Ops are Calling Call Centers Profit Centers

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Chicago— Cable operators must carefully monitor their customer call centers to make sure they have the technology and the staff needed to support the rapid growth expected over the next few years, executives said last Monday at a National Show panel here.

"It's viewed as an investment today, not just an expense," Charter Communications Inc. corporate vice president of customer care Doyle Minton said. Unlike earlier years, when much of cable's revenue was brought in by a direct sales force, 80 to 90 percent of today's sales come through the call centers, he noted.

MSOs should watch revenues per call as closely as they monitors cost per call, said Cox Communications Inc. vice president of customer service Kimberly Edmunds. "We're calling these call centers profit centers," she added.

At the same time they're trying to ensure proper funding for call center upgrades, customer care executives are also looking for new ways to drive down costs. Some include cutting back on the number of unneeded truck rolls and driving customer queries away from CSRs and toward less-expensive forms of service, such as Web sites and automated voice-response menus.

Some MSOs that have acquired systems over the past several years are also trying to consolidate their overlapping call centers.

Charter, for example, has 309 call centers scattered across the country. The company plans to create 12 operating regions and will build the first six new call centers this year. The optimum size of a call center is 300 to 400 seats, Minton said.

"You need that size to leverage the technology," Minton added.

AT&T Broadband also believes 400 seats is about right for a call center, Washington region senior vice president LeAnn Talbot said. In a recent consolidation of its local call center, Talbot had to reduce the number of customer-service representatives from 700 to about 400.

"You lose a lot of sleep with those decisions," Talbot admitted.

When MSOs move local CSR jobs to more regional sites, they must also assure local franchise officials that service won't suffer.

To help retain CSRs, many MSOs offer free cable and data services. Comcast Corp.'s cable unit goes one step further, giving employees who make less than $40,000 a year a free PC, senior vice president of customer service Suzanne Keenan said.

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