Operations Go High Tech
Comcast leverages GPS from SageQuest, mapping and routing from CSG to facilitate better installs
While the cable industry has worked overtime to overcome the perception of poor customer service when it comes installs the stereotype still persists.
With an increasingly competitive landscape, cable operators know they have to do a better job of keeping their subscribers happy while also improving their fulfillment operations to cut down on truck rolls.
All of those TV Everywhere offerings and cloud-based services and features are great for keeping and winning customers, but they lose their luster if the subscribers are frustrated with the installations.
“I think there is a complete misconception or a legacy that the cable industry has,” said BJ Daisey who was recently promoted to area vice president for Comcast California's Sacramento Valley Area after previously serving as director of tech ops for Comcast’s West Division in Denver.
“I always reference the ‘Seinfeld’ sitcom where they show the clip of the cable guy and you’re waiting around for four, six or eight hours and the frustration mounts. I feel like that’s a legacy problem that is hard to shake, but as a company we have done a tremendous amount to improve our reputation there and more importantly improve the customer experience.”
Previously, when it came to assigning technicians for install jobs, Daisey said Comcast had tons of data from various sources, but the data didn’t always lead to correct assumptions in regards to how long its employees were in customers’ homes, or how accurate Comcast was with its estimated time of arrival (ETA.) In some cases, the closet technician wasn’t always the best technician because a truck could be rolled to a customer’s home without the necessary equipment onboard for a particular service.
“We had all of these little processes out there that we knew were pain points for the industry,” Daisey said. “We knew there had to be a better way than the hundreds of manual reports that were coming out. We were making a lot of assumptions based on what the data was telling us, but it wasn’t direct data points that you could leverage like when you have GPS technology.”
Comcast started conducting GPS trials with various vendors several years ago before it picked SageQuest. Comcast had an existing relationship with CSG, but worked with the vendor to come up with meaningful tracking and reporting information for job assignments via CSG’s Workforce Express (WFX.) Comcast has the SageQuest and CSG service and fulfillment platform deployed in its Western Division with a goal of having it up and running across the Central and Northeast divisions by the end of the year.
How it works
On the SageQuest side of the implementation, Comcast’s West Division needed to figure out how to get the black GPS boxes installed in its 5,500 trucks without a lot of down time. The rollouts for the combined platform started in February of last year and took four months to complete across the seven regions.
“We have 19,000 companies that use our products,” said Karl Weber, vice president of sales for SageQuest. “We’ve got a process for getting our customers installed and turned up. It takes us about 20 minutes to install a box under a truck’s dashboard. For Comcast we installed 5,500 vehicles in two and half months with literally no down time.
“The box connects into the ignition so we know when the idle is on, and when the engine is on or off. At the same time it’s grabbing information off of a satellite. Then there’s an embedded cell chip in that black box that every 90 seconds sends out an update of what is going on with the vehicle.”
The SageQuest GPS system can report on a truck’s location in traffic, speeds, job status, average time of a stop and mileage driven, among other data. A sensor can also be installed that will show when a maintenance truck has its bucket powered up.
“Basically it’s business intelligence around their fleet,” Weber said. “What we do on the back end, with a real time web service interface, is we pass information over to other back end systems, one of them being CSG.
SagQuest and CSG have a server-toserver integration and the information is displayed on CSG’s GPS gateway interface.
“So CSG then is able to make an assignment on who is going to get a particular work order,” Weber said. “When the dispatcher goes to look at the CSG map, they can now see where the vehicle is, whereas before without GPS they might make an assignment based on the last known work order for that technician.”
If a technician forgot to update his status that he completed a job, he could be 30 miles away while the dispatcher still thought he was in the previous area, Weber said.
“So this takes that element out of it as they are now able to make a more intelligent assignment decision on who is going to do what work,” Weber said. “The other piece of that is that is because CSG gets updates on where the vehicles are, they’ve now moved into this auto status where they can say ‘Oh, GPS says that the guy has gotten the work order let me go ahead process the technician or start the work order to say he’s arrived.’” Knowing where the technician is, how long certain jobs take, and what equipment is on board leads to more realistic service windows for consumers. In the areas where the platform has been deployed Comcast is using CSG’s Workforce Express on technicians iPhones.
WFX also has a routing engine that knows what equipment is on each vehicle, so if a customer has requested Comcast’s X1 platform to be installed the correct truck will be sent.
“Dispatchers have real time visibilities on where the vehicle actually is,” said CSG’s Scott Dutton, director, product management.
“They can leverage that through geo-fencing in our application where we put imaginary boundaries around certain locations, typically job locations or the warehouse. As the vehicle enters or exits one of those geofences it automatically updates the status on the backend in Workforce Express without the tech or dispatcher doing anything.
“You can automatically flag them, alert them, or trigger certain things such as automatically going into service or automatically completing a job. It automates the whole process by not relying on manual entry.”
