Cox’s Retail Rollout May Get 'Digi’ Assist

Digis, the little digital helpmates featured in Cox Communications brand commercials in Cox cable markets, have become a popular mascot for the company.

Can Digis also help bring people into Cox Solutions stores to buy wireless phone service? Cox might soon find out.

The colorful little creatures — who look a little like Star Wars R2-D2s crossed with the Doozers from HBO’s 1980s Muppet series Fraggle Rock — deliberately don’t have mouths. They aren’t supposed to be salesmen.

Digis are popular, though, and might help lure people into the new retail presences Cox plans to build in its markets supporting the wireless launch.

“People love them,” Cox Communications chief marketing officer Joe Rooney said of the Digis, proffering a couple of shrink-wrapped, plush toy versions for visitors to his office here.

Cox public-relations people say they get many unsolicited requests from customers for Digis as presents, which they try their best to oblige. If a free doll gets a consumer in the door, it’ll be up to Cox-trained humans to sell the would-be subscriber on wireless and anything else the cable, telephone and Internet-service provider has to offer.

Rooney, a 23-year Cox employee, said everyone at the MSO is excited about expanding retail presence and getting into wireless.

“Especially the marketing and sales leaders, because we need something new to sell,” he said.

In 2007, when Cox observed the 10th anniversary of its entry into the wireline phone business, the cabler noted that it had become the No. 1 phone provider in that first market, Orange County, Calif.

“Now it’s grown to multiple markets where we’ve got majority share on phone,” Rooney said.

Cox is tops or tied for tops in landline phone market share in markets representing 46% of its footprint, Rooney said, with video share leadership across 100% and broadband majority share across 99%.

Cable operators need new things to sell — or new ways to sell what they already offer. Revenue-generating unit sales have slowed as most people already take cable, phone and Internet from someone.

The housing depression has crushed the top acquisition category: People who move from one home to another. More telco and satellite-TV provider offers have been the predictable result, making it harder to keep existing cable customers.

Cox expects most of its wireless business to come from existing customers who will add to their bundles, said Rooney, thus retaining and even getting more from those customers.

Cox also has to be in wireless, strategically, he said. “We have to think of ourselves as delivering entertainment and communication. Does it really matter on which device a customer wants to get it? Does it really matter if it’s through the [cable] line or through the air? As long as they see us as the company that does the best job in taking care of the customer and getting them their communication and entertainment, the rest really doesn’t matter.”

Digi replaced Digital Max, the former Cox mascot, in mid-2008.

Where Max was star of his spots — and, Rooney said, “became a little bit of a pitchman” — Digis quietly assist the Cox employee, who is the star of the story.

Such as the customer-service agent who helps a little girl translate instructions, over the phone, in Spanish to her grandmother who’s trying to record the girl’s shows.

Or the field technician who visits to repair the underground cable chewed up by the family dog — and impresses a toddler who imitates his every move.

The brand message continues to be that Cox is the trusted provider, your friend in the digital age. The spots’ tagline is “Working hard for every smile.”

“That’s kind of what we do,” Rooney said of the slogan, playing to Cox’s customer-service reputation. “We’re not a traditional cable company in that regard. If that’s your strength, you kind of have to shout it a little — this is how we’re different, this is how we behave.”

Aside from new businesses such as wireless and commercial accounts — still a big growth engine for Cox — on the residential side the focus has to shift from acquisition to retention. Base management, or customer life-cycle management, are terms Rooney, chief operating officer Leo Brennan and CEO Patrick Esser use often.

Rooney said Cox has for years invested in customer research and its task now is to get the customer knowledge out to the customer-service agent’s desktop. “If a customer has called multiple times but hasn’t ordered anything, that’s a flag,” he said. “They’re interested in something and we need to find out what it is.” Often, it’s a flag that a customer is about to cancel.

Cox needs to add more retention agents to its mix of sales and support agents, people trained and empowered to handle the growing number of calls from people wanting to downgrade, Rooney said.

Customer agents also need to target “non-RGU” sales, he said: premium channel subscriptions, higher speeds of broadband.

Agents also need to make sure customers haven’t gotten oversold into a non-pay situation: not everyone can afford a $99 triple play and should be “right-sized,” Rooney said.

Then there are the Cox Solutions stores. Rooney said the planning’s been going on for about 12 months and Cox consumer research has guided the design. “An Ikea meets the Apple Store concept scored really well with consumers,” he said, including a genius bar where consumers can ask questions like: Do I need to upgrade to HDMI cabling?

Which Cox can also sell on the spot. “This isn’t just a wireless store: it’s a Cox Solutions store,” Rooney said.

Digis sold (or given away) separately.

Kent Gibbons

Kent has been a journalist, writer and editor at Multichannel News since 1994 and with Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He is a good point of contact for anything editorial at the publications and for Before joining Multichannel News he had been a newspaper reporter with publications including The Washington Times, The Poughkeepsie (N.Y.) Journal and North County News.