December 07, 2012

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A Window Into One-Hour Appointments

(Dallas) – It’s 8:30 am and Time Warner Cable service technician, Homer Lozano is on the road again. The 13-year-veteran tech is heading to his first appointment in North Dallas. There’s nothing routine, however, about this appointment. Homer is about to enter the uncertainty of a one-hour window. “It was a hard transition at first,” admits Homer. “It took a little while to get used to.”

Time Warner Cable’s one-hour appointment windows are relatively new to the Dallas area – just under two months to be exact. The appointment windows are part of the company’s effort to reduce the amount of time customers wait for technicians to arrive for a service call.

When subscribers called for an appointment in the past, they were typically given a four-hour window. Now, customers are likely to hear… “We can have a tech at your house between noon and 1:00,” or… “Will 3:00 to 4:00 work for you?”

But even for a veteran technician like Homer, one-hour windows are full of unforeseen challenges; something he’s about to experience during his first call of the day.

Homer arrives right on time at 9:00 am. The customer, Arnie, is literally in the process of moving into his brand new home in North Dallas. There are moving boxes everywhere, but Arnie doesn’t seem to mind, because his TWC tech has arrived at the beginning of the one-hour window. “It’s much better than waiting four hours,” says Arnie.

The Chicago transplant is having trouble with his cable card. He’s only receiving some of the channels that he signed up for. Here’s the catch. Arnie is using the cable card in his computer, which is not the norm. “Cable cards are typically inserted into TiVo boxes,” Homer explains.

Homer immediately starts troubleshooting. With one ear to the phone and one hand on his laptop, he checks the signal. The signal strength is good. Homer then begins switching out tuning adapters. He changes out three, but to no avail.

As he remains on the call with Time Warner Cable dispatch, Homer now has a second phone pressed against his other ear. Meanwhile, the clanking of dishes and the distraction of movers rummaging through boxes is almost deafening; making the task at hand even more difficult.

Suddenly, Homer has to leave the house after the wireless connection on his laptop fails. He must step outside to get a better signal. “It happens a lot,” says Homer.

He’s right. Before the appointment is over, it will happen four more times. The unexpected delays cost valuable seconds for a job that is already running long.

For nearly two hours, the tenacious tech patiently and persistently tries to find the source of the problem — and that’s when it happens. The customer provides a valuable piece of information. “I had this same problem at my last residence,” recalls Arnie.

Bingo! Armed with this information, Homer realizes that Arnie’s computer is not compatible with the TWC cable card and when he breaks the news to the customer, Arnie appears satisfied with the answer.
“I think I have an old TiVo box that I haven’t unpacked,” says Arnie. “Maybe I can use that,” he adds. Arnie then assures the tech that he’ll dig out the TiVo box later, insert the cable card and call customer care to establish the signal.

The appointment ends on a high note, but Homer is now behind the eight ball after spending two hours on one job. He’s an hour late for his next window. That’s when the seasoned tech catches a much-needed break. His 10:00 to11:00 am appointment was pulled from his schedule after the customer failed to return Homer’s phone calls.

One-hour appointment windows require some participation on the customer’s end. TWC techs call subscribers at least two times in advance before arriving. If the calls are not answered or not returned prior to arrival time, the appointment is moved into a pool of service calls to be scheduled for a later time. That’s good news for Homer, who is back on time and off to his 11:00 am to noon window.

So how do they do it? How do TWC techs make magic happen? Homer says it’s partly thanks to a year-old software program called “Work Assure.” His fellow Dallas technicians affectionately call it “Arris”; which happens to be the name of the company that designed the software.

Arris provides Time Warner Cable dispatchers with real-time updates, including the number of techs in the field, their exact location and whether a job is taking longer than expected. If a tech is running behind and is likely to miss their next window, dispatch locates an available tech to pick up the appointment. It’s similar to the buddy system.

Along with high-tech software, TWC is also simplifying its approach. Service techs are assigned specific “management areas.” In simple terms, they’re assigned a territory. There are four “management areas” that make up the city of Dallas. On this day, Homer is covering neighborhoods in North Dallas.

In years past, it was not unusual to send techs clear across town, from one job to the other. By keeping them in one area, it reduces travel time, which greatly helps the techs keep their tight schedule. Of course, there are no guarantees. Techs are occasionally shuffled in and out of their “management areas” to assist each other or to fill voids.

“We’ve also reduced their work load,” says Rip Bollman. Rip is Manager of Technical Operations in Dallas and says the work load has been reduced nearly 20%, which allows the techs more time to make their next appointment. It’s a vital piece of the puzzle since time is of the essence in the world of one-hour windows.
Perhaps it’s one reason why Homer wears his tools close to the vest; literally.

