You know you’ve been around an industry a while when you see trends cycling again and again. Take training, for example. In the early 80s training was very much in vogue as networks, led by HBO, dangled carrots in front of CSRs across the country, motivating them to sell the "features and benefits" of pay television. Then, for reasons that ranged from belt-tightening to ennui (with a slight bow to the monopoly-mindset that infected many MSOs during the first Bush years), training became pass� and was eventually afforded all the consideration of the uncoordinated kid in glasses waiting to be picked for a sandlot baseball game. Debbie Egner should know. At times she’s felt like that kid in this business. As point person for all point-of-sale business at Starz, and as a person who cut her teeth on the front lines with HBO’s army of trainers twenty years ago, she’s witnessed the ebb and flow of cable sales training. But this is a different day and age, and Egner – to her delight – suddenly feels like the belle of the ball. MSOs have realized that if this war is going to be won it’s going to be won on the front lines. (If you don’t think so, walk around some of the MSO call centers being built, and compare that investment to the resources that were being allocated even five years ago.) Why the change? "First, MSOs understand that they have to focus on service so DirecTV and Echo Star don’t consistently beat them out in the J.D. Power surveys and use that against them in their marketing." Second, there is the revenue consideration. "A lot of MSOs realized there were just too many sales opportunities being left on the table." And finally, obviously, is the complexity of products. With digital video, voice and data products, Egner says it’s no longer possible to simply pull the CSRs off the phones for an hour, teach them something and send them back to work with a couple of sheets of paper. Today training is about total immersion and availing yourself of online reference tools. To that end, Starz has worked with MSOs to modify software applications and create training modules for use in low call-volume periods. In fact, the one she showed me that she helped develop for Comcast is, in the words of my 12-year- old skateboarding nephew, "Way cool." What excites Egner most is the validation you see all across the industry for training, often couched in the guise of service. She points to such things as the CTAM Customer Care Committee and the spate of new executive titles like Chief of Customer Care and President of Sales and Service – people she calls "champions at the top." As she said, the organizational restructuring taking place all across the industry has streamlined the training process. Gone are the days when Operations was in charge of the call center, HR was in charge of training, Marketing was in charge of sales and Call Center Managers were in charge of hiring, firing and motivating. "As a transactional business, Starz lives and dies on the front lines," Egner says. "And our affiliates understand that if they’re going to continue to generate new revenue, these call centers are a huge opportunity."

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