The Hindustan Times-MaRS consumer satisfaction survey on 'India's favourite DTH Operators' reveals that the Indian consumer knows her mind, and direct-to-home satellite television providers will have to work extra hard to ensure that customers don't switch loyalty to smarter rivals.
While Tata Sky has topped the survey overall (scoring 839 points), followed by Bharti Airtel (833 points) and Big TV (816 points), regional variations have thrown some surprising results.
Tata Sky leads in Bangalore, Kolkata, Chennai, Lucknow and Mumbai. But it trails Bharti Airtel in Delhi, is behind Airtel and Sun Direct in Hyderabad, and is not even in the top four in Ahmedabad.
"Contrary to our expectations, the study exhibited significant variations in satisfaction levels across towns," said Raghu Roy, managing director, MaRS, HT's knowledge partner for this initiative.
A parameter-wise break-up shows Tata Sky and Airtel sharing the honours. Tata Sky leads in 'buying experience', 'audio and video quality', 'channel choices and features', and 'interaction with service persons'.
On the other hand, Airtel has the highest levels of customer satisfaction in 'availability of other payment options', 'innovative services' and — crucially — 'uninterrupted services' and 'complaint redressal'.
Clearly, however, Tata Sky is listening to what its customers want — which has propelled it to the number one spot in the survey.
As Vikram Kaushik, managing director and CEO of Tata Sky, put it, the firm "had institutionalised the whole business of customer satisfaction" since its services were launched in August 2006.
Explaining why Tata Sky ranks behind Airtel in complaint redressal, Kaushik said Tata Sky's large customer base (5.5 million), means the volume of calls is huge. "When a subscriber makes a call to a call centre, there may be traffic at peak hours."
But the company is in the process of expanding its helplines.
Investing in innovative technologies and being sensitive to customer needs are crucial for DTH operators to stay ahead in the race for subscriber loyalty.
Reliance Communications' Big TV, which has nearly 3 million subscribers, uses the parent company's call centres for customer complaints and interactions (offering services in 13 languages), and provides regular training to people who install the DTH equipment in customers' homes.
Bharti Airtel, though a relatively late entrant in the DTH space it launched it services in 2008), has invested heavily in technologies such as DVBS2 (digital video broadcasting-satellite (second generation) and the latest compression technology, MPEG4. "We are investing (in technology) so that we can provide the best experience to our customers," said Ajai Puri, CEO, DTH, Bharti Airtel.
One of the problems with DTH services is that rain or bad weather can disrupt the picture quality, at times making the picture disappear completely. Airtel says it ranks best in providing 'uninterrupted services' because it uses state-of-the-art technologies like DVBS2.
Kaushik, however, disagrees, saying that the lack of disruption in services did not depend on such technologies.
Tata Sky also claims it's the only DTH player that changes set-top boxes in case customers have problems with them.
Companies are conscious of the importance of services remaining uninterrupted. "We have an uplinking facility in Bangalore, and another in Mumbai," said Sanjay Behl, CEO of Big TV. "If there are disturbances in one location, the other is protected."
Overall, customers enjoy the DTH advantage, which has radically altered the television-viewing experience in the country by giving subscribers who were at the mercy of cable operators greater control over what they watch.
"An overall satisfaction score of 806 out of a possible 1,000 is quite good," Roy said. "So while people may not be ecstatic, generally they do not appear to be unhappy about the service providers."
But, as the survey has shown, today's customers are savvy and expect nothing but world-class services from their DTH operators.