Cable Operators

With Customers, Cox Wants to Be All Ears

7/09/2012 12:01 AM Eastern

Paul Cronin, a 25-year cable industry veteran, is now Mr. National Customer Service at Cox
Communications. The MSO promoted him in May to senior vice president of customer experience,
replacing Kimberly Edmunds, who now heads customer care for Comcast’s Central
Division. Cronin joined Cox in 1999 and served most recently as general manager of its
1,400-employee New England-Cleveland system. He spoke recently with Multichannel News
technology editor Todd Spangler.

MCN: What are Cox’s overall priorities
with respect to “customer experience”?

Paul Cronin: I’m brand-new to this role,
so I would hesitate to say I have a fully vetted
plan at this point. We’re making sure
our strategy is still current, so I’m doing a
lot of work out of the gate about what we’re
trying to accomplish with our products
and services. Second, I’m looking at our
field operations and touch points to make
sure those are in alignment with the overall-
experience strategy.

MCN: Given your years of experience
in cable customer service, what are the most important
things an operator must do to beat customer expectations?

PC: I’ll tell you, the most important thing we can do right
now is understand what those expectations are on the
part of our customers. With new technologies and new
competitors coming into the market, customer expectations
are constantly evolving. We have different customer
segments. We have to look at those segments and make
sure the services we’re developing align with those.

Before we roll out specific programs and initiatives, we
really have to start with knowing our customers well, and
that’s work we’re doing right now.

MCN: So how have customer expectations shifted?

PC: They want services not just on TV or phone — they
want portability and mobility. Secondly, when the customer
interfaces with us, we need to make that as easy
as possible so there are not huge hurdles for them to conduct
business with us. And, hopefully, it will be a pleasant
experience.

MCN: What’s the No. 1 thing customers say they love
about Cox?

PC: The No. 1 thing they love about Cox, and all the research
tells us this, is they love our employees. There’s
been a cultural DNA with our employees where they
embrace the customer-service part of their job. I’ve been
here a number of years now and I’m continually impressed
with our employees.

MCN: And what’s the No. 1 thing they don’t like?

PC: Well, I think customers are telling us they want to
interface differently with our products going forward.
They want it on different platforms. We’re looking into,
OK, what does that mean? We’re looking at how to bring
video to mobile platforms. That’s a big one our customers
are asking for.


MCN: Cox has often done better than other MSOs on
customer-satisfaction consumer surveys, although the
cable industry historically has done poorly. What must
the industry do to change that perception?

PC: One of the things we need to do is look beyond our
own industry about calibrating what kind of experience
our customers are looking for. Our customers deal
with different companies and different industries every
day, whether it’s a cable operator or a retailer or a hotel.
I don’t think they have different standards of what
excellent customer service is. What are best-in-class
companies doing? We need to start holding ourselves
accountable to that level of service — not just our
competitors.


MCN: Cox’s customer-satisfaction rating fell 6% on the
American Customer Satisfaction Index released in May.
The ACSI said higher rates were the issue for Cox. Does
that correspond with your research?

PC: First of all, I should start by saying we look at all
different facets of research. Some are formal like this;
some of it is research we do with consumers. We value
research, but we have a portfolio of what we look at.

With the ACSI survey, they did highlight the rates — and
that’s not a surprise. Candidly, our whole industry is dealing
with this. It creates a challenge to us as a company.
That’s our lifeblood, the content, but how do we deal with
the fact that the programmers
are increasing their
rates to add more content?
We are absolutely dealing
with this issue. And it’s not
unique to Cox.

If you have a well-defined,
clear customer-experience
strategy for your consumers,
you run everything through
that filter and that’s how you
make your decisions about
what’s the best content to
carry, what are the best services
to deliver.

MCN: How big a role does
social media play in Cox’s
customer service and support?
How do you see that
evolving?

PC: This just becomes an
increasingly bigger part of
our business and our operating
decisions. People
now buy products after
they research them on the
Web. They hear what other
consumers are saying and
what they bought. They’re
getting advice on how to best operate those services. It’s
becoming more and more a part of not only our sales
and marketing strategies, but also our customer-service
strategies.

MCN: We’ve seen several operators, notably Comcast,
focus on service-time windows. What is Cox’s approach
to improve the customer experience vis-à-vis service
appointments?

PC: We’re actually trialing appointments where you tell
us when you want us to be there. I’ve been in this industry
a long, long time. It’s gone from all day, to a.m. or p.m.,
then four-hour windows — and now, we’re having consumers
tell us when they want us to be there.

With routing technology that gets more and more
sophisticated in terms of workforce management, that
gives you greater flexibility to really narrow that down.
We’re trialing that up in New England. We hope to learn
a lot there. It’s about logistics. It’s a complex business; we
have a lot of vehicles on the road. I don’t underestimate the
complexity of doing this, but I’m optimistic that the technology
can route our technicians more efficiently.

MCN: Cox has a joint marketing agreement with Verizon
Wireless. What have been the initial results?

PC: As you know, we first rolled that out in Oklahoma.
It’s going very well, and we expect to expand it to more
markets. What we think is great about it is, we have a
strong brand in our core voice, video and data products,
and Verizon Wireless has a great brand on the mobile
side. I don’t have specific data in terms of customer uptake,
but anecdotally I’m hearing great feedback from
our Oklahoma team.


MCN: On a different note, what’s been maybe the weirdest
customer request you’ve come across in your years
in cable?

PC: I’m going to punt on that. We’re very discreet with
our customer interactions. [Laughs.]

September