“They call me ‘Swat Tech’,” he says with a smile. Homer is referring to the nickname given to him by his fellow Dallas techs after they noticed his tool vest resembled a tactical vest. While many technicians wear tool belts, Homer straps a vest to his chest so he can quickly grab the tools he needs. When every second counts, having his tools in front of him saves valuable time.

His next call, however, requires more diplomacy and less speed. It’s a few minutes after 11:00 am and Homer has just reached the North Dallas apartment of TWC customer, Robert.

It seems Robert is trying to force a square peg into a round hole. He has one cable outlet. With the aid of a splitter that Robert installed himself, he’s able to connect three set-top boxes and the internet to the one outlet. The overload, however, is causing sporadic interruptions in the video signal.

Homer politely tells the customer he has two options. The customer must either limit the number of set-top boxes to just one, or he must convince his landlord to install another cable outlet in the apartment.
The appointment ends early and Homer can use the extra time, because he has to travel from north to East Dallas for his next window.

Homer arrives at the apartment of TWC customer, Jasmine. Jasmine is thrilled that Homer is actually a few minutes early. Her cable has been out ever since thieves damaged the outdoor “tap” that connects the coaxial cables.

Jasmine is a huge Dallas Cowboys fan and desperately wants it fixed before the Thanksgiving Day game. “The last time I set up an appointment, they told me between 9:00 and 1:00,” Jasmine explained. “I said, oh my God! That’s like four hours.” Jasmine says when she made this appointment; she was told the window would be an hour. “Much better,” she says.

Meanwhile, Homer needs to pick up the pace. Dispatch has just added four more “add-ons” to his schedule. An “add-on” is an extra appointment that techs are assigned during the course of the day. All four of Homer’s “add-ons” are actually all-day windows. The customers likely called and requested same-day service and therefore are willing to wait the entire day.

With skilled precision, Homer repairs the cable tap faster than a surgeon with a noon tee time. He then checks the signal and with a smile says farewell to Jasmine; who can now watch her beloved Cowboys thanks to “Swat Tech.”

There’s no time to breathe, however. Homer is off to a house in East Dallas, where TWC customer, David Cater, can’t figure out why there’s no signal to the TV in his spare bedroom. “I prefer one-hour windows, because I can plan my schedule better,” explains David.

Meanwhile, “Swat Tech” is about to earn his nickname. He dives into a crawl space and underneath the house, where he finds the source of the problem. The coaxial cable is disconnected.

It may seem like a simple fix, but finding the problem is half the battle and the process often eats up the bulk of the appointment. Everything must fall into place for one-hour windows to work. Intangibles ranging from complicated repairs to a flat tire on a service van can delay schedules and send the fragile windows toppling back like dominoes.

No one understands this better than Homer Lozano. He knows the clock is ticking and before he can successfully close one window, a customer somewhere else in Dallas is prying open another window into his busy day.

+- 3 Comments

  1. David Barry's reply

    This show TWC has no proper procedures for doing Tech support for their employees going out on trouble calls. For instance “Homer then begins switching out tuning adapters. He changes out three” The tuning adapter should have been tested working and have current firmware. Once one didn’t work their would be no need to try another.

    Then you tech takes an out created by the customer offering that this didn’t work at last location. “Homer realizes that Arnie’s computer is not compatible with the TWC cable card and when he breaks the news to the customer” All Cale card tuners are certified by cablelabs and will function when configured properly. Rather than say youfr last cale company didn’t bother to work on getting it working but I will research can correct this problem for you. TWC decided to give up.

    This just shows poor customer service. You can split cable 4 ways when done properly. The tech should have investigated starting at drop in APT all the way back looing for DB loss. Provided a proper splitter an changes all the COAX ends to reduce noise. I bet in an hour he could have hd all 4 devices working properly.

    None of this is the tech’s fault. It is the fault of TWC for not having support equipment given to techs so they can trust it is in working order at customer site. Why not have techa work 1 day a week in the warehouse testing devices so they know the procedures that are gone through to ensure field work is problem free. First visit correction isn’t everything id the result was your computer is incomparable. Work with customer and say I can’t correct this problem today but I can give you a cable box to use while we do additional investigation to correct this problem with a cable cards tuner that should work.

    When dealing with a signal issue spend the time to improve the signal it is not time wasted it is an investment in the infrastructure you service runs off of.

  2. Richard's reply

    Seriously, your just now deploying this type of dispatching? AT&T has had it for years since they combined SBC & AT&T.

  3. Jeff Simmermon's reply

    @Richard – Have you ever done anything new that you were proud of and had somebody come along just to say “Well, it’s about time?”

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