Rutledge: Less Interaction Means Greater Satisfaction

Charter Communications CEO Tom Rutledge said cable could go a long way toward solving its customer service problem by simply reducing the number of actual face-to-face interactions with customers and helping them solve their problems remotely.

“The inherent problem in all of cable, and always has been, is you have to schedule a job with a person who doesn’t really want you to come to their house and you have to do work of an indeterminate length of time and get to the next job on time,” Rutledge said at the Guggenheim TMT Symposium in New York. “That’s inherently difficult. And all of the business that do that -- plumbers, contractors – everybody can’t stand them, because it’s a difficult transaction to manage. The more you can take that out of the business, the higher the satisfaction goes, just inherently.”

Charter, he said is moving toward that future by putting more functionality in the cloud – its user interface for example, is backward compatible and works with a number of different set-top boxes.

“We want to put advanced user interfaces in all of our customers’ homes and not just in their homes but every outlet they have a TV connected to and every device that they have that they could watch video on," Rutledge said. "We can be state-of-the-art without a physical transaction.”

The Charter chief also had some thoughts on stricter federal regulation in the wake of its $78.7 billion agreement to purchase Time Warner Cable. That deal, expected to close by the end of the year, has yet to begin the regulatory approval process.

Rutledge said he agrees with the basic tenet of net neutrality. But he said that many of the concerns that former FCC chairman Julius Genacowski managed to alleviate through Title I, current FCC chairman Tom Wheeler is seeking to remedy through Title II.

“We agreed with Julius as an industry and as a company with the Title I net neutrality requirements that he wanted us to embrace,” Rutledge said. “Those are the same ones that Tom Wheeler is trying to get using Title II. We embraced the idea of openness to the Internet and everyone having an opportunity, without throttling, without prioritization to use the two-way interactive capability that broadband provides, We were not happy with Title II because of the inability to determine exactly how it will all unfold.”

Rutldge added that Wheeler and Genachowski’s objectives are basically the same, just that Wheeler is going to manage them differently because the process is now largely complaint-driven.

But he added there is a movement afoot that could bring more clarity to the situation.

“Legislation could be passed that would limit net neutrality to a particular set of facts and the risks of other kinds of regulatory creep through Title II; I would prefer that,” Rutledge said.

But Rutledge stopped short of predictions.

“I don’t know if it’s not possible or possible,” Rutledge said. “It’s still being worked on.”