Cable Operators

When Two Hours — or Even One — Is Too Long

4/09/2012 12:01 AM Eastern
The days of waiting at home all
day for a cable technician to arrive for a repair
or installation are quickly fading away,
with several operators cutting traditional
four-hour appointment windows by half or
more.

The new windows — in some cases, as
short as an hour — are part of a larger initiative
toward offering more convenience, flexibility
and an emphasis on creating a positive
customer experience.

Whether warranted or not, customer service
has been the bane of many a cable operator
over the years. But several years ago,
operators began to take the bull by the
horns, first concentrating on service reliability
through the construction of fiber-ring
networks that can pinpoint and contain
outages across the system.

With most cable companies deploying
fiber and fiber rings that also introduced
more advanced services into the mix, operators
could now focus on convenience.

PERCEPTION GAP

Mediacom Communications senior vice
president of marketing David McNaughton
said that generally, the cable industry has
always had to deal with vast differences between
customer perception and the reality
of services and offerings, almost from its inception.

Nowhere did that
gap become more
apparent than with
regard to customer
service.

Customers who
chose to buy service
from cable’s competitors
didn’t usually
do so because
of better products,
McNaughton said, but
because of the perception
that cable didn’t
have the same quality
of service or put the
same emphasis on
customer service as
satellite or telco video
companies did.

“That is exemplified best by what had
been the four-hour
appointment window, which every sitcom
on TV would joke about as the eight-hour or
one-week window,” McNaughton said. “It almost
has gotten to be
an urban legend that
we were so bad at service.”

Mediacom, which
has recently embarked
on a rebranding
campaign (“the
power to simplify”),
attacked that perception
by offering customers
convenience
through more flexible
scheduling. Mediacom
now offers service appointments
at night
and on weekends. In
some areas within its
1.3 million-subscriber
footprint, it offers
30-minute arrival windows.

That didn’t come
easy, McNaughton
said. A big part of the
success of the program
l ies in getting line
workers to buy into the
importance of service and be willing to give
up their nights and weekends.

“We had to do a lot of work selling it inside,”
McNaughton said. “We’re all about
the customer here; we’re not going to be in
business unless we serve our customers
better. Just like a restaurant
doesn’t close
on a Saturday night at
five, they work when
the customers want to
eat dinner — typically
weekends and typically
nights, and we need
to do the same thing.“

30 MINUTES:
TOO MUCH?

Just weeks after offering
the 30-minute
windows, McNaughton
wants to lower
customers’ wait times
even more.

“Even a 30-minute
arrival window is still
too long,” he said. “Customers
want us to be
there when they want
us to be there. We’re
actual ly looking at
having more specific
times, so if the first
appointment for anything
we’re going to be there at 8:30; hopefully
we’ll be there within five minutes one
way or the other, instead of 30.”

Mediacom senior
vice president
of customer
service and financial
operations Tapan
Dandnaik said
that technology like
GPS tracking devices,
which allow an
operator to know
where all of its service
trucks are located
at any time
during the day; mobile
handheld dev
ices, which let
dispatchers know
when a tech has finished
a job and is
ready for the next
one; and online tools
that allow customers
to solve simple problems on their own have helped operators
considerably shorten appointment times.

Mediacom approaches customer service
from a long-term perspective, Dandnaik said.

“Eventually, customers, when they interact
with our organization, the message we’ve created
with our branding strategy has energized
employees to go back and focus on the customers:
How do we make it easier for customers
to do business with us?” Dandnaik said.
“That goes not just from the installation or the
service side, it starts with the phone call and
first-call resolution. How do we make sure
that when we promise a window, we meet
those expectations more than not?”

TIME WARNER GOALS

Time Warner Cable senior vice president of
marketing Jeff Hirsch agreed. TWC, which
began offering its version of white-glove
service in 2010 with the rollout of its “Signature
Home” high-end offering, now has twohour
arrival windows
in most of its service
territory. It eventually
plans to move toward
one-hour windows.

Shifts in technology
have opened up new
entry points for customer
service, Hirsch
said, when in the past
the only way a customer
could access service
was through a traditional
call center.

“Based on the explosion
of self-care
[and] technologies
like voice-recognition technology, mobile
technology and Web chat, we’ve been able
to broaden our scope in terms of providing
care channels to consumers the way they
want it,” Hirsch said.

Hirsch said more than 50% of the calls to
Time Warner Cable’s call centers are made
from mobile devices, and the company is
working on an app that will allow customers
to self-select care from their mobile phone.

