Efficiency has hit cable’s customer service representatives (CSRs) with a vengeance. First, technologies such as interactive voice response (IRV) allow an operator to reduce headcount. These include the familiar “press one” menus, and increasingly prevalent, advanced speech recognition (ASR), which offer what Curt Champion, Convergys’ senior director of product and industry marketing for cable, calls “more complicated routing” and “greater flexibility.” (See related story, below.) Other tools have surfaced that increase the odds of keeping live interactions with subscribers short, sweet and successful. It also helps to hire reps with good peripheral vision and a facility with computers. At the National Show, for instance, the advanced provisioning and workflow capabilities that Convergys had added to its ICOMS platform were on display, with multiple screens and communications options one might previously have associated more with investment banks than cable operators. Calling New York City While such tools call for a more technically adept workforce, one of their functions is to conserve the resources of the higher-end CSRs. Time Warner’s New York City system is a case in point. With 350,000 cable modem subscribers and a diagnostic system that was “a little bit clunky,” Time Warner was looking for a Web-based tool to improve operations at its four separate call centers, Technology Director Sam Gupta says. “The challenge was not so much for tier three, but rather tier one and two,” Gupta says. Apart from putting practical information at the CSR’s fingertips, the solution also needed to work within the parameters of New York’s UNIX platform and its MAC-address oriented billing system, Gupta says. As it happened, a software package from Solar Winds fit this bill. Using a combination of native SNMP on the CMTS, DOCSIS protocols, and some proprietary MIBS and analysis, Solar Winds’ Real-Time Subscriber Status queries the modem and builds an HTML page displaying the status of both modem and relevant upstream and downstream network characteristics. “It takes that data, correlates it, analyzes it and besides explaining the data, tells the representatives what they need to do,” Josh Stevens, director of broadband products at Solar Winds, says. “Should they have the user check the cable? Should they have them reboot the modem? Should they simply renew their IP address?” The package is up-and-running in the system’s 400-seat call center in New York and is scheduled to roll out to its satellite centers in Texas, Wyoming and Canada. “It’s worked extremely well,” Gupta says. The technology, particularly the intuitive Web front end, squares with the system’s need to handle the lower-tier calls. “It’s not a whole lot of rocket science,” Gupta says. “If I had the time, I could probably have done it,” Gupta adds. But running a huge data network is a busy job, leaving little time for creative code-slinging. “Somebody had to do it, and they did it,” he says. Other Solar Wind products are geared more for cable’s engineers and technicians. Its Broadband Performance Monitor is being used throughout Charter and has a strong following at Time Warner and other MSOs, Stevens says. —Jonathan Tombes Field technicians in a system using Datria Systems’ Ticket Management 2.0 shouldn’t bother complaining about how difficult the last installation was or how bad traffic was. They will get no sympathy, because they are talking to a machine. Voice recognition and synthesis is maturing to the point that true computer-driven dispatch and control is viable. At least two companies—Datria and MDSI—are offering these services to the industry. The savings come from two areas. First, the ability to automate fully the interaction between the field techs and the backend systems means fewer customer service representatives (CSRs) are needed. Fluid scheduling The other source of savings is the ability to create more dynamic scheduling. Field forces typically get a list of jobs to perform when they begin their shift. Rarely are they heard from until they return to the shop, Travis White, Datria’s vice president of market and product management, says. Voice-based technology will make it feasible to change schedules on the fly. “It’s cumbersome and very, very expensive” to implement fluid scheduling with CSRs, White says. White offers some numbers to back the case. He says that before using its technology, an
unnamed utility with a 350-truck field force hit a four-hour appointment window 75 percent of the time. That percent grew to 95 percent while the window shrank to two hours when the software was installed. Another client saw the technician-to-supervisor ratio improve from eight to one to 11 to one, and overtime reduced 22 percent, he said. Datria’s Ticket Management 2.0—the first “shrink-wrapped” version of its voice software—was slated to have its first public demonstration at CableLabs’ summer conference last month in Keystone, CO. It might be a tough sell, however. MDSI, which is based in Richmond, BC, Canada, offers a voice XML option in its Advantex product. The cost of voice is roughly equal to a handheld apps, which carry more data, says Scott Monroe, MDSI product marketing vice president. Thus far, he says, no company has elected to voice-enable its workforce. —Carl Weinschenk

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