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Cox Adds Customer-Retention Post

Cox Communications Inc. earlier this month said it named Warren Jones to director of customer retention and life-cycle management, a newly created post.

Although Jones reports to the MSO's marketing organization, he will also be closely involved with operations and field services, especially in the customer-service arena, he said.

"Cox recognizes that our industry is changing," Jones said in explaining why the company created the new position. "We're seeing much more competition among satellite providers and RBOCs [regional Bell operating companies] for our core video products and our new services. We have to have a balance between customer acquisition and retention."

Jones has been with Cox since 1997, when he joined as director of finance for the New Orleans cable system. He was recently director of wireless strategy for Cox Communications in Atlanta.

Among his first responsibilities is to create an overall customer-retention strategy for the company's video, voice and data customers and to work with individual Cox cable systems across the country to implement that plan.

To help develop the retention strategy, Jones will conduct a benchmark study of other cable MSOs and compile a "best practices" review of Cox systems.

Some of the more retention-savvy systems have already implemented dedicated "save teams" of customer service representatives specifically trained to take calls from customers who want to disconnect their service.

Other tactics that seem to help bolster customer loyalty include company newsletters and anniversary programs that, for example, reward five-year customers with a discount or other surprise, Jones said.

There are certain points in a service life cycle in which a customer may be more vulnerable to churn, and that's where MSOs need to dedicate much of their focus. Any time a customer has direct contact with the cable operator, such as during an installation or a customer service call, "there's an opportunity to build customer trust or to not satisfy the customer," Jones said. "We want to focus on those transactions with the customer."

In order to help keep customer churn in check, cable operators must also try to understand their competitors and their offers in the marketplace.

But Cox tries not to get to the point where it competes only on price, Jones said. Instead, it focuses on other strengths, such as customer service and the strong value of the products themselves, particularly its broadband offerings.

Jones's experience in the wireless-telecommunications industry has taught him that churn can be a substantial problem in a competitive marketplace. In cable's past, "balancing the cost of acquisition and retention wasn't something we had to do much," he noted.

Cox's strategy of bundling multiple products should help keep some of its customers loyal.

"We very much view bundling as a key component to our customer loyalty strategy," Jones said. "We believe our bundling strategy will be key not only to our acquisitions strategy, but to our retention strategy as well."