On the Web, the company is working on
enabling customers searching for products
to chat with TWC service techs online concerning
any customer-care questions.

“We are not only building out a breadth of
the opportunities for the consumer to punch
up and self-select how they want to be cared
for, but we are also, on top of that, trying to
make the experience of working with Time
Warner Cable simpler and easier,” Hirsch said.

SOCIAL-MEDIA SERVICE

Comcast has been a pioneer in the social-media
aspects of customer care, putting its customer-
care representatives on Twitter in late
2007 and early 2008 to interact with customers
who were expressing service problems.

That has evolved over the years to using
such social-media sites as Facebook and
online Web chats to interact with customers
and address their problems. That continues
to expand: Comcast plans to offer text
alerts to customers for service calls and bill
reminders.

Comcast senior vice president of customer
experience Tom Karinshak said the company’s
care mantra is “choice and control” —
providing more service choices (it launched
16 new products in 2011 alone) and control
(offering two-hour and, in some cases, onehour
appointment windows throughout its
footprint). That control also means customers
will be allowed to solve their own problems
remotely.

Today, Comcast
customers can reset
passwords for their
products via their mobile
devices, and find
out about service and
device outages online.
That outage-management
function lets
customers see if there
is a device or service
outage in their area.
If not, and a device is
still not working properly,
customers can
click on a link for troubleshooting
direction.

“We want to give the customer the ability,
no matter what channel they want to interact
with us, to have the best experience out
there,” Karinshak said. “If you want to call
and talk to somebody and you have questions, we’ll be there for you; if you want to
do it online, we’ll be there for you; if you
want a technician to come to your house,
we’ll be there for you.”

Suddenlink Communications offers
another prime example of how technology
can help shorten arrival windows.
The St. Louis-based small-market MSO
has been offering two-hour appointment
windows since 2006, using GPS and
handheld devices to provide more accurate
appointment scheduling and to make
service techs more efficient.

Last year Suddenlink deployed a system
it calls “Prompt,” which provides
tools to enhance the process of routing and
scheduling service calls, and cues reminder
calls to customers the night before an appointment.
The system also sends an email
to those customers that morning, linking
them to live, online updates on the status of
their technician. Then, an hour before the
start of a two-hour appointment window,
customers are called with a much more precise
arrival time.

“In the first six months after introducing
the first iteration of this technology, we saw
notable improvements,” Suddenlink senior
vice president customer experience Gibbs
Jones said. “For instance, techs were able to
spend 14% more time with customers; the
percentage of jobs completed in the same
day jumped 9%; and the percentage of ontime
appointments increased 5%.”

Improved customer service has translated
into a better bottom line, Jones said. Suddenlink
has reported 21 consecutive quarters of
positive revenue growth and its cash flow has
risen by more than 9% annually since 2008,
performance that Jones said is a direct result
of its service initiatives.

“It’s the only logical conclusion,” Jones
said. “In today’s hyper-competitive environment,
if we continue to take better care of
customers than our competitors do, we win.”

NUMBERS SHOW GAINS

Karinshak agreed, pointing to Comcast’s
industry-leading subscriber performance.
The MSO lost 40% fewer basic-video customers
in 2011 than in the previous year. In the
fourth quarter, it lost just 17,000 basic customers,
a 87.4% improvement over the prior
year.

Karinshak said that improving the customer
experience has to be a company-wide
effort, from the marketing department to the
engineering side to the care and technology
portions of the business.

“Everybody is focused around the experience,
the products,
the product launches and
our customers getting immersed
on that,” Karinshak
said. “You are seeing
some good results coming
out of that in the churn results.
Service is absolutely a
key component of that and
the intensified focus the entire
company has around
the service proposition
that we’re putting out there
and bringing that customer
guarantee to life for all of
our customers.”

Quality Time

In the first six months after implementing
its “Prompt” customer care service
last year, Suddenlink:

Techs spent 14% more time with
customers.

The percentage of jobs completed in
the same day increased 9%.

The percentage of on-time appointments
increased 5%.

Between the fourth quarter of 2010
and 2011, the rate of service calls per
RGU improved 13% and the rate of
repeat service calls improved 8%.

SOURCE: Suddenlink

Comcastic

Comcast’s customercare
initiatives have
resulted in several
improvements, including:

Repeat visits for service appointments
have declined 20% since 2010.

On-time performance for service
appointments is 97%, a mark the
cable operator has held for the past
several years.

SOURCE: Comcast

September