Workforce Express is currently deployed across 60 percent of Comcast’s enterprise, with the remaining 40 percent slated to have the routing and dispatch modules, and technician mobility software, installed by October. Weber said that as the SageQuest GPS boxes are installed they’d automatically integrate into WFX.
Reducing truck idle time and other benefits
Daisey said one area of immediate impact for the service and fulfillment platform was reduced idling time for the trucks. But before that program took place, Comcast went to great lengths to get buy-in on the GPS and reporting platform from its employees.
“When you think of GPS, there’s this misconception that it’s ‘Big Brother’ and that it’s used to spy on people,” Daisey said. “We said to our employees that we were truly trying to better their work life experience and that everything we were going to do with this technology was about ways to improve the front line employees, the customer and the business experience as a whole.
“That was the message from the onset and we spent a lot of time with our employees helping them understand that we were going to put forth processes and reports and technology that they would value and appreciate. We told them we’re not going to use this as a tool to discipline them, to spy on them or find out how long a lunch break is. We said we were really going to use this for the greater good of the business, the company, the customer and yourself. We think that message came through loud and clear and that’s probably the thing that I’m most proud of.”
Comcast’s soft approach to reducing truck idling, which averaged over an hour and half in the West Division, was to incentivize the installers. Installers that were able to reduce their truck idle times to under 20 minutes a day were entered into weekly raffles in their fulfillment field offices in order to win prizes such as Xbox 360 game consoles and big screen TVs.
“We instantly saw the division average go from over and hour and half of idle, to 50 minutes, to 40, then 30,” Daisey said. “It was wildly successful and the technicians loved the incentive.
We did all of that without making it a negative, hostile environment for the employees, which I think was really good.”
The reduced idle time led to an initial cost savings on fuel of $500,000 to $700,000 a month in the West Division, which Daisey said was saved money that could be used for other things in the field or business. Idle times in some of Comcast’s other divisions were an average of two hours a day, so the savings were even bigger in those locations.
“That’s a tremendous savings,” SageQuest’s Weber said.” I applaud Comcast’s effort. We have 19,000 customers and I hold Comcast up to any customer I talk to as the way to manage an idle program.
I tell them ‘This is the best way to do it and by the way look at the results.’” Daisey said the fuel cost savings could vary by the month, the price of gas and the age of a company’s fleet.
“There are a lot of things for people to consider before they run out and buy 5,000 GPS units,” he said. “Just installing GPS alone will not get you these results. It’s a combined effort of proper communications to your employees, great reporting and properly executing on the plan.”
Daisey said the auto log in feature gave Comcast a better understanding of where technicians were at with their assigned job status while also cutting down on inquring calls from dispatchers. Through its partnerships with SageQuest and CSG, Comcast has not only improved its reporting processes, but also developed a deeper understanding of what it all means.
“If you think back to why we did this it was because we had all of these data points that we were trying to figure out,” Daisey said. “This was the kind of the Mecca of knowledge for us about our business.
How long it takes us to drive from one job to another? How many times do we send an employee to a customer’s house without the proper equipment? How many times did an employee have to come back to the office to get equipment? “These were all things we made assumptions on before. Now we have concrete, finite data that we can review and build processes on. That was a big one for us.”
CSG’s Dutton said that combining the actual duration of jobs with actual drive times, the latter of which would include current traffice conditions, will lead to better capacity planning. Overall, CSG has seen GPS technology increase in its customer base by about 500 percent over the past two and half years, and Dutton said it has really taken off in the cable industry.
Weber said that having more context in regards to the GPS and reporting platform would enable cable operators to cut down on the number of jobs they have to assign to outside contractors. With the increased efficiencies, a cable operator such as Comcast can get to more installs with its own employees instead of paying contractors $50 for each installation.
Daisey said Comcast was just starting to finalize a program around equipmentbased logic, which would prevent a technician from even being assigned a job if he didn’t have the proper equipment to complete it. Comcast hopes to have that program in place by the end of this year in the areas where CSG and SageQuest have been deployed.
“The data helped us understand who we were routing where, that’s where this enhancement came from,” he said.
“Before it was reactive and not proactive.
We had data points that we could review that helped us say ‘OK we need to better stock the trucks or evaluate the stock on the trucks.’ Now we’re actually going to have a proactive system that is going to help us make better decisions on the front end.”
Daisey said estimated time of arrival (ETA) was also on the roadmap, which will automatically combine live traffice patterns into arrival times and send customers alerts through an automated system to let them know that their installs have been delayed by a specific amount of time.
“This technology, it truly propels us forward,” he said. “ I think that what happens now is we’re going to be able to start to share some of the fruits of our labor with this technology and show customers that we’re not your grandfather’s cable company.
This is a cutting edge telecommunications company that’s leveraging tools like GPS to be able to tell you exactly when a technician is going to be able to come and make sure they have the equipment on their truck already to do the job.
“I think that’s starting to really look at the customer’s perspective and how we can leverage this is the next step.” ■