News

Putting the 'C' in Confidence

9/05/2009 2:00 AM Eastern

A visit to Cox Communications headquarters here last week left me thinking clichés like the calm before the storm, quiet confidence and controlled chaos.

Maybe those “C” words were inspired by the lit-up blue letter “C” that sat on the floor, plugged into the wall, near the entrance to CEO Pat Esser's office.

The C, Esser told me and two Multichannel News colleagues, is a symbol. Cox put the C in customer service, he said. That C is a reminder that Cox needs to put the C in retail, too.

“That's our challenge,” he said.

We were there to talk with Esser and other key members of the Cox team for the “Operator of the Year” package we're working on for Sept. 28, where you'll read more specifics from the visit.

Frankly, you'll also hear Cox officials holding back some specifics, such as when they plan to launch the next big thing — wireless services.

They can afford to be quiet: Cox Enterprises five years ago bought out the public shareholders in Cox Communications, taking the cable business private. Cox bought the ability to risk venturing into wireless on its own (and with Sprint) without having to persuade fickle investors it's a good idea.

Selling wireless means getting into retail. You need places people can come in and try out the cell phones and high-tech texting toys, to borrow a phrase from Rescue Me's Uncle Teddy.

Cox is confident the trust it has won from its customers gives it a good shot, in its markets, at also winning wireless accounts, on top of video, wired voice and Internet.

Retail is an opportunity for cable, Cox executives say. Cable storefronts already have “natural traffic” from people coming in for equipment or to pay bills.

Execute properly — borrow concepts from retail aces (like Apple) — and turn an unavoidable expense (stores) into incremental revenue. Not just from wireless sales. Upsale opportunities abound, even commercial accounts.

Dallas Clement, Cox Communications chief strategy officer, said that as we met on Sept. 1, there was “angst” across the company looking ahead to the 2009 wireless launch. That's because it's such a big deal, cutting across the company, not because Cox won't be ready.

A little angst is good. Even without the C.

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