DirecTV Boosts Free Install Offer

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DirecTV Inc. launched a free professional installation offer for new subscribers last Sunday (Oct. 15). The three-month-long promotion was slated to last through the holiday sales season, and ends Jan. 14, 2001.

In the past, the direct-broadcast satellite provider has employed similar free-installation offers to great consumer acceptance. But DirecTV had never run such a promotion in the fourth quarter, when strong demand for new satellite systems usually taxes its crews.

This year, DirecTV will offer retailers the services of its Denver-based Home Services group, a 2,000-strong network of installers that DirecTV used to convert more than one million former PrimeStar Inc. subscribers to its high-power DBS system. DirecTV turned off the PrimeStar medium-power signal at the start of this month.

"We could never have contemplated [a free-installation promotion] in the fourth quarter without a Home Services Network," said senior vice president and general manager John McKee.

DirecTV also enters the fourth quarter with a larger supply of DirecTV receivers-from several different manufacturers-than has been typical at this time of year, Hughes Electronics Corp. consumer sector senior vice president Eddy Hartenstein said in a third-quarter earnings call earlier this month.

McKee is building the Home Services division into more than just an installation network. By setting certain standards for the installers that contract with DirecTV, he hopes the company can build a uniform level of customer service.

"The first impression any customer gets is from an installer in her home," McKee said.

DirecTV will provide its installers with dress codes and guidelines for use of the company logo on their trucks. Installers will wear DirecTV-branded hats and badges.

"We want our installers to go into homes with an I.D. card to show they're clearly representatives of us," McKee said. "There is research that shows people are concerned to let people into their homes that tend to have no signage on their trucks or who have a few too many body piercings. We don't want our installers to look like that."

According to McKee, a good installation job translates into higher customer satisfaction and less churn.

Part of each installer's job is to spend time with new customers, demonstrating the features of the system being installed. When that's done, McKee said, customers are likely to use those features more often.

Installers will also be encouraged to upsell new customers to an upgraded programming package or ask them to add another outlet in the home.

DirecTV plans to conduct random monthly telephone polls of newly installed customers to gauge customer satisfaction.

The fourth-quarter promotion offers a free standard installation to new subscribers who activate a DirecTV "Total Choice" programming package before Feb. 10. The installation is valued at $100, according to a DirecTV press release.

The DirecTV Home Network group prices a standard installation at $149. Multi-room systems and other non-standard hook-ups typically cost more, McKee noted.

The company's goal is to for all of its retailers, including its new Blockbuster Video sales channel, to prominently display all the possible costs of an installation.

"We don't want any surprises to our customers," McKee said.

It may cost extra to install a combination system that hooks a satellite dish up to both a television and a personal computer, for example.

Displaying the cost of standard and non-standard installations also help promote the service's value, especially in the days when free installation offers are common.

"If people aren't told up front what the regular cost is by the retailer, it could be easy for the consumer to think there's no value in it," McKee said.

DirecTV is not promising an installation appointment within a given number of days in its national promotional campaign, although individual retailers are allowed to do so, McKee said.

"I don't think it should take more than five days" for an installation appointment to be completed following the sale of a new system, McKee said. In recent months, it has taken as long as seven or nine days in markets where sales are heavy, he admitted.

McKee said it's too early to say if the DirecTV Home Services group would expand its services into in-home diagnostics and repairs. "Right now we have a full plate," he said.

Last week, CSG Systems Inc. announced it had signed an agreement to provide the DirecTV Home Services network with workforce-management software.

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