To Stop Churn, Always Be Selling

Shifting scenarios and a complete industry transformation mean cable and telecommunications providers are competing for the same customers. Therefore, many cable MSOs must reinvent themselves in order to maintain a level of differentiation. But where should executives focus as they strive for competitiveness?

A recent Maritz study finds that 54% of cable customer attrition is due to negative customer experiences and two-thirds of telecommunications customers who defect point to employees as the primary culprits. Worse, three-quarters of those with a negative experience told at least one other person. Cable companies lose more customers on their own than competitors take away.

To reach a new level of differentiation, cable MSOs must deliver a customer experience consistent with the brand promise. Where should a cable MSO start? With the employees that customers interact with first — your sales force. Here are six keys to building a sales team:

Hiring practices: Recruiting and hiring the right salespeople starts with the desired end result (“I really want my cable service through him/her”). Does the candidate have traits found in top performers? What's the competency model?

Training and reinforcement: MSOs cannot wait several months for a new salesperson to be productive. Optimize training programs and build them around customer and employee research. You'll drive better performance from rookies, core sales staff and recognized MVPs.

Sales coaching: Sales Executive Council research says reps who received just three hours of coaching a month exceeded their goals by 7%, boosting revenue 25% and increasing the average close rate by 70%. Coaches must foster a self-directed learning environment by providing questions, not answers. They must help salespeople build problem-solving skills.

Incentives and recognition: A self-funding, non-cash incentive program provides motivation to drive increased sales performance. You must address needs and drive performance for sales reps at all levels — the top tier, your core and new hires.

Top performer recognition: With self-motivated top performers, focus on retention and continued growth. Obtain feedback from those likely to be rewarded before designing incentive and recognition programs.

Core and new hires: One Maritz poll found three-quarters of participants in incentive and recognition programs aren't motivated by top-performer programs because they don't perceive an opportunity to win. A “moving the middle” initiative gives core employees and new hires an opportunity to earn.

Service-focused employees are part two of the solution. A 2008 study found that eight of 10 customers satisfied with the services they received also said they'd listen to additional sales offers.

When it comes to improving service, cable MSOs must:

Understand what customers and employees say: Engage both consumer and small-business customers in research. Get their full take on attitudes. Listen to your employees. Analyze both and identify specific links to key business results. You'll likely find critical gaps between customers' desired experiences and what employees deliver.

Enable employees to perform: Breakdowns in the customer experience are the root of churn. All employees, including technicians and call-center representatives, must “own” the customer experience. Supply performance aids that build knowledge and skills. Offer coaching for leaders. Repeat and reinforce.

Motivate employees to excel: Once standards are set, cable MSOs must establish recognition tools and rewards that are meaningful to individuals.

Research suggests non-cash rewards are more effective in driving lasting behavior change. They are built on choice, allowing participants to earn appealing rewards that won't absorb into the family budget.

Integrate a service culture throughout the organization: Continually communicate a compelling service mission set against the brand. Doing this gives energy to the everyday work of customer experience. Dismantle organizational silos that stymie goal integration and make producing results difficult.

For example, adding a referral program enables service technicians to become part of the sales force. With proper training and coaching, they can identify sales opportunities when interacting with customers.

MSOs are at a crossroads. By employing the right strategies to optimize the sales process and customer experience, organizations can transform the industry and build credibility with skeptical customers.