I have two internet service providers, one at my home in Florida and one at my home in the U.K. Both have dragged me through long bouts of customer service purgatory, with missed appointments, lousy modems and just a general “we don’t care about you” mentality.
So when I heard that U.S. Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai proposed eliminating net neutrality rules, my first thought was that my customer experience in Florida is about to get even worse.
Net neutrality rules ensure equal access to the internet and prohibit broadband providers from favoring some content over others. Eliminating them will allow your internet provider to block or slow down sites it doesn’t like, or charge online companies more money to guarantee faster speeds for their content. Providers just have to tell you if they are doing these things.
The FCC also wants to undo consumer protections like privacy rules and prohibitions on unfair practices that allowed consumers to make complaints. Pai believes that reduced regulation will be good for growth and investment, allowing consumers to buy the internet plan that they think is best for them.
I’m all for growth and investment that would make my internet service work better. The trouble is, I don’t trust internet service providers to do anything except make a profit.
I worked in telecoms for 18 years before I started Beyond Philosophy, and I found them to be relentlessly focused on their own bottom line, and never on providing a customer-centric experience. My more recent research has shown that little has changed.
Big providers like Comcast are pleased with the idea of fewer regulations, but I’m betting the customer experience is going to get even worse. Here’s how:
- We may have to choose between a variety of internet “packages” that offer access to different parts of the internet, similar to how cable TV operates now. I hate those cable packages. The cheap ones are always missing one channel I’d really like, and the more expensive options are padded with a bunch of rubbish I’ll never watch. I resent paying a lot more money just to get one additional type of content.
- The cost of my internet service may go up, without any improvement in service. Internet providers would be able to charge online companies extra money to be included in the internet “fast lane.” Some people predict they’ll pass these charges on to consumers. Given telecoms’ relentless fixation on profits, it’s hard to imagine why they wouldn’t.
- Finding information on the internet may get harder. Critics predict that sites relegated to the ‘slow lane’ will take longer to load. This means you might have blazing fast speeds for a big website like Amazon, but it could take forever to load the takeout menu for your neighborhood restaurant.
- I might not be able to access everything I want. If I have AT&T internet, for example, their DirectTV service may stream brilliantly, while competing services are sluggish to the point of being unwatchable.
- Customer service could get even worse, if that’s possible! With consumer protections removed, ISPs will have even less incentive to treat customers well.
The emotional effect of these changes can be summed up in a single word: irritation. I don’t care how cheap my service is or how many choices I theoretically have. If I can’t use the internet easily, I am going to be irritated. Irritation is a negative emotion. So are anger, disappointment and stress. When customers feel negative emotions, they have bad memories of a company, and this destroys long-term value – bad news for the customer, employees and ultimately the company. ISPs obviously don’t care, but these negative emotions can also spill over to small businesses whose websites are slowed.
How can ISPs better approach a repeal of net neutrality? By doing what they have refused to do up to this point: adopting a more customer centric approach. They could devote more resources to making customer service a satisfying experience. They could upgrade equipment and expand service into additional areas, helping ensure that everyone has access to a fast internet– on every site. They could even find out what their customers really want, and strive to create positive emotions through every interaction.
And maybe that is what will happen. But for now, I’m not holding my breath.
Do you think a net neutrality repeal will make your experience with your internet service provider better, or worse? Let’s talk about it in the comments section below.
Join me on 14th December for a 30 minute webinar. I’ll reveal The Most Powerful Thing I have Learnt In The Last 10 Years. Learn from my experience of working in Telecoms and Customer Experience.
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Colin Shaw is the founder and CEO of Beyond Philosophy, one of the world’s leading Customer experience consultancy & training organizations. Colin is an international author of six bestselling books and an engaging keynote speaker.
Follow Colin Shaw on Twitter @ColinShaw_CX