RCN Takes Sales to the Web

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RCN is looking online to gain subscribers.

The cable-system overbuilder has launched a “shop online” area on its Web site, in an effort to let prospective customers check out its pricing and packaging for telephone, Internet and video services. Web users can buy those packages, and in select markets, even set a time frame for installation.

Though many operators have launched self-provisioning on the Web, RCN is new to this functionality. At this time, the shopping function is only for non-customers.

“If it had been less or equally as complex [to execute], we would have done it with customers at the same time,” said RCN vice president Mark Chinn. Offering customers self-provisioning is “phase two” of RCN’s online initiative, he said.

RCN is working with its billing vendor, Convergys, which provided the software necessary to let prospective consumers set up an account and buy services. That took the last six months, Chinn said.

The company will learn from the non-subscriber online buying experience and apply that to the online application for subscribers that it anticipates launching in the third quarter.

RCN has stepped up its Web advertising during the last year to build its subscriber base, which currently stands at around 450,000 customers, clustered mainly in Chicago, Boston and Washington, D.C. That advertising is already having an impact, Chinn said, as a large number of in-bound callers report that they already researched RCN products on the Web.

As it launched the online sales initiative the week of April 23, the company has added banner ads on popular Web sites, guiding consumers to RCN’s page. All print and other advertising now includes the RCN page URL address, according to Chinn.

Director of Web strategy Cara Van Roten said the self-provisioning initiative is a major one for the company. RCN has been operating “lean and mean,” especially since its bankruptcy and reorganization in 2004. The challenge was accessing the manpower, across several functional areas, to devote to the project.

The goal: to generate 5% of RCN’s sales during the next three months via self-provisioning, Chinn said, noting that on average, throughout the cable industry, self-provisioned sales average 3 to 5% per month.

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