The Independent Show: Small Ops Say Communication Is Key to Customer Experience

Key art for the 2022 Independent Show
(Image credit: The Independent Show)

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Florida — A panel of top small cable company executives said that while improving the overall customer experience is a primary goal for operators — especially as broadband competition heats up — maintaining a strong line of communication with customers is essential.

“I think A-plus-B equals customer experience,” said Buckeye Broadband president Geoff Shook at The Independent Show panel session titled “The Impact of Industry Evolution” and moderated by NCTC president and CEO Lou Borrelli. “I think the A would be customer service, but the B part that we have to zero in on is customer care. We have the opportunity as the more personalized provider to accelerate to accentuate the customer care, the fact that the service doesn't stop at the side of the house.” 

Schurz Communications chief technology officer Tom Williams added that it is essential that operators not only keep the lines of communication open with customers, but that they communicate in the way they want to. 

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“Maybe they don’t want to make a phone call,” Williams said. “Maybe they want to do a text chat over their phone. They want to get the information and talk to us the way that they want to talk to us, not in the way that we want them to talk to us.”

Shook added that while communication is essential, techs and other cable employees should keep the message simple, direct and with as little jargon as possible. Sometimes, he said, too much information can “torpedo” the customer experience. 

“There’s a razor’s edge between too much communication and not enough,” Shook said. “We tend to not saturate but thoroughly communicate.”

Communication also means letting customers know in advance when there is going to be a service disruption due to planned maintenance or other factors, he added.  

“Bad news does not get better with time,” Shook said. “If we know that there is something intrusive getting ready to happen, in the field we like to make absolutely sure that we’ve communicated it thoroughly so it is not a surprise.”

Williams added that operators have to consider what messaging they are sending out to customers and be careful not to flood them with marketing messages that force them to overlook important service information.

“You can throw so many marketing messages out that they're not going to listen to the technology message of an outage,” Williams said. “There's a real balance you have to play there, or else their not going to listen to ‘There’s going to be a 5 minute outage on Tuesday night at 12:30 a.m.,’ and then they're online and it drops anyway, because you’ve sent so many marketing messages that they just delete all the messages coming from us.”

Conway Corp. chief marketing officer Crystal Kemp said it is important for operators to stress that customer experience isn’t just a priority, it is one of their core values.

“Because our priorities can change, our values usually don't,” Kemp said. “We are constantly putting that in front of people, in front of our employees, in front of our customers, to say along with reliability, along with innovation, along with all of those things, customer experience is a core value.”  

Operators also stressed the importance of their local presence, which gives companies a regular opportunity to reinforce their brand. 

“I’ve been to more franchise meetings than I care to talk about, but every single one of them they are appreciative of how local we are,” Williams said. “It is their residents that are answering the phones every day, or responding to a message or coming to their homes.” 

He added that it makes a big difference, especially when small operators are competing against larger operators that have huge bureaucracies and make it difficult for customers to access care reps. 

“It’s not hard,” Williams said. “You have to make it easy to work with. You want to delight your customer.” ■

Mike Farrell

Mike Farrell is senior content producer, finance for Multichannel News/B+C, covering finance, operations and M&A at cable operators and networks across the industry. He joined Multichannel News in September 1998 and has written about major deals and top players in the business ever since. He also writes the On The Money blog, offering deeper dives into a wide variety of topics including, retransmission consent, regional sports networks,and streaming video. In 2015 he won the Jesse H. Neal Award for Best Profile, an in-depth look at the Syfy Network’s Sharknado franchise and its impact on the industry.