Every once in a while you’re lucky enough to meet someone who is really doing things right. I felt that way after hearing Gibbs Jones, SVP of Customer Experience at Suddenlink speak at the Satmetrix Net Promoter conference earlier this year. I followed up with Jones and his associate Pete Abel, the SVP of Corporate Communications after the conference, yielding the interview below and an upcoming post on FastCompany.com.
DN: How did the customer experience role come into being at Suddenlink?
Abel: There’s always been a Vice President of Customer Service who is responsible for the overall operation of our call centers. Currently we have six of those, all in the US. There was a person to oversee those call centers. The evolution of the role was from call center manager to a broader customer experience role, which started close to Gibbs’s advent and there was a recognition that there was so much more to customer service than them just calling the call centers. We knew that and by putting that all under one title we could better drive results in an area that is really important to our CEO.
DN: How close is the CEO to the customer experience process?
Abel: Our CEO frequently discusses the importance of customer service on our quarterly earnings calls. If a customer manages to get his email address and sends him an email, he personally responds to that customer. He wants the customer to know that he’s accessible like anyone else in the company to deal with any issues they’re having and to make sure they’re having the best experience possible.
DN: How do you monitor customer satisfaction?
Jones: We have three ways to measure the customer experience. First, we are part of the JD Power study and work with them to understand their perspective, what’s driving the customer experience.
Second, we have a relationship net promoter survey, which helps us understand the customer’s overall feeling about Suddenlink as a company: what level of service we provide, the professionalism of our employees and if customers would recommend us to friends or family..
Third, and most comprehensive, is our transactional net promoter survey. Each time a customer contacts us for assistance, we send an email to them that asks questions specific to their recent transaction and gives them the opportunity to score us on different attributes and describe their experience in their own words.
DN: Are performance reviews tied to customer satisfaction?
Jones: We’re getting ready to launch a career progression plan for our CSRs, which allows them to get promoted within the CSR role giving them additional pay and recognition for doing a great job. We find a lot of value in the positive comments and are working on getting all of those back to the CSRs and technicians.
DN: How do you address the detractors?
Jones: For anyone having trouble with a service or feature, we pick that up as part of the survey and it comes back into a special group in our call centers and they follow up with the customer within 48 hours. We proactively call customers back. When you first approach someone and tell them you want them to be a CSR to talk to our angriest customers you get some funny looks. But it’s actually become one of the most popular jobs because customers are blown away that you actually took time to read the survey and the fact that you followed up creates immediate promoters because it says that you care.
DN: Give me a specific example of something you’ve fixed that’s improved customer satisfaction?
Jones: We changed our arrival windows in most of our markets. Most of our customers have access to our windows now. We changed to two-hour windows from all day windows because when we saw the data we realized it was better for the customer.
DN: Do you have other examples?
Jones: We have a list of 30 or 40 things, large and small, that we fixed or are investigating how to fix. For example, in the comments in one of our regions, customers were calling in to get their DVR fixed and we sent a hit to their box and content disappeared. After seeing a few of those each week we figured out there was something systematically that we needed to fix. The CSR’s had access to a refresh code that they shouldn’t have, and without our metrics we wouldn’t have known it.
DN: How does social media fit into all this?
Jones: It’s another way to gauge the customer’s experience. Our approach initially was to listen and understand what they were saying and from there developing the right platforms and forums. Social media is another great customer touch point. It allows us to engage them directly and try to get problems fixed.
DN: Which department does social media fall under?
Gibbs: It’s in the customer experience department. First and foremost, it’s a way to hear what our customers are saying and fix those things that need to be fixed. We’ve had some marketing engagement with social media. It’s a service channel that marketing has used as well.
DN: Do people ever re-tweet about their satisfaction after the issue has been resolved?
Abel: One example is a gentleman who tweeted about a service problem. We got in touch with him and worked out the problem, and he then sent out a follow up tweet saying, “hey, great Twitter service, I’m glad you’re using this to solve problems.” We found out later that he’s an investor in Twitter and other startups and he has close to a million followers on Twitter.
DN: Over the last two or three years, has customer satisfaction increased?
Jones: If you look at our longest running customer service surveys between 2007 and 2010, we saw the number of promoters (customers rating us nine or ten) grow from 54% to almost 60%. Our detractors (someone rating us between 0 and 6) declined from 26% to 16%. So, our overall net promoter score has increased from 28 to 43, as measured by an independent research company. In our industry many companies don’t have a positive net promoter score at all. We spend time every single day on the things we can do to improve the customer experience, which should then drive the score up.
DN: Has this increased the bottom line of the company?
Abel: During a tough economy, one where we’ve seen other cable operators achieve slower growth than they were accustomed to, in the past year alone we saw the total number of households we serve grow by nearly 7,000. We believe that’s an indicator of our customer service because we don’t have the biggest marketing budgets or financial resources. The fact that we were able to grow the number of customer relationships is an indicator that (customer service is) paying off.
We also had a record year in the total number of units of service sold. We’ve added nearly 230,000 new units of service sold to customers, which is by far a record year for us. Revenue has grown very steadily too, up 8.7% between 4th quarter 2009 and 4th quarter 2010. All of those core financial metrics are improving and when we compare those to our peers who publicly report their results, our financial operating results consistently meet or exceed them, and when you look at them in aggregate, we beat their percentage growth year over year.