(Reuters) - Hulu will provide customer help 24 hours a day, seven days a week ahead of the upcoming launch of its live TV streaming service, and plans to open a service center by the fall, doubling investment in customer service over the next year so it can cope better with any glitches that arise, the company told Reuters this week.
The TV streaming service provider, which is owned by Walt Disney Co, Comcast Corp, 21st Century Fox, and Time Warner Inc, will set up a new center in New Mexico or Texas by this fall and will hire 100 representatives this year, bringing its total to 300.
The increased spending on customer service comes as Hulu is about to go head-to-head with internet channels that offer live TV from AT&T's DirecTVNow and Dish Network Corp's Sling TV.
The services have had hiccups - like shows freezing, viewers getting error messages and system crashes. Their owners also have large customer service staffs already handling calls from their traditional pay TV customers, said Brett Sappington, senior director of research at Parks Associates.
The stakes are high for Hulu, which has a customer defection rate of 50 percent, according to Parks Associates, a Dallas-based market research firm.
"Live TV is a challenge particularly for events like the Super Bowl and the Oscars which draw millions of subscribers all at the same time," Sappington said. "You are never sure what's going to break until you have a few million people watching at the same time."
Social media has amplified the need for good service because upset customers are more likely to go to Twitter with their complaints rather than call the company itself, said Bernard Gershon, president of media and technology consulting firm Gershon Media.
Hulu will have staff available by phone 24 hours a day, seven days a week starting March 12, a change from the current hours of 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. Pacific Time, the company said. It will eventually add email and chat as well as social media.
Hulu, which currently has most of its reps working remotely, will open a customer service center by the fall, and plans to have a staff of 500 by 2018. The company would not disclose how much it is investing in customer service.
Currently, Hulu is running practice drills of potential glitches, said Ben Smith, a senior vice president at Hulu. In the next few weeks, Hulu will start running these drills on an unscheduled basis, he said.
"Everyone's plan is great until the emergency actually happens, he said.
(Reporting by Jessica Toonkel; Editing by Anna Driver and Frances Kerry)