of the mainland market.
What we actually got, as I discovered earlier this year to set up a new account, was almost the polar opposite of what had been promised. In fact, every contact I had with Digicel quickly turned into an ordeal. After I had a few months to think about how my queries were handled, I was left with one conclusion – Any company in their position would probably have treated me as badly as they did because of the perverse incentives a monopoly operates under.
Just getting my service was difficult and expensive. My first call to the company was in March, almost nine months after the merger was announced. What I found out when I called, however, was that Digicel had imposed a moratorium on new customers. No kidding – they weren’t willing to provide a service in exchange for money, which is generally the sole purpose of a business. They told me that nobody was getting hooked up “until sometime in April,” and left me holding the phone in awkward silence. I recovered my senses eventually and decided I had no other choice but to try again later on.
I called about a month later, sometime in April. Again, I was treated to the singular experience of being told “no” by a business I was trying to give money to. Once more, I had no choice but to try when they were accepting new business, which I was told would be “soon.”
“Soon” turned out to be two weeks later when I called for a third time, by now desperate to give my money away in exchange for live rugby, and they finally agreed to hook me up. . . in maybe 30 days. Thirty business days!
Two weeks later, optimist that I am, I called back to see if there was progress in getting the technician to my house. I was informed in a vaguely impatient tone, that these things take time. In May I called again and asked for escalation to a manager, whereupon I was told that the manager was very busy, but someone should be able to call me back soon.
In a twist that will surprise no one, I still haven’t heard from the manager. Finally, on May 10th, I got a call from a company rep, who sounded more pleased with herself than I think she had a right to be, cheerfully telling me that a technician was available and if I could please rush home within the next 30 minutes? Otherwise, we might have to schedule an appointment for some other time.
Reading through the many, many (many. . . many) complaints from other customers, I at least have the comfort of knowing that my experience wasn’t unique. Fijians who were hoping the pay-TV merger would lead to an improvement in service are complaining to the authorities that Digicel is giving them the runaround too, including a few who reported that the provider is giving out the wrong channel listings and times for its own service.
The lack of competition monopolies enjoy does weird things to them. In a competitive market, I would have hung up from my first call – the one where they basically told me to go away and try again later if I wanted service – with a quick call to a competing service provider who would have been glad to have my business. In an environment with no competition, Digicel was free to treat me any way they liked. Their competition here isn’t a superior rival poaching dissatisfied customers as much as it is customers getting so annoyed that they refuse to set up TV service out of spite.
Of course, whether a customer goes with a competing business or just goes without, the company isn’t getting paid, which even a monopoly notices eventually. That’s why, even when the limits of technology and the geography of the South Pacific conspire to grant your company a natural monopoly, you still have to follow some basic customer service rules to survive:
Everything I have described regarding my experience would have been much easier to bear if Team Digicel had just tried to communicate. I can understand the initial refusal of service in the context of a new merger, but I would have felt less lost and unwelcome if the rep had been allowed to take my contact information for a quick call when they were ready for my business. Failing that, the manager should have called me back after I escalated the issue, the company should have actually scheduled an installation rather than popping the tech’s visit on me as a surprise, or they could have kept my email address someplace in their computer so I wouldn’t have to set my Google calendar app with a manual reminder to pay the bill.
Good communication, even when you’re the only game in town, helps customers understand difficulties and keeps them on your side through the rough patches.
2. Employ a Customer-Centric View
Right now, Digicel’s only attrition consists of customers who would rather stare at a blank screen than deal with them on the phone. Someday, however, Fiji might have a second pay-TV company, and it won’t be hard for them to offer vastly superior service and poach all of Digicel’s customers in short order.
Remember – even if you have no competition now, you might soon, and that should be all the reason you need to start building loyalty now, while you have a captive market.
3. Do Your Job
It’s easy for a monopoly to forget what it does for a living. Without customers – and declining revenues caused by those customers switching over their service – to nudge you back into line, your company can quickly get eccentric. What else could you call a pay TV company that publishes inaccurate listings on its own channel guides?
Instead of acquiring Sky Pacific and getting us all excited, it would have been far better for the new owners to take their time, fix the fundamental issues their predecessor had struggled with, and only then start building hype over picture quality, new channels, and other ancillary benefits that really only matter to people who can get connected in the first place.
Running a monopoly confers certain advantages. It is pretty nice, after all, to not have to deal with competitors or customers who have a realistic alternative to buying what you’re selling. But being the only option doesn’t absolve you of the basic requirement to please your customer. Even if you have a lock on the local market for whatever you’re selling, it’s still very much worth your while to act as if you don’t.