Call Centers Are Profit Centers

Chicago -- Cable operators must carefully monitor their customer call centers
to make sure they have the technology and staff to support the rapid growth
expected over the next few years, executives said Monday morning at a National
Show panel here.

'It's viewed as an investment today, not just an expense,' Charter
Communications Inc. corporate vice president of customer care Doyle Minton said.
He noted that unlike earlier years, when much of cable's revenue was brought in
through a direct-sales force, 80 percent to 90 percent of sales today come
through the call centers.

MSOs should watch revenues per call as closely as they monitor cost per call,
Cox Communications Inc. vice president of customer service Kimberly Edmunds
said. 'We're calling these call centers profit centers,' she added.

At the same time that they're trying to ensure proper funding for call-center
upgrades, customer-care executives are also looking for new ways to drive costs
down. Some include cutting down the number of unneeded truck rolls and driving
customer queries away from phone calls and toward less expensive forms of
service, such as Web sites and automated voice-response menus.

Following their cable-system acquisitions over the past several years, some
MSOs are also trying to consolidate their overlapping call centers. Charter, for
example, has 309 call centers scattered across the country. The company plans to
create 12 operating regions, and it will build the first six new call centers
this year. The optimum size of a call center is 300 to 400 seats, Minton

'You need that size to leverage the technology,' he added.

AT&T Broadband also sees 400 seats as a good size for a call center,
Washington region senior vice president LeAnn Talbot said. In a recent
consolidation at its local call center, Talbot had to reduce the number of
customer-service representatives from 700 to about 400.

'You lose a lot of sleep with those decisions,' Talbot admitted.

When MSOs move local customer-service jobs to regional sites, they must also
assure local franchise officials that customer service won't suffer.

To help retain CSRs, many MSOs offer free cable and data services. Comcast
Cable Communications Inc. goes one step further, giving employees who make less
than $40,000 per year free PCs, senior vice president of customer service
Suzanne Keenan said.