Creation orientation intensifies impact of customer service

This is the third of a four-week series on how to make customer service your most effective community broadband marketing tool.

Last week I talked about the tech prep needed to get your customer service house in order and increase your odds for community broadband success. This week we should talk about the business communications prep that’s also needed. And as I’ve said repeatedly, this work starts long before the network launches.

To turn customer service into a righteously awesome marketing tool, you need a creation orientation rather than a problem-solving orientation. Much of broadband is driven by the latter. “We have a problem – broadband sucks. We don’t have enough money. The cable guy is always late. Subscribers are on hold for an eternity. Customer service becomes endless exercises in conflict resolution. It’s difficult to be proactive in this type of environment plus you miss many of the marketing benefits customer service could produce.

Conversely, using a creation orientation enables you to make something that bigger, better, more awesome than what has gone before. Applied to customer service, rather than focus on building a faster “problem-solving” operations, how about creating an organization-wide culture of service that’s frequently ahead of customers’ wants and needs. Subscribers look forward to working with you rather than dreading the call.

First order of business is to create and coordinate as many ways of communicating with subscribers as possible. If you drill into your entire staff’s minds that any opportunity to communicate with the customer is an opportunity to provide some sort of service, you’re reasonably assured of tapping into a myriad of communication vehicles.

Newsletters, printed and online versions, public meetings, e-mail, text messages and the old marketing standby – printed flyers – are some of the conventional channels that give you an opportunity to deliver messages and gather feedback. There should be a plan to participate in every special event big and small (county fairs, expositions, as well as the run of the mill standard meetings such as town halls and city council. During the slow periods in the year, create your own meetings to tackle broadband issues.

Social media is the way of the future in communication, but not all social media is alike. Recruit some college kids to help you understand how to act and interact in each network: Twitter, Facebook, Redit, Pinterest and on and on. Again, you’re establishing a way of distributing info and gathering valuable market feedback. Then there are the communication channels you may not even view as such. Truck rolls to fix problems, invoices, turning on services all are opportunities to interact with subscribers.

I mentioned in the previous post that the needs assessment is key in determining how to build a network that minimizes problems and complaints because the process yields data you can use to better predict short- and long-term usage of the network. But from a creation orientation, you should also use that data to create services and service plans that meets as much as it anticipates needs. The communications channels I’ve listed are how you deliver the details on those services, and gather feedback that shapes future services.

In practical terms, the same way that magazines and other media maintain schedules of topics their content will address, broadband operators need to maintain a “schedule” of current and proposed services that will be pushed out through these channels. If your network team comes up with a new way to optimize network performance in the home, everything from the newsletter to invoices and a promo booth at a county fair should have this information. The net result? Customers increase loyalty because they see these types of announcements as great proactive services. If on-going research reveals that hospitals and doctors are main users of the network, use various channels to communicate specific ways medical professionals can maximize the network, thus delivering more proactive services.

Obviously a lot of work has to go into the planning to so best leverage communication technology such as text messaging that promotes your customer service offerings and implements customer service tasks. “You must consider the technology’s impact on the costs, efficiency of delivery and brand perception associated with these tasks,” states Mike Roddy, COO of NuTEQ. “And of course, you have to assess text messaging’s impact on your market image: are you easy to do business with, does it contribute to you staying price competitive, does it enable you to offer greater value than your competitor.”

To determine if SMS text messages will complement your planned customer care platform, ask yourself these questions:

  • Do we receive routine calls from customers asking for account balance, payment due dates, payment confirmation, copies of invoices, appointment times/dates, or outage status? Is there an easier, less costly way to deliver this information?
  • Would customers value proactive account notices (balance due, payment received, etc.)? Would more customers use electronic billing if we delivered account information through SMS?
  • Do we routinely survey our customers? What is the response rate? If we had real-time access to survey results, such as GOCare makes possible, could we make timely decisions and improve customer satisfaction?
  • Are any of our competitors using SMS to communicate with their customers?

All of you technology decisions and communication strategies should based on feedback and research in the marketplace. For example, a recent ChaCha mobile survey showed that 52% of customers preferred texting for customer communications with a service provider, and 80% believed a text message could help them avoid issues like late fees.

GOCare Graphic for CJSpeaks blog

Click for article on mobile tech that improves customer service

Customer service technology gives community broadband marketing edge

This is the second of a four-week series on how to make customer service your most effective community broadband marketing tool.

Last week, I explained why customer service is the keystone of community broadband marketing success. Large incumbents throw millions at trying to destroy even small towns’ network business, yet these public entities survive and thrive because great customer service creates insanely strong customer loyalty.

Building market strength through efficient, speedy, reliable service depends heavily on technology. The tech that goes into broadband infrastructure plays a huge role in the quality of your customer service, as does the tech you use to execute and manage customer service tasks. Non-techies as well as tech staff need to understand this 30,000-foot view on the subject.  customer-service

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In David and Goliath world of community broadband, customer service brings down Goliath.

This is the first of a four-week series on how to make customer service your most effective community broadband marketing tool.

Communities are pursuing various strategies to get faster better broadband. Is yours one of those communities that are issuing RFPs for needs assessment studies? If so, you should devote some of this assessment to studying the secret that’s driving the success that cities such as Chattanooga, TN, Salisbury, NC and Danville, VA are having?

David-and-Goliath-the-Blaze-TVWhen you look at the dozens of success stories, particularly those such as Lafayette, LA, Reedsburg, WI and Wilson, NC that faced the gazillion-dollar marketing might of huge telcom and cable companies, you find marketing is the key to their success. But not marketing in the form of slick brochures and funny YouTube ads. Effective customer service is the marketing equalizer that’s giving the broadband David’s the upper hand over incumbent Goliaths.

