With more than 25 years of experience in the telecommunications arena, Cathy Kilstrom has seen dramatic changes in the way cable thinks about and executes customer care.
As senior vice president of customer care for Comcast Cable’s West Division, Kilstrom pushes the envelope when it comes to making sure the subscriber experience and employee interactions exceed expectations.
Perhaps her biggest contribution and accomplishment is Comcast’s “Center of Excellence” (COE) model. With her leadership, Comcast’s West Division has transformed the company’s approach to the overall customer experience by reconfiguring and reorganizing its entire service infrastructure, becoming a model for the rest of the company.
Kilstrom sees the ultimate customer-care experience as one where specialization is leveraged to benefit customers and employees. It’s taken several years, but the West Division has gone from having 25 customer-service operations to 10 facilities with six specialty areas, including billing, tech support, sales and repair.
“Customer service in the cable industry has always gotten a bad rap,” Kilstrom said. “And I have always felt we needed to change the model to change the game. The move toward specialization is taking us to the next level. ”
MODEL IN MINNESOTA
The new organization is the foundation for the West Division’s first Loyalty Call Center, which opened in Minnetonka, Minn., in the summer of 2011 and is the model for Comcast’s other two divisions.
“We have been transforming the business and the customer experience and we’re creating new ways to serve our customers and employees,” Kilstrom said. “Happy employees mean happy customers.”
As part of the West Division’s reorganization, Kilstrom made sure employees were trained with new skills and offered performance bonuses to stay, or offered relocation packages in instances where workers wanted to stay with Comcast in a different specialty. Staffers have also been given clear career-progression paths.
“The [career-pathing] effort was unprecedented for customer- care employees,” Kilstrom said. “Segregation of specialties hasn’t been done in the industry with precision — until now.”
John Heslip, Comcast West Division’s senior vice president of engineering and technical operations, credits Kilstrom for the transformation of the MSO’s customer-care organization. “The project has been executed with precision [and] she has led the effort with astounding success,” Heslip said.
“She had the foresight to understand the path the industry needs to take,” Heslip said. “But everything she does is done through two filters: customers and employees. .”
When she isn’t making sure Comcast’s customers are happy with their service, Kilstrom is actively involved in her community. She lives in Castle Pines outside of Denver, and is a member of the Women’s Vision Foundation board of directors, the University of Colorado at Denver’s board of advisers and the board of governors for KUSA-TV’s 9WHO CARE program.
She received the “2005 Woman of the Year Award” from the Rocky Mountain chapter of Women in Cable Telecommunications, and presided as the organization’s president during 2007 and 2008.
Kilstrom has a passion for wanting to see women grow and advance in the industry and the Rocky Mountain WICT chapter has long been a passion of hers.
“As the president of RM WICT, along with her vice president, Debbie Egner from Starz, Cathy persuaded senior women in the region to join the RM WICT Board and then widened that circle of inclusion to senior leaders, both men and women, to transform the RM region into the WICT powerhouse that it is today,” Jana Henthorn, senior vice president of academic and industry outreach at the Cable Center, said. “Cathy’s whole-hearted involvement established the base for a financially secure, program-rich organization that sets the curve for WICT in many areas today. Cathy was then invited to join the WICT National Board where she worked as chapter development chair with similarly great results.”
‘A GREAT BOSS’
Tricia Coy, vice president of customer care at Comcast, reports directly to Kilstrom and has worked with her for about a decade. “Cathy is always about continuously raising the bar. She is a great boss and working for her is rewarding and challenging. She has the best interest of her employees at heart with every decision she makes and she’s always trying to help her staff develop professionally.”
Helpful, yes, but also able to challenge her employees.“Cathy wants everyone to bring their ‘A Game’ to work every day because she brings her ‘A Game’ to work every day,” Coy said.
Steve White, president of Comcast West Division, credits Kilstrom’s dedication to a strong work ethic and her ability to hire the best people and inspire them to do their jobs well.
She is not afraid to make courageous decisions that might be outside the box, but end up being correct. Despite that, she makes everyone instantly comfortable, White and Coy said.
Kilstrom considers herself a strong collaborator and credits that for much of her success. “I lean heavily on stakeholders and the management at Comcast,” she said. “I have a deep appreciation for differences around the table and outcomes are always better when you lean on others. It has helped us be much more successful.”
While her job takes up much of her daily schedule, Kilstrom still carves out as much time as possible to be with her four grandkids; two live in Denver and two live in Omaha, Neb. She walks and plays a little golf. “I stink at golf,” she said. “But I keep thinking that if I play more, I will get better at it.”
She’s heavily involved with her local church — St. Francis of Assisi in Castle Rock, Colo. — and loves to travel when she can.
“I would describe Cathy as an elegant, hard-charging, whirling dervish of accomplishments,” Henthorn said of her friend and colleague. “She gives tirelessly of her time and talents outside of her demanding job.”
TITLE: Senior VP, Customer Care, Comcast Cable – West Division
CAREER: First job was working for a small, independent telephone company; joined TCI/AT&T Broadband as SVP, telephony in 1999; named AT&T’s senior VP of customer care in 2001; joined Comcast with its purchase of AT&T Broadband in 2002.
QUOTABLE: “I have a passion for wanting to see women grow in the industry. But I am passionate about advanced education and I connected with the community and dedicated to helping the economically disadvantaged. I try to align what I do with my passions. You just have to make time to do the things that you’re passionate about.”