Training technicians and field-service representatives in
the fine arts of sales and marketing is gaining momentum as installers move deeper into
subscribers' homes and spend more face time with customers.
Technician training now goes beyond the traditional
installation-only cycle, which historically required field-service representatives and
installers to be responsible solely for hookups and disconnects.
Sales and marketing skills are now being added to many
technical courses, along with "soft skills" such as communications, leadership
and problem solving.
Fierce competition for new Internet and high-speed-data
customers -- along with a tightening market for premium services and the availability of
fewer first-time cable subscribers -- is driving the need for additional skills that have
been foreign to many cable technicians.
Not only must today's technicians be well schooled in new
and advancing technologies such as cable modems, Internet-protocol telephony, digital
video and other complex and often confusing services -- they must also show some sales and
"We knew we were going from a video to a
telecommunications company, and the installer's job was much more complex," said Mike
Dyer, national director of training and organizational development for Cox Communications
Inc. "So we redid all of our technical training to include sales elements and
Cox, along with a growing number of MSOs, now requires
field-service representatives to have sales experience, whether gained through its
technical-training course or from a previous job.
"We've designed an 'in-charge-of-sales' program
for technicians. It's an in-home, soft-sell approach using probing skills for customer
needs, because in this competitive marketplace, customer dollars are difficult to
get," Dyer said.
Finding and retaining quality field-service reps and
technicians is equally as difficult, Dyer added, putting a premium on recruits with
communications and interpersonal skills. "We are recruiting new people with
customer-service and sales skills. We would rather technically train recruits who have
good people skills than train technically skilled people with very few people
Incentives for employees to participate in company training
courses are becoming staple elements in the push toward a more knowledgeable work force.
Cox, for instance, uses an online "prize vault" to encourage employees to
complete and master its technical and customer-service training courses.
"The better employees do, the bigger the prize,"
said Anna Young, director of Cox University, the company's online training program.
"There are expensive jackets, denim shirts and more. It's like a Gap ad."
The changing mind-set is redefining the cable industry's
traditional technical-training courses not only at a growing number of MSOs and
manufacturers of cable-related products, but also within the walls of the Society of Cable
Telecommunications Engineers, which, for 30 years, has been the authority on technical
The SCTE is adding a sales and marketing component to its
"Category 5" training course -- a sure sign that these skills are becoming vital
to technicians and field-service representatives who now encounter customers in their
homes more often than anyone else at their cable systems.
"We don't see us making this the end-all sales
program, but our customers constantly tell us that the technician in the home has a great
opportunity to add value to the service," SCTE director of training development Alan
The SCTE's sales and marketing component includes four key
elements, Babcock said: Professionalism, partnering with the sales department to recognize
additional sales opportunities, product knowledge and customer relations now are part of
the SCTE's service-technician-certification program.
"Technicians need more than just technical
savvy," Babcock said. "They need training in customer service, sales and
marketing. The paradigm has shifted."
Some technicians from the old school of installation and
field-service work are not as enamored with the shift, however.
Babcock admitted: "When you talk about value-added
service and selling, you get a fair amount of resistance. In years past, a career path led
to a job as fiber or headend technician, where they didn't see anyone, and they were
rewarded for a highly technical job. That's changing."
The financial and personal rewards for sales-savvy
technicians with strong interpersonal skills are becoming more attractive, retooling the
way companies recruit and train future technicians.
"You can train effectively, but you may not be able to
change the behavior in the field. That's why we look at different competencies in
hiring," Dyer said.
But everyone doesn't share those competencies, Dyer
conceded. "We recognize that we have field reps who don't feel comfortable with
strong sales, so we redefined their jobs not to include customer-service and sales
competencies. We've never forced anyone out who didn't feel comfortable with the sales
That's a good idea, Babcock said. "This is a new foray
into a new area, but technology is our primary function. Career paths are changing, and
installers have a lot of new responsibilities in the customers' homes. But we really need
both types of technicians to keep the networks up."
Yet some industry experts suggested there might not be room
for both. "New technicians and employees in general will need a wide range of
knowledge -- not just a knowledge of the pie, but of the whole kitchen," said Kate
Hampford, vice president of cable-industry employee-search firm Carlsen Resources Inc.
Competition is likely to raise the training and knowledge
bar, as well. Noted Hampford: "Operators are pressed at every corner in marketing and
sales just to get into a customer's door. That will drive the need for employees with core
competencies such as communications, and training must become a real corporate function.
The ante is going up."
The dizzying pace of new technologies and services is
increasing the incentive for manufacturers to rethink their training methodologies, as
well, with many incorporating strategic sales and marketing components into their
"Everything in digital is moving so quickly and our
products are getting so complex that we have engineers spending a lot of time with
customers on the technician side," said Jennifer Cistola, director of product
marketing for subscriber networks at Scientific-Atlanta Inc. "Our product-marketing
group has literally moved into the engineering area." Customers are getting
technically savvy, too, forcing technicians to juggle several skill sets during a single
house call, such as educating customers in the nuances of advanced technologies and
"Customers are becoming much more knowledgeable about
technology, and that's a critical skill challenge. It requires much more competency around
both technology and sales," said Janice Thompson, team leader for learning and
organizational effectiveness at Jones Intercable Inc. (which is now part of Comcast
The National Cable Television Institute is getting the
sales and marketing message, too. It will unveil its seven-lesson course, "Customer
Service for Technicians," this summer.
"There is a definite void out there to impart sales
and marketing aspects of the business to technical people, said Wayne Lasley, director of
curriculum products for the NCTI. "They simply need training to increase their people
Some advanced technologies could actually make life easier
for technicians, at least on the technical side. Said Dyer: "Some new products and
technologies, like built-in modems and customer self-installs, could make it easier on
technicians. But we also have to provide computer and data-install training. The tech jobs
are really demanding."
And with that demand comes a greater emphasis on training
technicians in nontraditional skill sets.
Concluded Hampford: "Training must become a
cornerstone philosophy and ingrained in the way companies do business. Training
technicians in new technical skills, communications skills and now IT
[information-technology] skills is needed, or you won't be successful."