Doing Right by Customers


For years, Cox Communications has been held up as the gold standard of cable customer service. Even its competitors admit the MSO’s dedication to serving its customers has motivated them to better their own efforts.

Annual surveys from J.D. Power & Associates and the American Customer Satisfaction Index, among others, have found Cox to be among the best providers of customer service.

Cox had led ASCI’s customer-satisfaction scores in the cable/satellite category for six years in a row and that organization recently ranked Cox as the sixth-best large U.S. company when it comes to customer care. It joins Apple, Google, General Electric, Southwest Airlines and Hilton Hotels on that list. (The only other multichannel video service on the Top 10 list: DirecTV.)

Cox was also the first cable company to be named the best local phone provider by J.D. Power seven years ago.

But competitors are constantly upping the ante on customer care, and Cox executives know they must continue to improve their service or risk defections. Still, there is no secret sauce to Cox’s success, said vice president of customer care C. Scott Wise.

“An intense focus on the customer is our company culture,” said Wise. “Everyone — from the CEO to the CSRs — is willing to do what it takes to satisfy our customers.”

Employees are willing to go the extra mile because they feel management values their efforts, said Julio Herrera, manager of Cox’s Spanish-language customer-care team in Arizona. “All our new hires meet our VP/GM, and every year everyone gets a Christmas card from his family. Jim Kennedy [chairman of Cox Communications parent Cox Enterprises] has visited the system several times. “We all feel like family, and that makes us all want to work together for the greater goal of being customers’ trusted provider.”

Cox also creates strong career paths for employees. Among the many leadership programs available to employees is LIDER (Leaders In Development with Extreme Resolve, and also the Spanish word for “leader”), a Latino leadership program Herrera developed for his bilingual customer-care agents. Now in its third year, the 12-week program includes guest speakers, visits by corporate staff to discuss the company, as well as future corporate opportunities, and case studies. Twelve of the 30 employers who’ve participated in LIDER have been promoted, Herrera said

Cox customer-care agents are encouraged and empowered to solve a customer’s problem during the first phone call or home visit, Wise said. Efficiency metrics — such as how long a customer-care agent is on the phone with each customer or how many calls the agent takes each day — aren’t totally ignored, he said.

For Cox, though, first-call resolution is paramount, said Herrera. That means staying on the phone until a customer’s problem is solved or he or she is satisfied.

Cox also monitors consumer blogs and social-networking sites to make sure its customers are being heard. Sometimes, Wise said, customers may not tell a company it’s doing a bad job, but they may talk about poor service via blogs, Twitter or Facebook. The company has two employees dedicated to monitoring and replying to a number of social-networking sites.

While the corporate office has no Facebook or Twitter accounts, many of the local systems do. Cox Arizona spokesman Andrea Katsenes said her system is actively involved with social media and every department is participating in the program.

Cox has long polled customers about its service, and individual systems are scored on how well they do with customer care. But the MSO recently revamped its polling capabilities to include surveys of specific customer-care representatives. Every time a customer contacts Cox or has a service call, the MSO sends the subscriber a six-question e-mail survey asking about their experience. Eight percent to 10% of customers respond, Wise said, with 85% to 90% of respondents saying they were satisfied or very satisfied with their experience.

Supervisors on both the call center and technical sides of the house get weekly results from the surveys. Employees with exemplary ratings are singled out or rewarded for their efforts, while those agents who may not get high scores are given extra help or training to improve. The program provides immediate feedback on what’s working well and what’s not, added vice president of field operations Catherine Mitchell.

“Every Monday morning, our supervisors give our technicians quality scores, and most of those scores are dependent on those surveys,” she said.

The company doesn’t just count on its customers to tell it what works well and what doesn’t. Earlier this year, Cox set up a series of internal focus groups inviting employees to discuss the company’s policies and procedures and offer suggestions to improve customer service. Workers asked for more intuitive workstations, more consistent support processes and more streamlined product and service information so they could better service customers, said company spokesman Todd Smith.

Cox’s management believes that happy employees mean satisfied customers. The company has long been an advocate of work/life balance and career planning as a way of promoting and supporting its staffers. Cox was one of the first companies in the industry to provide on-site day care for CSRs and it’s an active proponent of telecommuting. About 17% of the company’s Spanish-language care staff in Arizona works from home, according to Herrera.

“Our department has grown quite a bit in recent years and finding desks and office space is always hard,” he said. “The ability to have some care agents work from home has alleviated that to a degree. It’s also good for the environment and provides a good work/life balance.”