TV Guide Inc. is hoping that its strong brand name will
help to draw additional cable clients to its new call-center outsourcing business, TV
Guide Enterprise Solutions.
Formerly known as United Video Satellite Group Inc. until
its $2.5 billion purchase of TV Guide was completed last month, the company is no stranger
to call-center operations. UVSG had hired and trained sales staff for its C-band
satellite-programming business for years.
With C-band's customer base on the decline, the
company decided to put its resources to work in other areas.
In addition to seeking cable operators as clients, TV Guide
Enterprise provides sales support for other TV Guide companies, including the new
horse-racing venture that it plans to launch this year. (TV Guide is jointly controlled by
News Corp. and Liberty Media Group.)
Ray Duffy, senior vice president and general manager of TV
Guide Enterprise, said cable operators would do well to outsource some of their
call-center efforts. The new TV Guide division is designed to help operators with inbound
and outbound sales calls, so that they can concentrate on customer-service calls.
"We believe that customer service ought to be done at
the local level," Duffy said, because it's easier to troubleshoot when a
customer-service representative is familiar with the technical environment, the billing
system and even the local weather conditions that could lead to service problems.
"But sales calls can be taken anywhere," he
added. Sales representatives at TV Guide Enterprises -- which already provides call-center
sales help for TCI Cablevision of Dallas and a few other divisions of AT&T Broadband
& Internet Services -- answer the phones with the name of the MSO, and they can call
up detailed product and pricing information on their computer screens.
Duffy said many operators don't have the time or
resources to hire and train effective telephone-sales staff. He added that enlisting an
outside firm can help an operator to improve sales, strengthen retention efforts and limit
capital outlays for call-center technology.
The different divisions that TV Guide has at its Tulsa,
Okla., offices allow the company to attract call-center employees who are interested in a
long-term career path, Duffy said.
"In a call-center environment, you're always in a
constant hiring and training mode," he added. "Having new projects come up is a
benefit, so positions don't get too monotonous."
Cable operators may have trouble finding a steady supply of
qualified call-center workers, especially when unemployment rates are low.
Duffy said a strong brand like TV Guide helps to attract
employees, and not just subscribers. A not-so-stellar customer-service reputation can work
against some cable operators.
"If you have had problems with a cable company [as a
subscriber]," Duffy said, "you may know that going to work for that cable
company might not be easy."
One-half of TV Guide Enterprise's call-center staff is
college-educated, Duffy said.
Finding technically adept sales staff becomes more
important as cable operators launch more sophisticated products and services. Duffy said
the company's experience with TV Guide's electronic programming guide
"gives us a leg up in understanding digital cable."
The company also hires bilingual CSRs -- a benefit for
operators that field some calls from Spanish-speaking subscribers, but perhaps not enough
to merit their own dedicated bilingual sales staff.