Johnston, R.I. - In a nondescript concrete building off
I-295 in a secluded industrial park just outside of Providence, R.I., Cox Communications
Inc. is molding the next generation of cable's work force at its New England Learning
If a class for installers called "FSRs in Charge:
Value-Added Service and Sales" is any indication, the Cox rank and file in Rhode
Island have taken to the training curriculum like fish to water.
In one class last week, teacher Cathy McKee had her hands
full with a group of 12 full-service-representative trainees. The students - all men
decked out in blue Cox polo shirts and jeans - gathered around in a horseshoe, sharing
their experiences in the field.
A sitcom waiting to happen, this crew - which McKee
described as exceptionally "lively" - tackled such issues as upselling Home Box
Office service to cable subscribers.
Combining purposefulness with a rollicking sense of humor,
the installers shared their ideas on how to get around parental concerns about R-rated
movies on the premium service, as well as cost issues, in a constructive manner.
"Would you consider selling your car and riding a bike?" cracked one of the
On a more serious note, one of his comrades offered up the
idea that an HBO subscription could be cheaper than going to a video store.
This course prepares the FSRs for dealing with situations
covering all of Cox's product lines, including digital television and high-speed data.
Similarly, Cox training specialist Jonathan Johnson led a
group of one-dozen new call-center trainee hires through the paces.
Johnson, a former customer-service professional in the
insurance industry, broke his class of men and women into three teams, giving each the
task of creating and presenting a mock advertising poster for a specific new Cox product,
such as high-speed-data service @@Home Network. One group actually mus-tered enough
courage to do a rap number on the joys of digital cable.
"Cox has the most comprehensive training
resources," Johnson said. "They have much more than the insurance
Cox - which has been at the forefront of training and
customer-service initiatives among major MSOs - is more focused than ever on this area as
it continues to shape its operations for the multiple-service paradigm created by digital
cable and telephony sales.
Emblazoned on a wall across from the office of Mary James,
director of Cox's New England-area training and organizational development, who runs the
Learning Center, is the declaration: "Cox Communications. Expect the best."
James, who has been with Cox since it acquired Times Mirror
Cable several years ago, is one of four regional training directors under Mike Dyer,
national director of training and organizational development, who is based at corporate
headquarters in Atlanta.
Unlike some operators, Cox has integrated its training and
educational function into the fabric of its business plan. It's not an ad hoc function the
way it is at some places.
"We're right in there from the beginning. If a system
is ready to launch digital, for example, a training plan is integrated into the project
plan," James explained. "It's just-in-time training with reinforcement
opportunities down the line."
With an emphasis on mentoring and coaching, Cox delivers
its training with built-in measures to ensure that people are getting it.
"It's not just a situation where we say, 'Here is the
info,' " James stressed. "It's a learning process where we assess along the
Beyond Cox's marketing strategy, which is geared toward
selling bundled services, one other trend drives Cox to continuously analyze and improve
its education and training systems.
"As a customer-service organization, we know that
there is an increasingly competitive labor pool," said Kimberly Edmunds, the MSO's
national director of customer care, who is also based in Atlanta.
Edmunds added that one of the results of the focus toward
training in an increasingly competitive marketplace is the company's new approach to
recruitment. "We've started to look at resumes differently," she said. "We
don't just look to see if a candidate has had cable experience or phone experience."
Cox now thinks that general competencies - like an aptitude
for technical support or sales - are what's important. "With those aptitudes, we can
train people to sell across all of our products," Edmunds said.
"What the sales training has done is gotten us to
really work toward the understanding of why we are here," Cox New England call-center
director Keith Crandall said. "The mind-set is that we realized that we need to make
money to be able to support all of these great new products."
Crandall characterized the evolution of the sales
philosophy at Cox from one of "hard sales to video consulting. That is the new
mentality - consulting over sales. It's about matching customer needs and the new
Under the leadership of executives like Dyer and James, Cox
does its best to maintain a commitment toward creating innovative training programs. Last
year's launch of Cox University is one such example.
Cox University is an online curriculum that supplements
classroom learning for customer-service representatives, as well as installers. Few MSOs
appear to have exploited cyberspace as a training aide.
"Cox University is an introductory means for training
- that is, trainees can take a few classes online before they go into a classroom,"
James said. She pointed to the possibility of migrating an introductory course on pole
climbing and ladder handling for FSRs to Cox University to provide the intellectual
foundation online before tackling it in the classroom.
"But Cox University can also be a self-paced,
stand-alone training experience. Ultimately, it's about flexibility," she added.
One area where online training makes a difference at Cox is
in high-speed-data training for @@Home.
All of this attention to training can ironically work
against the company in some ways, according to Edmunds. "At Cox, we've enjoyed being
the employer of choice in our marketplace. The bad news is that our people are now very
marketable," she said.
The specter of competitive raiding notwithstanding, Cox is
going full-tilt forward in its initiatives.
"Training is the backbone of good customer
service," said Jeanette Hatchett, a training specialist who works for James. Or, as
James put it, "The first step in building confidence with the customer is building
confidence with the employee."
Cox is not the only operator focused on preparing its work
force for the 21st century.
Bill Sievers, regional manager of call-center operations
for Charter Communications in Wisconsin, touted his company's proprietary Intranet system,
called "MOM," or "My Online Manual."
"This system allows CSRs to pinpoint problems. They
have monitors with which they can access the same error codes that appear on the
customer's screen," Sievers said. "This is a lifesaver because we handle calls
from 400 systems in Wisconsin."
At AT&T Broadband & Internet Services, vice
president of training and education George C. Simon Jr. said he has had no difficulty
motivating his work force with respect to new services.
"Compensation and career advancement are all based on
individuals' initiative and performance," Simon said. "We've taken subjectivity
and politics out of the evaluation process."
AT&T Broadband develops all of its education and
training content in-house, using its own resources.
As for Time Warner Cable, to coincide with its digital
set-top-box rollout, an internal project called "Basic Cable 1999" was executed.
It consisted of a three-and-a-half-day delivery of six modules of learning in a half-dozen
locations with the intention of training the trainers.
"The goal was to bring our customer-contact work
force's baseline knowledge up to the point where terminology and concepts that are a part
of broadband technology are added to their existing knowledge base," said Kent
Vermillion, director of the national training center at Time Warner's Englewood, Colo.,