Reedsburg, a town of 10,000 people, faced not one but two industry behemoths, Verizon, whose wireline assets were later bought by Frontier, and Charter Communications. Outsiders probably thought the Reedsburg Utility Commission’s (RUC) fiber network was doomed from the start, but the public utility’s former Marketing and Sales Director Catherine Rice understood early what would be the keystone to their marketing success.

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My comments to FCC supporting Chattanooga, TN & Wilson petitions to remove anti-muni net laws

It is way past time the FCC step in and put a stop to state legislative intrusion into the broadband affairs of Chattanooga and other local communities that are best able to make choices that are in their constituents’ best interests.

Over 400 public-owned networks operate in the United States, according to the Institute of Local Self-Reliance, including 89 fiber and 74 cable communitywide networks. Evaluating these networks’ impact on job creation, education and stirring innovation, as well as their financial sustainability, uncover hundreds of success stories that can be replicated once the barriers in Tennessee drop.

Some networks such as those in Cedar Falls, IA, Thomasville, GA, Santa Monica, CA and Bristol, VA have operated successfully for over 10 years. Danville, VA’s public utility’s network that launched in 2004 helped cut their unemployment in half, down from 19%, by directly enticing several large companies to the area, and driving a local technology industry that otherwise likely wouldn’t exist. Santa Monica, CA’s fiber network, launched the same year, reduced government voice and data communication by over $750,000 a year while building a $2.5 million surplus through the city’s savings plus selling fiber services to local businesses. Furthermore, community networks’ ROI often is not about revenue but benefitting the public good.

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Happy 3rd anniversary, Gigabit Nation! Check out the 10 most popular interviews

A humongous Thank you! to all of you listeners and supporters of Gigabit Nation.

Three years ago today, with a month’s worth of guests booked, one sponsor (Hiawatha Broadband Communications) and just a general idea of where this would end up, Gigabit Nation launched. The only radio talk devoted to helping organizations improve the sad state of broadband in these United States.

My first guest was Jim Ingraham, VP of Strategic Research for Chattanooga’s public utility and fiber network operator, EPB (Check out the interview). Tomorrow, I’m in Chattanooga to celebrate the show’s third anniversary in a special 90-minute live interview of some of the key leaders and stakeholders who have contributed to the success of the city’s now famous gig network.

We’ll highlight some of the major milestones the city has reached thanks to its network, as well as take a peek at Chattanooga’s gig future. I’ll also be review some of the high points in Gigabit Nation’s 3-year run.

My guests and I have created nearly 200 hours of solid advice, community success stories, broadband policy discussions and future outlooks. Monthly live and downloaded listens have gone from a couple of thousand to 15,000. When Gigabit Nation speaks, people listen: broadband project teams, elected officials, local broadband stakeholders, policymakers, vendors and service providers of all stripes.

Here in reverse order are the 10 most popular interviews since Gigabit Nation 2011 launch:

10.  16 Meg Muni WiFi Network – Chattanooga Continues to Rock!

9.  Gigabit Innovation Rises from Chattanooga’s Testbed

8.  Post-Sandy, the Future of Broadband and Smart Grid

7.  FTTH Conf, Tue: Smart Grid Economics, Kutztown Magic, UTOPIA

6.  The Big News about Google Fiber in Kansas City?

5.  Closing the Digital Divide in KC, One Neighborhood at a Time

4.  Maximize Broadband As An Economic Development Asset

3.  WISPs: Tips for Better Engaging These Broadband Stars

2.  $25 Million Broadband Success Story in Maine!

1.  Crowdfunding to Pay for Broadband Networks? Yes, Please.

I’m looking forward to another great year of awesome interviews, as well as your continued support and listenership.

Btw, you company execs who are trying to increase your presence in the community broadband market – you really should consider being a Gigabit Nation sponsor. Ping me! Let’s talk.

What This Year’s Survey Says About Broadband and Economic Development

Survey saysBroadband has consistently been described as a tool or asset to help communities improve local economic development. In the past few years, a lot of effort has gone into positioning broadband as our newest utility, vital as our mainstay electric, gas and water utilities. Every year I dig a little bit via a survey to learn how much the hype about broadband’s impact on local economies reflects the reality.

This year’s survey asks members of the International Economic Development Council (IEDC), the largest professional association of economic developers, key questions regarding broadband’s impact on local economies. These questions test some general assumptions made about outcomes that broadband produces, and also enables survey respondents to assess some of the value broadband brings to their communities.

Get the full report here. Some of this year’s findings include: Continue reading

Putting Radar O’Reilly’s Hometown on the Broadband Map, Pilot Project Starts

RadarEveryone who remembers M*A*S*H and its zany cast of characters remembers the quirky, lovable and oh so efficient Corporal “Radar” O’Reilly who hailed from Ottumwa, IA. Radar likely would be very pleased with recent developments in Ottumwa to bring highspeed broadband and higher levels of efficiency to businesses, healthcare facilities and various local institutions.

Ottumwa began its journey in 2012 toward faster, better Internet access that has been deliberate, inclusive and thorough. Initially led by the Ottumwa Economic Development Corporation, project leadership shifted this year to the Ottumwa Regional Legacy Foundation, which last month retained Pinpoint Services to begin engineering design for a pilot project.

The Ottumwa project offers valuable lessons in needs assessment, consensus building and informed decision making. I was brought in to conduct the needs assessment, lead several workshops and a couple town hall meetings, compile a technology inventory and create a roadmap forward.

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