My indoctrination into the cable industry 15 years ago is a classic story. Armed with a few days of on-the-job training, by another subcontractor no less, I was sent to my first, solo, cable television installation. Do you think the customer was bothered by the fact that it took me six hours to complete the install? Can this scenario fly in today’s world? Absolutely not. As an industry, we simply cannot afford it. We’ve paid for our mistakes in time wasted replacing field employees and profits lost to customer churn. Most telling is the fact that our industry is experiencing a decline in video subscribers for the first time in our history as the core of our business continues to be wooed by satellite providers. We know that we have a better product than our competition. That’s not the issue. We’ve suffered from a lack of attention on quality service, allowing other service providers offering direct broadcast satellite (DBS) and digital subscriber line (DSL) service to prey on our weakness. Take a look at scheduling. There was a time not so long ago when the average wait for a connection was seven days and the customer was given a window that would range from four to eight hours. Operators who have seen the light have reduced the waiting period to two days and the service call window to two hours by increasing their work force capacity on evenings and weekends. Steps like these go a long way in making the customer’s cable installation experience a positive one. However, speed is not the only factor at play. Quality is critical to customer satisfaction and reducing costly truck rolls. And guess who that depends upon? The technician, aka “the cable guy.” During my first cable installation, I was ill-prepared to meet the customer’s expectations, let alone exceed them. And at the time we were delivering only one service over cable. Can you imagine the daunting task faced by an inexperienced tech in today’s world? With the deployment of enhanced services such as digital cable, high-speed Internet and telephony, a technician’s job is more complex than ever. Not to mention, the skills of today’s techs must extend beyond the technical realm to include customer service and sales. As an industry we are faced with the task of obliterating the unseemly image of the fumbling cable guy and replacing him with a courteous, knowledgeable, efficient professional capable of deploying multiple services, troubleshooting across the network and marketing the company’s products. While the goal may seem lofty to some, it is achievable and, more importantly, critical to cable’s future. There are three fundamental components to help us develop the tech of tomorrow, today: • Training and development
• Certification
• Quality assurance Training and development To maximize effectiveness, it’s best to begin a training program with a minimum of two weeks of classroom training followed by at least two weeks of field training. The technical curriculum should include every area of the technician’s job: safety, basic installation, troubleshooting, testing and product knowledge. There’s nothing worse than starting off by boring your new recruits to death with droning classroom lectures. Keep them engaged by ensuring the sessions are interactive and led by individuals who are skilled at adult learning. Emphasize the customer While it’s essential to ensure your techs know the technical side of their work, don’t make the mistake of overlooking the softer skills involved in their job responsibilities. A tech’s visit to the customer’s residence or business is often the only face-to-face experience your company has with the customer. The cliché that you do not get a second chance to make a good first impression rings true in this situation. Prepping your staff and contracted field force on the basic principles of good customer service will help ensure customer satisfaction. Basic components such as punctuality, appearance and active listening are the building blocks to a positive customer experience and their importance needs to be emphasized during training. Prepare for the unexpected You also need to go beyond the basics to focus on how to handle difficult situations such as property damages, equipment issues and scheduling conflicts. It’s too risky to leave the outcome up to chance. Instead, train your techs on how to diffuse customer situations before they escalate into something ugly. Provide scenarios and discuss different approaches and outcomes. These important lessons will stick with the techs if you teach them how to handle tough situations through role-playing. Keep in mind that it’s impossible to prepare techs for absolutely every challenging situation they may encounter in the field. We’ve all heard horror stories that seem almost unbelievable. Knowing that Murphy’s Law is always at play, consider implementing a tech hotline that your field personnel can use to get advice on a situation while they are in the midst of it. There’s nothing worse than leaving a customer’s home without resolving the issue. In addition to technical and customer service training, many companies have discovered the benefits of developing the sales skills of their field force. After all, who better to pitch an added service than the individual standing face to face with the customer? Ensure your techs have a working knowledge of your products, pricing and special offers. Review frequently asked questions and train them to discuss the advantages of the services you offer. You may be surprised how an introductory session on sales can impact your revenue. The fact that the tech has been openly invited into the home is 50 percent of the sales opportunity. Once the classroom work is completed, technicians must advance to field training with an experienced mentor or field trainer. Working alongside a pro is a very effective way to learn the job. By combining classroom and hands-on training, your techs will not have to fumble towards proficiency like I did during my baptism by fire. Benchmark knowledge So you’ve followed the training curriculum to a T. How do you know that your newest tech really is prepared to deliver the service you’ve promised to your customers? I’ve discovered that it is extremely beneficial to integrate a certification program into the early stages of a technician’s development. Whether your company develops its own or utilizes a third-party certification such as SCTE’s installation-focused Broadband Premises Specialist certification, you’ll have a standardized measurement for your employee’s technical knowledge and competence. In addition, a certification provides value to the individual employee. Earning a certification instills pride in the individual and provides him with the confidence that he is prepared for the job at hand. Finally, certification also is good for our industry. Certification provides customers with confidence in our ability to serve them and can be leveraged to elevate the image of our industry. Case in point: would you trust your taxes to someone who doesn’t have a CPA? Talk is cheap, quality assurance is king Training our technicians in the skills they need to deliver superior customer service and certifying their competence is essential to our success. However, it’s not enough. Customer service is an ongoing process that requires constant monitoring to ensure we are up to snuff. A quality control program enables a supervisor to monitor each employee’s performance and provide the individual techs with clearly defined expectations. Ensuring that quality is delivered is the direct responsibility of the field supervisor. Regular visual inspections of completed work are a sure-fire way to identify whether a technician has followed approved installation guidelines. Establish a required number of visual inspections for your supervisory staff. Be careful to specify that the inspections must include an even sampling of each technician’s work so that it is an accurate reflection of the work being done in the field. For example, if your inspection rate is 10 percent of installs and 10 techs conduct 250 installs per week, their supervisor needs to inspect at least two installs of each technician each week. Review findings with techs Knowing that a random portion of their work will be reviewed, documented, discussed and assessed, technicians are less likely to implement short-cuts that undermine quality control. If possible, use a digital camera to document the inspections. Having a visual aid to review with the technician is an effective way to communicate shortcomings. Identify root cause Reporting the quality performance findings from the inspections is critical, but it cannot be the last step in the process. The supervisor must identify the cause of the quality issue and rectify it to prevent future errors. If the inspection report indicates a tech repeatedly has loose connections at the ground block, the tech was either inadequately trained, lacked the proper tools or was careless in his work. Each cause warrants a very different approach. Once the supervisor understands the root cause of the problem, he or she is in a position to address it properly. By providing standardized performance measurements, the inspection process serves as a springboard for improving individual performance. It’s more than a punitive process for poor performers. You need to leverage your quality control program to identify training opportunities and to applaud your shining stars through incentives and bonuses. Return on investment With a well-trained, certified technical staff and stringent quality control measures in place, cable’s competition will not stand a chance. Quality of service is the number one indicator of customer satisfaction. By providing a quality install on the first visit, we’ll reduce return service truck rolls and improve customer retention. The bottom-line impact of a quality-first mentality will be evident in our improved profits. May the inept “cable guy” be eternally laid to rest. C. Scott Hisey is the chief operating officer of General Fiber Corporation. Email him at [email protected].

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