Comcast

Comcast-TWC: Are customers condemned to terrible service?

February 13, 2014: 1:48 PM ET

When it comes to customer service, the deal will test if bad plus bad equals worse.

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FORTUNE -- If Comcast really does end up buying Time Warner Cable this year, it'll mark the combination of the country's two biggest cable providers. It will also mark the union of two of the country's least respected companies.

When it comes to customer service, the deal will test if bad plus bad equals worse.

To get a picture of just how unhappy customers are with the nation's leading cable companies, look no further than The Consumerist's Worst Company In America tournament, in which the winner is bestowed with the not-so-coveted Golden Poo. Comcast and TWC are perennial contestants, and in 2013's contest, they faced off in the Elite Eight, with Comcast inching out a victory. (It lost to Bank of America in the following round.)

Comcast (CMCSA) was voted into the tourney because of tactics like making customers pay for equipment that used to be free and charging hurricane victims for unreturned cable boxes. Time Warner (TWC) made the cut because of its odd billing practices -- such as a $5.99 fee for leasing a modem -- and its rude customer service representatives, who reportedly like to play dumb during an outage.

MORE: What the Comcast-Time Warner deal says about the future of media

Neither company claimed the Golden Poo crown last year, but consumers had spoken loud and clear: When it comes to customer service, Comcast and Time Warner Cable are two of the worst. The companies' performance in the tournament was backed up by the American Consumer Satisfaction Index, which listed TWC and Comcast in the top 10 for bad customer service.

And now, these two dismal customer service performers are planning to wed. Comcast, America's largest cable provider, announced on late Wednesday its plans to purchase Time Warner Cable, the country's second-largest cable company, for $45.2 billion in stock.

Instinct tells you that two wrongs don't make a right. But there's another way to look at the Comcast-Time Warner deal: as a point of inflection, something Harvard Business School management professor Frances Frei says is required for change. After all, Frei says, the first step toward change is creating urgency. "We have it here," she says. "This is a big deal."

Granted, change is hard. But in this case, the deal is so big and the expectation for major shifts at both companies is so great that it gives the soon-to-be-owner Comcast license to revamp its customer service entirely. "Either company could have done this on their own, but sometimes there's just no stomach for it. Coming together seems like a magnificent time to become more oriented toward the consumer," Frei says.

MORE: How to repair a ravaged reputation

That being said, behemoth corporations -- like the one Time Warner Cable and Comcast are about to create -- typically disappoint when it comes to service. Just look at the rest of The Comsumerist's 32-team field; it's made up of large companies like Chase, United, AT&T, and Wal-Mart. But big doesn't necessarily mean bad, Frei says. Just look at Zappos. "I don't think consumers have become any less evangelical because they were bought by Amazon."

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