Road Runner has secured the services of an outside
contractor to provide assistance to high-speed-data customers calling in with technical
Road Runner began using Columbus, Ohio-based Stream Inc. in
December to handle so-called tier-2 calls, where customers' technical questions are
beyond the scope of the local cable customer-service representatives' know-how, said
Steve Van Beaver, Road Runner's senior vice president for operations.
The move comes as rapid growth in the cable-data-customer
base and growing complexities of computer and online technology make it difficult for
service providers to keep up with customer-support responsibilities in-house.
For example, recent problems in this area have prompted
adjustments in technical-support management between AT&T Broadband & Internet
Services (formerly Tele-Communications Inc.) and its service provider, At Home Corp.,
although the latter's @Home Network remains committed to dealing with the new
At Road Runner, it was becoming increasingly obvious that a
firm like Stream was better equipped to exploit new methods and technologies in this area
and to handle increases in call volume resulting from rapid subscriber growth, Van Beaver
Stream specializes in providing technical customer-service
support for various entities on an outsourced basis. Road Runner is a joint venture of
Time Warner Cable and MediaOne Group Inc.
"They have 155 staff people devoted to serving Road
Runner customers," Beaver said. "It's a very sophisticated operation
that's set up to do just this sort of thing."
Stream also has tools such as an automated e-mail-response
system that taps the Road Runner troubleshooting-information base to deliver suggested
solutions matched to specific problems, Van Beaver said.
"This and other online-support mechanisms really help
in alleviating call volume and getting quick solutions to our customers," he added.
Stream's service takes advantage of the online
help-desk system that Road Runner put in place nearly one year ago, which goes beyond the
listing of frequently asked questions that typically serves as the user's online
directory in finding a trouble category.
The system breaks problems down into main categories and
subcategories, in "pull-down menus" that can be accessed via key-word searches.
The system also keeps track of the types of calls and
solutions being offered, serving both as an early warning system to wide-scale problems
and as a means of continuously updating information on the best approaches to solving
With the integration of all 12 of Road Runner's
regional service clusters into the group's new national backbone architecture, the
troubleshooting system will register new problems and their solutions, which online
customers everywhere can tap into as similar problems arise, officials said.
Road Runner's counterpart, @Home, is also making
changes in its customer-support system, including taking over the tier-2 task for TCI.NET
(a division of AT&T Broadband), which had been handling queries on its own. Customers
were complaining about long hold times and lack of responsiveness to their problems.
Officials attributed that problem in part to the fact that
TCI.NET personnel often had to get the attention of @Home's tech-support staff on
particular problems before answers could be passed on to customers.
*Home chief technical officer Milo Medin acknowledged that
the @Home system had not worked as well as it should in dealing with recent problems, such
as those that have plagued users in the Connecticut region.
"In general, one of the things that I'm not happy
about is how our customer-support organization reacted to the Connecticut problem,"
Medin said. "It didn't supply the right amount of information to help people
figure out what was going wrong."
The company is beefing up support staff and focusing on
better training. In addition, @Home officials are working one-on-one with members of a
Connecticut users' group to help them optimize their setups for use with the network,
AT&T Broadband has taken steps to address customer
complaints on another front, as well. At the end of February, the company sent out a
letter to its high-speed-data customers, saying that it had deleted language from its
subscriber agreement "which referred by implication to the possible release of
individual customer information to market-research firms, merchants or advertisers."
AT&T Broadband assured customers that it had no
intention of selling mailing lists of @Home customers or releasing individual customer
information to third parties.