CLIFF DORSEY: To start, can you provide an overview of your role and responsibilities?
IMANI BREAKER: I’ve been in the industry for almost 17 years, and I’ve been with Time Warner Cable 11 and a half years. I came over in a merger between Comcast and Adelphia. I currently manage the call centers for New York City markets. We cover about 1.3 million customers and also manage relationships with our outsourcing centers.
Are those outsourcing call centers made up mostly of phone agents?
It’s phone agents who handle what we call tier one, so they handle the first level of support for all of our lines of business—video, HSD and digital phone. We also have some specialty groups that do advanced support for HSD. I have that group as well as all the support groups that go along with those folks.
What are your primary areas of focus in 2011?
The customer experience is front and center. How do we improve the customer experience and take care of our employees? It’s important to be an advocate for the individuals in the company. I started as an agent 17 years ago. Often we don’t spend enough time focusing on those individuals, but we need to because they’re the ones that are touching the customer. One of our top initiatives this year is focused on leadership. We have a set of company values—excellence, teamwork, initiative, innovation, integrity, inclusion and community—that directly relates to our company mission of giving customers control in ways that are simple and easy.
How are you developing the leadership in your centers so that employees understand how that all translates into doing better for customers?
In terms of customer experience, we’re really focused on looking at the customer from an individual perspective. In the past, we’ve always said a customer is a customer, and the first customer in is the first customer out. But that’s not necessarily the smart way to do it any longer. You have the high-end customer, but you also have those customers who really want your service but maybe they can’t afford the top-of-the-line service. How do we give them what they need without making them feel like less of a customer? And how do you get the employee to really see that customer as valuable?
How do you measure your efforts to improve the customer experience?
We have tons of different reports that we look at to measure the experience. We do customer satisfaction surveys—locally, and we have a national survey as well—where we measure ourselves against other people in the company. We also do a deeper, more extensive survey twice a year with customers. That’s a phone survey that takes about 20 minutes. We ask some very detailed questions so that we can do comparisons between what we think is important and what’s actually important to customers. It also helps us determine different customer segment needs so that we can make better decisions about how to interact with them. The data we gather is very telling. We do customer focus groups as well, going into customers’ homes and talking to them about what we can do better. Hearing directly from the customer is really helpful, especially at the C-level, in eventually making business decisions. We’re also starting to get more into speech analytics as a measurement tool.
How do you ensure consistency and share best practices across regions?
Time Warner Cable is in a restructuring mode. Cable, by definition, is very local. Even though you have national channels, you have a local presence—that’s how cable companies really came to market, by having that local experience. Now we’re looking at our national footprint. Some of our competitors—the Dish companies, for example—have that national presence. They have one billing system; they have one channel lineup. We’re looking to be more national than local. Even though we can’t do one channel lineup, maybe we can have one billing system, and one way that we look at all of our care centers. That’s not to say we won’t want big call centers, but how we do it will be a little more strategic. We’re going from being four or five different regions to two different regions—east and west—to ensure that there’s a consistent message.
Going back to what you were talking about earlier regarding varying levels of customers, do your agents employ different strategies based on who they’re interacting with?
Different customers represent a different value and different experience. Someone might say they want all the bells and whistles in their home, but they’re at a different price point, so they want to know how they can get some of those services. Then there are other customers who have more money than time. They might have an iPad, iPhone and Xbox, but they don’t want to spend the time to go through all the details; they just want someone to come in and set it up. Both customers are valuable but in different ways. Our agents are getting better at tailoring their interactions accordingly. We have some tools to help agents understand the customer’s needs and where they are in their contract.
We’re doing a better job of getting customers to the agent who can best meet their needs. It’s not just about an agent’s skills; it’s also about the relationship component. For example, say you have a customer who wants to see pictures from her grandkids. She doesn’t necessarily need our services for work, but she still wants them so she can connect with her grandkids in another city. In that case, I may send that customer to someone at the center who’s more aligned from a relationship perspective, someone who also has grandchildren. These are the kinds of things the future holds for call centers and customer care.
Are you starting to deflect calls to online chat communication?
From a call center perspective, call deflection is something that we’re definitely focused on. One of the ways we think we can win is by being able to solve more problems through chat. We’re looking at what we are currently sending to chat and what additional things we might be able to solve through that mechanism. We’re at the beginning of that conversation. We’re also looking at what can be better handled through the IVR. A lot of customers don’t want to talk to us. Me, for example: I work in a call center all day, so when I am home, I don’t want to talk to anybody. Companies have been dabbling in chat communication for a while, particularly in retail, and now it’s time for companies like ours to really take a look at how we can do a better job in that area. Overstock is an example of a company that started small with the chat channel and grew to where chat is their dominant form of communication. They do more chats than calls today.
In the customer care space, many people wonder about whether chat is ultimately something that will be beneficial to a company. There will always be a segment of customers who want to call you, but more and more, people are mobile. People want to be able to have chat conversations with the companies they do business with. I personally wish everybody I did business with—my doctor, my hairdresser—had some type of online presence so that I did not have to call them. I live in New York; I don’t have time to call people. I want ease of use. Traditional companies like Time Warner Cable are now looking at how they can win in this way. We have an online care team on Twitter that has been very successful. And we also have our company blog called Untangled that recently won Best Blog award by CableFAX so we are definitely moving in the right direction.
Aside from enabling chat, how else are you addressing customers’ increased use of mobile technology?
One of the things we talk about at Time Warner Cable is anytime, anywhere, any device for our customers. We just launched an iPad app that allows you to watch from anywhere in your home the same programs that are on your television. So if you’re in the kitchen and your kitchen doesn’t have a television, you can still catch Army Wives. Other companies have apps that allow you to take programming with you anywhere—ours just works in your home—but that’s the direction we’re headed. I think we will get there.