San Diegans bored with attractions such as Sea World and
the city's world-famous zoo now have another facility that hopes to pique their
interest: Time Warner's Southwestern Cable campus.
In order to more firmly assert its identity -- Time Warner
toils in the shadow of Cox Communications Inc.'s larger and more publicized Cox Cable
San Diego -- the system has opened its shop for tours. This makes the cable operation one
of only four local businesses -- including Qualcomm Stadium and the local newspaper --
that conduct regular plant tours.
"We hope that people who are upset about rates will
take the tour, and perhaps, they will understand all of the things that we are
doing," said Dan Ballister, public-affairs director at Time Warner Southwestern.
The idea for a regularly scheduled tour germinated in
February, after the system hosted 200 of its Road Runner high-speed-data users for a
first-anniversary celebration. Even the hardened "tech-head early adapters" were
impressed with the call center and network-operations center, Ballister said.
"We realized that we've got a real pretty place
to show off," Ballister added, noting that unlike some other major systems, all of
the functions serving the 180,000-home system are clustered at a single site.
But before the tours could commence, the system had to
select its tour guides.
Executives sought audition tapes from all workers, asking
them to conduct 10-minute sample tours of their homes. The finalists got company-approved
scripts incorporating key elements -- such as the on-time guarantee and customer-service
standards -- and they had to deliver their spiels while being heckled by executives posing
as irksome tourists.
Six employees -- four customer-service representatives, an
ad-sales support person and the plant safety manager -- earned the official teal blazers
that mark them as guides. They assume those duties (for no extra pay) on the first and
third Mondays of the month, at noon and 2 p.m.
The first public tour was July 14, and subscribers were not
the only attendees -- Time Warner attracted the city's new franchise administrator
and the county's chief administrative officer. The group, in a thank-you letter, said
the tour was "eye-opening," adding that they'd left duly impressed.
Ballister said the company has already noticed two
ancillary benefits to the tour: improved employee morale and an opportunity to sell new
products. Of the former, he noted that Cox spends more on advertising than Time Warner
does and, as a result, Cox's messages are seen more often by Time Warner's
workers. The tours are a chance for the workers to show the community that Time Warner is
just as technologically advanced as its neighbor.
As far as sales, tourists have expressed interest in
products like Road Runner and Music Choice once they've seen the live demos on-site.
The system will soon begin on-air promotion of the tours,
and it hopes to sweeten the attraction by negotiating with programming networks for
premiums to be added to the goodie bags that are given to all attendees.
The tour will be added to the system's
public-education outreach, too: The system is working on plans to offer the tour as a
class field trip, followed by pizza parties, Ballister said.