Title: Manager of Technical Operations Development, Charter Communications
Broadband Background: Hartman’s experience in the communications industry started with performing preventive and corrective maintenance on electronic and RF equipment while serving eight years in the U.S. Navy. She started her cable career with Charter Communications in 2000 where she’s had several technical training as well as technical operations positions. Her current role is director of technical workforce management for Charter’s Western Division.
Your recent CT article, co-authored with Tom Gorman, deals with workforce management, mainly dispatching. How did you first get involved in this part of the cable industry?
In my role as manager of technical operations development, all technical operations personnel were my customers. Getting involved with workforce management came as a result of helping them raise the bar by which they measure themselves.
Lots of industries have mobile workforces. Does cable have special challenges in this area?
I don’t necessarily believe cable operators have any special challenges compared to other industries. If you compare our workforce to that of the delivery services such as UPS and FedEx, we have a lot of similarities. Our frontline workforce typically works alone within a designated geographic area, which communicates into another entity to report the status of the day’s work. Aligning technologies and communications are among the biggest challenges for both industries for rolling out workforce management. The longer-term challenge is keeping our thumb on the pulse of the operations to ensure it’s aligned optimally to provide our customers with world-class customer Service. Consider that customers are more demanding, competition is real, and the battle for the customer is in front of us every day. If a UPS package is late, the same contents are still in the package. If cable service is interrupted, a customer loses that moment of his/her life.
Inefficient workforce management obviously costs real dollars. What are some of its intangible costs?
The two biggest intangible costs are:
• Increased customer dissatisfaction, which contributes to customer churn. Customer churn has a direct impact on the marketing budget.
• Decreased employee morale/engagement, which contributes to employee turnover. A decrease in headcount affects overtime costs and increases the number of days until the company can fulfill customer requests, which is directly related to customer dissatisfaction.
As you can see it doesn’t take long for these intangible costs to started adding up.
Workforce management systems also cost money, particularly if you’re going to real-time ticketing. How do you sell that idea to the bean counters?
Finance directors love ROI! If you have a strong business plan, it makes it significantly easier to communicate with the bean counters of the world.
In the article, you say, "All work must go through dispatch and be on a work order." Is this a matter of changing certain habits or work patterns? (Such as the "assisting" problem?)
It’s critical that dispatch become "Command Central for Customer Fulfillment." It’s a cultural shift for technicians and technical supervisors, as well as dispatch.
In the past, technicians typically worked independently and rarely communicated outside the technical community. Technical supervisors focused on working with their direct reports to ensure the workload was completed. Over time, supervisors would send work out to a tech with a "verbal" work order. Then the knowledge of what that tech is doing is lost. Supervisors, in this model, may have the biggest change, in that they are now able to coach, counsel, mentor and train their workforce, rather than doling out work. Those "soft skills" actually may be foreign to a supervisor who may have been promoted from the field. Dispatch historically has always been responsible to ensure all work orders get completed; however, they may not have been included in technician/supervisor communication process that validated that the work was in fact completed.
The article also mentions routing methodologies. Can you expand on this?
Routing methodologies are the methods by which the organization gains efficiencies. There are many routing methods; there necessarily isn’t a wrong or right method, just degrees of efficiencies to be gained. For example, you could route based on zip code, zip code plus 4, or by node – neither is wrong. Determining what method is best for your operations will require three steps:
• Analyzing what type of data you have available
• Determining how the workload would be distributed based on the potential routing method
• Most critical, overlaying your workforce to determine if the workforce has the appropriate skills and/or headcount needed to support the workload
Routing methodology can make or break a workforce management program. Take the time to do a through analysis; it will pay off in the long run.
What are some of the consequences of not running your dispatch operation as a "command and control center"? Any quick stories you can relate?
We have seen that unless all operations are in agreement with the process, it will fail. We have had situations in which dispatch tried desperately to be that command center, but they weren’t supported by the tech supervisors or managers – kind of a turf war. Once they all agreed on how to support it and each other, the success stories started pouring out, with some markets doubling their productivity without sacrificing quality.