Cable Operators

Suddenlink To Subs: How Are We Doing?

8/09/2010 8:01 AM Eastern

At Suddenlink Communications,
being named “most improved”
cable operator by J.D.
Power & Associates two years in a
row is all well
and good.

What really
gets the
St. Louisbased
midsized
MSO’s
collective heart racing is its “NPS”
ranking.

That is short for Net Promoter
Score, a tool the company uses
as both a loyalty and customersatisfaction
gauge for its nearly
1.3 million subscribers.

Simply put, NPS is determined
by customers who rate whether
they would recommend Suddenlink
service to a friend on a scale
of one to 10 (10 being the highest
recommendation).

NPS sprung from a business
book published in 2006: The Ultimate
Question
by Fred Reichheld.
According to Reichheld, the
key to customer loyalty is elevating
customer metrics to the same
level and importance as financial
metrics. Companies like Southwest
Airlines, Harley-Davidson,
Amazon, eBay and General Electric
have all adopted Reichheld’s
techniques.


‘HOW LIKELY ARE YOU …’

Suddenlink began using NPS in
2007, asking a single question:
“How likely are you to recommend
Suddenlink to someone
you know?” Customers that rated
Suddenlink a nine or 10 were considered
“promoters,” with scores
of seven to eight ranking that customer
as “passive” and one to six
making them “detractors.”

The idea is to have a lot more
promoters than detractors in your
customer base.

According to Suddenlink chief
operating officer Tom McMillin,
once detractors are identified,
there are programs in place to
address their problems and turn
them first into passives and ultimately
into promoters.

That’s just what Suddenlink is
doing.

Between Suddenlink’s first NPS
survey in mid 2007 and its latest
(covering the 12 months from
July 2009 to June 2010), the operator
has improved the percentage
of customers that rate it either a
nine or a 10 from 54% to 59%; decreased
the percentage of detractors
from 26% to 16%; and raised
its NPS score (total promoters minus
detractors) from 28 to 43.
“Clearly,
our efforts
are resonating
with our customers,” Suddenlink
CEO Jerry Kent said.

Suddenlink believes its adherence
to NPS has not only led to
strong improvements in customer
satisfaction — evident by the
J.D. Power rankings — but also
has led to reductions in churn
and repeat service calls, and increases
in revenue and customer
growth (revenue was up 6.8% between
Q109 and Q110 and revenue
generating units rose 7.3% in
the same period).

Without divulging all of the
company’s customer-service secrets,
Suddenlink senior vice
president of customer experience
Gibbs Jones said Suddenlink views
the NPS score as an overall barometer
of how the company is doing
on the customer-service front.

Data from NPS, combined with
that from J.D. Power and other
sources — like transactional surveys
from Satmetrix, which are initiated
as a result of a specific order,
installation or service call — have
helped shaped a number of initiatives
at Suddenlink, Jones said.
Those include Careerlink (to
enhance a technician’s knowledge
and skills); Suddenlink ETA
Direct (which places a handheld
appointment manager with each
field technician to enhance efficiency);
Project Imagine (a $350 million
multiyear infrastructure rebuild
program); and improvements to its
online customer help site.

The data also led to a stronger
focus on smaller issues. For example,
as a result of the surveys,
Suddenlink has redoubled efforts
to remind technicians to wear
“booties” over their shoes when
entering a customer’s home or offi
ces and vacuuming up any mess
before they leave.

“Those may seem like small
steps, but they have prompted a
number of customers to write us
and praise the attention to detail,”
Jones said.

Suddenlink started Careerlink
in the second half of 2008 to help
all its technicians achieve Society
of Cable Telecommunications
Engineers certification, a process
that was completed on July 23. To
date, more than 1,500 Suddenlink
engineers and other field personnel
have earned more than 3,000
SCTE certifications.

SCTE certification does more
than create better trained and
skilled employees. It also saves
money. Suddenlink estimates
it has saved millions of dollars
through meaningful reductions
in repeat service calls and customer
churn.

Between the end of 2008 and
2009 — the first full calendar year
with Careerlink in place — Suddenlink
realized a 10% reduction
in repeat service calls and a 4%
reduction in churn, it reported.

McMillin said the company
spends more than 250,000 hours
per year in tech training. The average call center agent undergoes four to
six weeks of training before speaking with customers.

Suddenlink also revamped its
customer help website to display
information by ZIP code, service
category and most queried topic,
a move that helped triple customer
use of the site in the first month
the enhancements were unveiled.

The operator added more than
200 customer-support employees
during the economic downturn;
employed better screening methods
for new customer support
workers; and made better software
and troubleshooting tools available
to help technicians do their
jobs better and more efficiently.

Late last year, Suddenlink began
deploying Suddenlink ETA
Direct, a handheld appointmentmanagement
system that greatly
improved efficiency. Between December
2009 and June 2010, the
technology (from TOA Technologies)
helped increase the time
techs spent with customers (as
opposed to driving or doing administrative
tasks) by nearly 14%;
increased the percentage of jobs
completed on the same day they
were scheduled by almost 9%; and
increased the percentage of ontime
appointments by nearly 5%.

The company also is completing
final steps to test the technology’s
customer notification and
survey capabilities in several locations.
Within a month or two,
Suddenlink hopes to be able to
provide CSRs and front counter
staff with better visibility into a
technician’s estimated time of arrival,
so they can provide that information
to customers.

AUTOMATING ETA

In the next three to four months,
Suddenlink hopes to roll out an
automated and online functionality to allow customers
to check a technician’s ETA on
their own.

Project Imagine was kicked off
in 2006 and has helped Suddenlink
boost its high-speed Internet
offerings and increased channel
capacity. When the $350 million
project is completed in 2012,
Suddenlink will have the capacity
for about 100 HD channels,
and DOCSIS 3.0 will be available
in 90% of its footprint. Suddenlink
already has a high-speed Internet
service available in parts of
Texas that tops out at 107 Megabits
per second, the fastest in the
country at the moment.

Suddenlink also pays attention
to the negative comments it has
received among more than 30,000
customer responses.

Any customer who provides a
negative rating on a Satmetrix survey
receives a proactive call from
the company, and steps are taken
to address any lingering issues.

“It all comes down to taking
better care of your customers
than your competitors,” CEO Kent
said. “If you do that, you win.”

NPS ON THE RISE
Between its first NPS survey in mid-2007 and its latest
covering July 2009 to June 2010, Suddenlink has:
• Increased the percentage of promoters (customers who rate it a 9 or
10) from 54% to 59%.

• Decreased the percentage of detractors (those rating Suddenlink a 6
or less) from 26% to 16%.

• Increased its NPS score from 28 to 43.

SOURCE: Suddenlink

ETA DIRECT IMPACT

Since putting handheld wireless appointment managers
into field techs’ hands in December 2009, Suddenlink has:
• Increased the amount of time techs spend with customers (rather
than driving or completing administrative tasks) by nearly 14%.

• Increased the percentage of jobs completed the same day as
scheduled by almost 9%.

• Increased the percentage of on-time appointments by nearly 5%.

SOURCE: Suddenlink

September