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Cable Operators

Tapan Dandnaik: Troubleshooter

5/21/2012 12:01 AM Eastern

Talk with people who work closely with
Tapan Dandnaik at Mediacom Communications, and
they’re likely to tell you how much he mentions his grandmother
during strategy sessions.

Dandnaik is the cable operator’s senior vice president of
customer service and financial operations, and it could be
said that the work ethic and character his grandmother instilled
in him are partly responsible for why he’s picking up
NCTA’s Vanguard Award for Young Leadership.

“She saw the potential in everyone and had this great
heart about her,” the 38-year-old Dandnaik said, with the
soft inflection of his native country, India. “You couldn’t get
anything past her. She could see right through people, was
a great judge of character and very real. And I think some
of those things rubbed off on me.”

CRITICAL THINKER

That has given him just the right chemistry to work with
John Pascarelli, Mediacom’s executive vice president of operations,
and Rocco Commisso, chairman and CEO. It was
Commisso who recommended Dandniak for the Vanguard
Award.

“I bring my grandmother up a lot in meetings because of
her similarities to Rocco and John,” Dandnaik explained.
“If you present something to Rocco, you better know your
stuff , because he’s going to challenge you and see through
any issues with the information. He has this amazing ability
to deep-dive into the numbers and pinpoint anything
that doesn’t make sense.”

Dandnaik is definitely on the same wavelength, Pascarelli
said: “Tapan has this unique ability to always ask ‘why.’
He’s tenacious in trying to understand why something is
happening, rather than just accepting it.”

Pascarelli and Commisso have tasked Dandnaik with
solving a critical problem. Mediacom, which serves some
1.3 million customers, largely in smaller cities and towns,
has received some poor “report cards” from research firm
J.D. Power and Associates concerning its customer service.

In each of the four annual “U.S. Residential Television
Service Satisfaction” studies J.D. Power released from 2008
to 2011, Mediacom came in either last or second place in
the regions where it was ranked, according to a J.D. Power
spokesperson. The studies track the performance of cable,
satellite and telephone company customer service.

Dandnaik took on responsibility for customer service
when he was promoted to his current role in 2008. Previously,
he’d been Mediacom’s group vice president of financial
operations.

It’s only natural that it would take a while to turn the
J.D. Power track record around, Dandnaik said. “Customers’
perception of cable has been developed over years
and years. To change that overnight is impossible,” he explained.

One big problem he has tackled is the long hold times
consumers have experienced, sometimes causing huge
buildups of callers waiting to speak with Mediacom customer
service reps, which number around 800. In some instances,
frustrated customers would hang up and try again
later, creating a “tsunami” of calls, Dandnaik said.

“Our agents were putting people on hold and looking for
information when they should have been trained to provide
basic information,” Dandnaik said. “They were spending
less time with the customer and more time trying to find
information.”

He and Pascarelli went on the road to Mediacom’s various
call centers to talk with CSRs and made sure they received
the extra training they needed. Dandnaik also helped the
company improve its training metrics, and automated the
training schedules and the CSR system in general.

“He’s revolutionized our customer-service centers and
how we deal with customers,” Commisso said, noting
that the customer-service situation is definitely improving.
“He’s dramatically improved that activity within our
company.”

Pascarelli added, “Statistically, we’ll put our numbers
up against anybody in our ability to answer phones.”

Today, Mediacom CSRs’ average after-call work (ACW) —
taking notes about the reason for the call — is under 10 seconds,
and the hold time is under 15 seconds. Those numbers
each averaged about a minute four years ago.

The number of times a customer calls Mediacom is 15%
less than what it was in 2008, and CSR turnover has improved
30% in the same timeframe, Dandnaik said.

He gives a lot of credit to his team for those improvements,
particularly to Jon Coscia, vice president of care.

Among the other changes Dandnaik’s team has introduced:
After a customer has called for service three times,
asking to speak to an agent in every case, the customer will
automatically be routed to an agent on all future calls.

The company also recently added a 30-minute arrival service
guarantee: If a technician fails to show up within a halfhour
window, Mediacom will credit $20 to the customer’s
cable bill. As time goes by, Dandnaik wants those arrival
windows to get even shorter.

EVOLVING WITH APPS

What’s more, Mediacom debuted a weekend and evening
house-call service, to make its service as convenient for customers
as possible.

There’s more in the works: “We’re launching a smartphone
app for iPhone and Android phones that will allow
customers to see their bill and connect to an agent directly
without going to an IVR [interactive voice response],”
Dandnaik said.

The next evolution of the app will allow customers to
schedule a specific time for an agent to call them back about
a problem, essentially enabling them to make a reservation.

Dandnaik said whatever twists and turns his career
makes, he’d like to remain at Mediacom for the foreseeable
future. The company is small enough that he has
been able to work with its senior management at a relatively
young age.

“For an executive like myself rising through the ranks,
having a seat at the table is pretty cool,” he said.

September