Training Cuts Digital Install Times


The rollout of digital has sent even the best of field
employees back to the classroom for corporate-mandatory classes in "New Products

Operators on the digital vanguard said they are investing
in one-and-a-half to three days of extra training for all customer-care representatives,
and in up to five days for installers and technicians. More time is devoted to the latter
because they've got a more complicated teaching and selling job than with analog

Plus, operators said, the first wave of techno-savvy early
adapters represents the most challenging install that most digital systems will ever face.

"We're talking to techno-weenies a lot,"
joked Joe Rooney, director of marketing, sales and product for Cox Communications
Inc.'s Orange County, Calif., system. Installers are confronted with questions that
they never anticipated having to answer.

Cox thought that its Orange County employees were ready for
anything. They had been put through three phases of training, including classroom work, to
familiarize themselves with 204 channel selections, followed by a week of self-directed
training supported by the programming networks.

During that phase, Rooney said, programmers set up stations
in different conference rooms and, during slow times, employees would go room-to-room
learning about new networks. Each worker had "passports" to be stamped to ensure
that they reviewed all of the sessions; those who filled them qualified for a drawing for
corporate and programmer premiums.

But even with all of that preparation, Cox continues to
adapt its methods and learn on the job. For instance, viewers with sophisticated
home-theater setups need to know if their particular digital setup is most compatible with
Dolby ProLogic, Dolby AC3 or Dolby Digital. And customer-focus groups have already shown
that movies are the strong selling point, so Cox is hammering that point harder, noting
that viewers can now go from one to nine screens of premium-movie services via digital.

But Rooney said he believes that the system has passed the
early, difficult stages.

"The learning curve is pretty quick. It's just a
matter of tonnage," he said, referring to the great variety of programming.

As Cox rolls out digital in its eight other major clusters,
training has settled down to a day-and-a-half session for customer-service representatives
(on top of their basic training) and a two-day tutorial for techs on set-top operations
and two-way technology, said Mike Dyer, director of training and organizational
development for Cox.

The instruction includes lessons on "the
competition" -- educating employees on product offered by local wireless and national
direct-broadcast satellite services so that cable employees can effectively sell against
their rivals.

Despite the challenges of the early-adapter installs, Dyer
estimated that 95 percent to 97 percent of customers are installed on the first visit. But
that is because the operator is willing to send in a second tech who may be more familiar
with the problem, or to take three to four hours to finish a touchy job.

"The next customer will benefit," he said.

Cox has put mock-ups of high-tech home-theater systems in
its clusters' learning centers to allow installers to familiarize themselves with the

On-the-job experience has already changed the way that the
company attacks phone volume. Beginning with the Southern California call center,
employees are tested to determine their core competencies, so that one-half may be
designated as troubleshooters and the balance as salespeople.

Tele-Communications Inc. also used a three-phase training
approach, with both classroom work and self-paced training. Approximately 15,000 employees
have completed the education, according to George C. Simon, the MSO's vice president,
training and education. CSRs spend three days updating their skills, while installers and
technicians spend up to four days, he said.

"Installers are trained so that when they leave [the
home], it works, no matter how long it takes," he said. The product tiers have been
created so that they are not that difficult to understand.

The learning curve for employees is shorter, of course, if
the system has some experience with two-way products. Daniels Cablevision in Carlsbad,
Calif., benefited from its past offering of GTE Corp.'s mainStreet interactive

As a result, employees get up to speed from 16 hours (for
CSRs) to 32 hours (for installers), executives said. That "head start" has cut
installations down to about 90 minutes, most of which are taken up by educating
subscribers about the service.

Initially, customer-care representatives got plenty of
callbacks, because the person who is there with the installer is usually not the only --
or even the primary -- viewer in the house. At first, the system promoted customer calls,
but "we discovered that you could be there all night" with some consumers, said
Daniels general manager Joni Odum. Left more to their own devices, consumers will settle
into their own individualized ways of using the remote and other features, system
executives found.

Daniels already has 4,000 digital customers, and it is
coping with the activity load in a unique way for the system. According to Jeff Nyberg,
the system's customer-service manager, the operator has always avoided
subcontractors, so it hired 20 "temporary associates" to handle the digital

These workers are trained just like the regular staff, with
the understanding that after the workload tapers off, they will only remain with Daniels
if regular staffers leave. However, since Daniels is in the vanguard of digital rollouts,
it has had no problem recruiting for these positions, because the workers should be able
to get jobs in other Southern California systems if Daniels can't hire them, Nyberg