The fundamentals of any service industry are to meet customer expectations. “It’s all about improving the customer’s experience,” says George Survant, senior director of fleet management at Time Warner Cable. “Today, however, expectations about service are more finely defined because for customers, a two-hour window can mean setting aside four hours in an already overloaded schedule.”

Time Warner Cable’s wide-ranging effort to improve customer satisfaction is taking place across the 29 states where the company provides more than 15 million residential and business customers with entertainment, communications and information services. For Survant, who joined the company recently to oversee an operation with 22,000 units, a combination of more than 30 years of experience in the service fleet industry and coaching from the company’s field personnel is helping him focus on how the fleet can help achieve that goal.

“We’re a large company with a high volume of demand for field service,” Survant notes, “and there is also the challenge posed by the highly variable time and service requirements inherent in this business. For our field service fleet operation, helping achieve customer satisfaction goals is about fielding the right equipment and making sure it’s in the right place at the right time.”

Reliable service vehicles are at the top of the list. “It sounds obvious,” he says, “but a three or four percent failure rate for items like tires and batteries means the same percentage of our service guarantees to customers is at risk, which, according to the operations team at Time Warner Cable, is critical. If we field the right equipment and maintain it effectively we can eliminate those issues.”

BUILDING UNIFORMITY

The Time Warner Cable fleet has grown considerably through expansion and acquisition, and there is now a concerted effort to make a widely disparate fleet more uniform. The fleet’s primary vehicle is a standard van, and for the last few years Ford has been the company’s primary supplier. Some GM vans are used as well.

“Regardless of the make or model,” Survant relates, “a lot of detail goes into the layout, and into correct and consistent upfitting of ladder racks, light-duty aerial units, shelving, inside cable reels, and onboard power inverters, among other items. The goal is to turn what is essentially storage space into a mobile workspace at the best value.”

A second critical element is the focus on ensuring that onboard parts inventories are adequate to meet the vast majority of needs when the vehicle arrives on site at a customer location. “Truck stock needs to meet most demands based on the customers you’re serving in a particular region and the distance to a parts supply,” Survant says. “The last thing a customer wants to hear after being sidelined for half a day is that the technician needs to come back later.”

Third on Survant’s list for helping ensure customer expectations are met is having the fleet in the right place at all times. “The solution is to employ effective dispatch and operations management and planning practices,” he states, “and the use of AVL and GPS systems is also increasingly essential. “Across the field service industry the appetite for accurate, extensive, realtime information about vehicles and operations has grown exponentially. We use it to analyze and improve our fleet and operating practices,” Survant continues. “We can also provide suppliers with data that is accurate to a degree unheard of just five years ago. What was previously anecdotal is now highly detailed, which leads to better vehicle designs and manufacturing.”

That fits perfectly with the goal of fielding a fleet that helps meet customer expectations, Survant notes. “I have been advised that at Time Warner Cable aggressive growth has meant making sure our entertainment, communications and information technology is leading-edge,” he concludes.

“Today, we’re applying that focus to our fleet as well.”