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?
When 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.
“Our competitors tend to do a lot of price promotions that are unbeatable and we can’t match those,” remarked Rice in a Broadband Communities Magazine article. “We kept prices competitive but consistent. Our marketing strength comes from RUC’s credibility. I got on the phone sometimes with people who call in for customer service or they have a complaint. As I resolved their issues, I asked them, ‘who would you be talking to right now if you had this problem with another company?’ Customers remain loyal to us because they believe, rightly, that RUC has customers’ best interest at heart, and they can’t get that level of caring from companies whose customer service people are based in another country.”
Well before Reedsburg’s network was complete, RUC built general public awareness and support for the network. The Mayor and City Council frequently spoke out about the need and value of the network, which was instrumental to the awareness campaign. When your elected officials along with recognized and unofficial leaders within your constituent groups vocally support your network, the community develops a strong sense of pride and ownership that are valuable marketing collateral.
Your network call center is the embodiment and reinforcement of the community ownership theme that community leaders and the broadband project team initiate. The customer service person whom subscribers reach is their neighbor, a member of their church, often a parent of their kids’ soccer teammates, but most importantly, someone who’s local, sitting maybe 10 or 15 minutes away. Does this mean you build a call center, hire local folks with great personalities and “poof,” your work is done? Far from it.
Customer service is a state of mind that manifests itself in the actions of the broadband service provider. The Jackson [TN] Energy Authority (JEA) leverages the fact they are a not-for-profit entity returning as much as possible to the investors (the community), and subsequently give customers a greater level of support and higher quality of service than competitors. For example, JEA offers same day repair service with four-hour window for arrival, and next day service with a two-hour window.
Jackson’s more famous neighbor, EPB in Chattanooga, built fiber into its smart grid to reduce downtime of its electricity service by: 1) proactively identifying and fixing technology problems before business customers even realize there is a problem; and 2) enabling field technicians to respond faster fixing problems. EPB carried over this proactive, work-smarter philosophy of customer service to its broadband business.
To make it a state of mind, “communities need to define ‘customer service’ more broadly in terms of the overall experience,” states Mike Roddy, COO of NuTEQ Solutions. “Define how every contact with customers is handled to create a sense of personal interaction – the sale, installation, identifying network troubles and resolutions, gathering general feedback. It is very difficult for the largest incumbent operators to create a personalized feeling in every community, particularly when each community has different expectations. Incumbents traditionally started out in a pseudo-monopoly environment in which there was no perceived need to go the extra mile in relationship building.”
Because there are so many ways to touch subscribers, there may be the temptation to handle these interactions using technology similar to bank ATMs, grocery store self-checkout and self-check-in at an airport. But at some level these are impersonal and we drift back toward the human intervention managed by technology such as Interactive voice response (IVR) systems. However, improving the IVR functionality with “please listen carefully as our options have changed” is not ‘choice’, and is not improving the experience.
Roddy concludes, “employing new customer care technology does not mean dropping the traditional call center, but rather, complementing it. The reality is that customers have different needs. Some are ‘high touch’ while others are “no touch”. Employing a customer care strategy that caters to different, ever-changing needs yields a better more satisfying customer experience. Our GOCare product, for example, employs several SMS-text interventions to address common customer issues, but can immediately initiate direct supervisor-subscriber interaction depending on customer responses. Happier customers are more profitable customers.”
Next week we look at how the right technology mix helps you deliver top-notch customer service and stay on budget.
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