Advice From the Trenches: DirecTV

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How do you deliver consistent customer service when your call centers are outsourced to several different vendors across the country, each with its own technology? For DirecTV, a knowledge management (KM) program provided the answer. Headquartered in El Segundo, CA, DirecTV provides satellite television to about 11 million homes and many businesses across the country. To support its customer base it has 10 call center locations employing about 7,000 agents who answer about 6 million calls a month; all but one of those centers is outsourced. "Our vendor partners provide some of the call center systems, so we have several different telemarketing platforms," says Michael Johnson, DirecTV's senior director of customer service communications. "Each location kept its own information system for agents, so keeping all the centers up-to-date with product information was a nightmare." As DirecTV expanded its customer service operation, it needed to shorten the learning curve for new customer service representatives. Also, as its product offerings became more robust, reps needed more extensive documentation to serve customers accurately. For example, in 1996 there were just a handful of DirecTV set-top boxes on the market; today there are more than 70 equipment models to support. The first generation of the KM solution arrived about four years ago in the form of a browser-based information source that DirecTV would maintain centrally and extend to its various call centers. "The term knowledge management is used in many different ways," Johnson says, "but for us it means a knowledge base; a repository that holds anything that is of use to our agents. It also means careful attention to process to assure the integrity of the knowledge base." So DirecTV established a knowledge base accessible as Web pages through the company's intranet. "We host the site here and offer it to all our call center locations," Johnson says. Although the Web site is homegrown, Johnson wanted a powerful tool to manage content. "Interwoven's Teamsite product allows us to have a single body of data and then to publish different slices of it to the different call centers depending on their specialization." Teamsite allows the content to be presented as templates, which saves time and promotes consistency. "Teamsite's architecture also allows us to link from our Siebel CRM application directly to specific pages in our knowledge base. We considered several content management solutions, and when our Deloitte Consulting partners recommended Teamsite, we agreed." The key to a successful KM program is as much a matter of work process as it is technology. The data must be current and clean. "If the knowledge base is going to have credibility with the agents, the knowledge has to be up-to-date," Johnson says. "Otherwise they won't use it." Johnson has a team of eight people who maintain the knowledge base by reviewing and documenting all changes that come through the firm's change management process. "We have weekly meeting where people request new initiatives," he explains. "This includes marketing initiatives as well as suggestions from the agents themselves, who tell us about problems or ask for new tools. We hold off on the nice-to-have stuff in deference to making sure what's in there is right." Exactly what is contained in DirecTV's knowledge base? For starters, information about the receiving equipment, including the set top boxes, remote controls, and satellite dishes. "This is a huge amount of data," Johnson says. "We also have information about each of the hundreds of DirecTV channels, the programming packages we offer, calculator and comparison tools. We have marketing information including current promotions so the inbound reps know what the outbound reps are telling customers, as well as competitive information so our agents know what other companies are offering." The knowledge base also documents the procedures CSRs must use to meet their performance metrics. The knowledge base has proven an invaluable tool. For example, today when a customer calls with a question about a third-generation RCA system, agents can quickly access the information, including images of the equipment itself, and talk the customer through the steps that are specific to that piece of equipment. Since new CSRs have the knowledge base to rely on, training can focus on customer service skills, rather than on memorizing vast amounts of information. As at most companies, DirecTV's call center technology is still a work in progress. The company is planning further integration of the knowledge base with the expanding Siebel CRM system, and Johnson's team is continually updating the contents of the knowledge base, and is creating more efficient ways for reps to access the content. --Marianne Cotter
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