Time Warner Cable's Road Runner has come up with an
approach to customer service that it believes will significantly improve operational
efficiencies in its high-speed-data business.
The new approach is built around an online help-desk system
that is designed to greatly simplify customers' efforts to troubleshoot problems,
while streamlining the means by which they can obtain personal assistance from
technicians, if they need it.
"It's taken us almost a year of effort to develop
this system, which gives you some indication of how unique it is," said Mario Vecchi,
Road Runner's chief technical officer.
The new online-help system goes beyond the listing of
frequently asked questions that typically serves as the user's online directory.
Instead, Road Runner is breaking problems down into main
categories and subcategories, in "pull-down menus" that can be accessed via
keyword searches, said Paul Hart, director of operational-support engineering at Road
"Interactive selection from these menus guides the
customers through the process and then provides the most closely related knowledge-base
solutions," Hart said.
If this process doesn't turn up a solution, users can
create a "trouble ticket" online, providing all necessary information in a
one-time registration that users can turn to at any time.
From that point on to the moment when a solution is offered
by the technical staff, the user can track the progress of the trouble ticket, said Frank
Kist, vice president of network technologies at Road Runner.
"We know that most people who use the Internet use
online support for troubleshooting, so we anticipate that simplifying the process will
encourage more such usage," Kist said.
Further reducing the workload for technicians, when a
customer does call the national help desk over an 800 number, an intelligent
network-troubleshooting and routing service guides the caller to the right help desk,
while minimizing the amount of time that the service rep must spend asking and getting
responses to questions.
Vecchi said that with the integration of all 12 of Road
Runner's service clusters into the group's new national-backbone architecture,
the troubleshooting system will be able to register new problems and their solutions and
make them available for online assistance to customers everywhere as similar problems
arise in the future.
"The ability to propagate third-level solutions into
the second-level database is a major benefit of integration," he said.
Kist acknowledged that Road Runner does not offer
third-level (direct-staff) troubleshooting on problems having to do with systems that it
doesn't support, such as Netscape Communications Corp.'s Navigator Web browser.
But, he added, the group goes out of its way to compile online solutions from various
databases that can be accessed at the second-level tier of customer inquiries, where
answers are supplied online without personal technical assistance.
"If the customer calls for help regarding a system
that we don't support, we'll direct him to the appropriate Web site where he can
get help," Kist added.
He noted that local installers contracted by Road Runner
also become sources of assistance based on the relationships that they establish with
customers over the 30-day post-installation period, during which customers are encouraged
to call them with any problems.
If Road Runner's new system manages to significantly
cut the man-hours spent dealing with customer problems, it will go a long way toward
solving one of the major issues that continues to plague providers of high-speed-data
Tim Evard, Road Runner's president, said at a recent
Paul Kagan Seminars Inc. conference in New York that customer care has become a major cost
burden, due in part to the unusually high level of performance that operators have set for
themselves in the online business.
"We've set a much higher response standard than
the computer industry or other online-service sectors," Evard said.
Moreover, as Jorge Salinger, senior director for
digital-service networks at Adelphia Communications Corp., noted, cable operators are
inundated with calls about things that they have no responsibility for.
"We get calls from people who say that they can't
get to a particular destination and they think that it's our fault," Salinger
said, adding that people complain if phones aren't answered within 30 seconds.
Road Runner has launched its new help system in four
systems, and it is preparing to add it in several more, with rollout to all clusters
slated by the end of June, Kist said. After that, the industry will have an opportunity to
see whether a state-of-the-art approach to customer care can reduce one of the major
headaches of the high-speed-data business.
"It's a problem that will solve itself as the
technology and software improve and as customers get used to the online environment,"
Evard said. "This is a difficult and expensive aspect of doing business now, but
we're very optimistic about the way that it will go in the future."