Cablevision: Answer the Phone


Recognizing the fact that consumers expect a higher level
of customer service for video before they will even consider a cable provider as a
potential telephone company, Cablevision Systems Corp. recently issued a challenge to its

The challenge: Cut average phone-answer time, which has
been about 100 seconds, to 10 seconds. As if that wasn't a daunting enough goal, the
letter, sent to all systems from chief operating officer Bob May, asked that the effort be
achieved by maintaining a 1 percent call-abandonment rate.

The operator offered no specific rewards, nor did it
include the goals as part of employees' performance targets.

'We just issued the challenge and let peer pressure do
its magic,' said Ed McLaughlin, senior vice president, customer relations for the

Cablevision handles more than 16 million calls per year.
May said 10 seconds is a tough goal, adding that he would have been amazed if the staff
could average 15 seconds. But in October, employees came very close to hitting the goal,
reaching 11.1 seconds and 10.6 seconds.

Cablevision's core market clusters -- in Greater New
York, Boston and the Cleveland area -- actually hit the goal during several days in
November, meaning that most inquiries were answered on the first ring.

McLaughlin said a sustainable goal long-term is 20 seconds
-- a level that he anticipates the staff will report in 1998.

He said the MSO succeeded by accurately forecasting peak
phone volume and staffing appropriately. Other departments also contributed to the effort.
For instance, marketing kept customer service informed of pending local and national
efforts that would impact volume; and technical advised when repairs might prompt calls.

It's important for the company to refine its service
image. It faces stiff competition from telcos in the three major clusters, which will
represent the majority of Cablevision's service area once it completes pending system
swaps with Tele-Communications Inc. and other MSOs. Going forward, average answer times
should benefit from rebuilds to 750 megahertz that will improve reliability.

May rewarded staffers in three call centers by presenting
$50 gifts to more than 1,000 workers on all shifts.