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More Nights, Weekends — and Training

While the rest of the cable industry struggles with shorter and shorter windows for service appointments, Charter Communications is moving in a slightly different direction. The St. Louis-based MSO is putting more of its service focus on convenience.

For Central/Pacific regional vice president Lisa Washa, that means putting more emphasis on increasing the availability of evening and weekend service calls and self-provisioning online.

Washa, who is responsible for 1.8 million Charter customers across nine states in the Midwestern and Western parts of the country, said the MSO hasn’t ignored shorter appointment windows. More than 90% of Charter’s technicians arrive within a two-hour window in most markets, she said, and the MSO conducted a small trial for windows at the top of the hour.

“What we’re looking more at is ensuring that we’ve got even a broader period of time when our customers want us, like evenings and weekend appointments,” Washa said.

Making things more convenient is a big part of Charter’s customer-service focus, Washa said. “That’s also our future thinking — how do we make this convenient for customers, remove any barrier that may prohibit them from subscribing to our services?”

Pivotal Research Group principal and media and communications analyst Jeff Wlodarczak said improving convenience must be what Charter customers are asking for, adding that improving the customer experience, coupled with expanded video offerings, should help drive new customer growth.

“It is all about leveraging their best-in-class data plant and the potential effect on TV and phone RGU’s,” Wlodarczak said.

And one path toward more convenience is taking more time to train technicians in what has become an increasingly complex business. In the past, Washa said, Charter techs were schooled on all the aspects of a customer call — how to install voice, video and data and everything in between. But learning all that within a relatively short time increased the possibility that much that information and expertise wouldn’t be retained.

Charter learned that taking a slower approach with techs — moving them along the experience ladder by ensuring that they not only learned how to do a particular aspect of their jobs, but became proficient in it — made for both a happier worker and a more satisfied customer.

In their first 90 days of employment, new techs learn the basic skills and get familiar and comfortable with meters and other tools of the trade, Washa said. As the tech shows proficiency in that stage, they receive more customized training.

“It’s more of a continual flow over a six-months-to-a-year program, versus trying to saturate that information in four weeks and expecting our technicians to be proficient and to have retained all of that information,” Washa said. “It’s similar to the way a lot of the MSOs do it today, we’ve just changed over the years and recognized we need to go back and simplify.”

Tech training is important, given that Charter hopes to be able to capitalize on its potential and begin adding more customers, Washa said.

“We’re anticipating a nice volume increase in the amount of installation activity that we will be doing,” Washa said. Charter currently has about 3,500 technicians in its 25-state footprint and more than 2,500 independent service partners.

So how many new techs will the company need?

“Safe to say, there’s going to be a lot,” Washa said.