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Nextel emphasizes Service Done Right: the wireless provider uses a multifaceted communication plan to make customer service a priority.

To continue growing and delivering value to stakeholders, cellular provider Nextel developed and implemented a companywide initiative in 2004 that focused on improving customer satisfaction. Nextel understood that providing a superior customer experience not only sets a company apart from the pack, it also has a dramatic impact on the bottom line: It costs five times as much to replace a customer who leaves than to maintain an existing one. Nextel's Service Done Right program would make customer service a competitive differentiator for the company.

Wireless companies have been in all-out growth mode since the industry was born, and many had conditioned their employees to go after new customers, with less emphasis on satisfying existing ones. In fact, the industry as a whole was infamous for poor customer service. Nextel wanted to improve customer satisfaction at every point of contact. This required refocusing every one of the company's 19,000 employees, from salespeople to developers of products and services, on providing the best customer service possible.

Considering Nextel's rapid growth, thousands of new employees needed to hear the customer satisfaction message early and often, to ensure that it stayed entrenched in the corporate culture. Employees who work face-to-face with customers regularly receive customer service training, but back-office employees (such as engineers, project managers, communicators and marketers) also needed to recognize their responsibility for the customer experience if the company was to succeed.

Since one of the program's key messages was that customer service is every employee's business, the majority of the communication plan and business strategy was aimed at an all-employee audience, including all levels of management and all functional groups.

Objectives

Nextel's principal goal was to maximize stakeholder value through customer retention. To do this, it needed to continue building a corporate culture that recognized every employee's responsibility for the customer experience. The idea was to get employees to look across traditional functional roles in the interest of improving the customer experience.

The three main measurable objectives were to:

* Achieve customer turnover of 1.5 percent or lower, measured as a percentage of total subscribers.

* Achieve overall customer satisfaction, measured by Nextel's two main customer satisfaction survey metrics: the Customer Satisfaction Index and the Service Quality Index (both measured by Harris Cos.).

* Maintain the highest average revenue per unit (ARPU) in the industry, measured by revenue divided by average number of phones in use.

Solution and implementation

The Service Done Right communication plan was devised with four main strategies in mind. The first was to use existing communication channels to build awareness and provide information. Next was to integrate efforts wherever possible with communication groups in marketing, engineering and corporate communication. The communication team also wanted to supplement existing communication channels with employee promotions such as launch events and recognition awards promoting Service Done Right. Finally, the team wanted to target communications to different levels of employees to demonstrate executive buy-in and leverage message reinforcement by managers.

After creating a recognizable logo and themes for Service Done Right, Nextel developed a 13-minute video that featured the endorsement of the chief service officer as well as interviews with industry analysts, customers and employees. The nationwide launch occurred in July 2004, just before Independence Day in the U.S., as Nextel celebrated its "independence" from the rest of the wireless industry and the lackluster customer service associated with it. Employees nationwide were greeted with balloons and refreshments and had the opportunity to sign the "Nextel Declaration of Independence" pledge. The large documents were framed and prominently displayed in offices for the rest of the year.

In August, a Service Done Right intranet site was developed within i-Connect, Nextel's corporate intranet. The site served as a hub for information about the program (customer support resources, FAQs, etc.), and contained the nomination form for an employee recognition program and bios of the winners. Each month, 20 winners (out of hundreds of nominees) received gift checks and a Service Done Right jacket.

A major challenge for the communication team was that Service Done Right was one of many internal initiatives presented to employees. Rather than competing with them, the communication team joined forces with the sponsors of those other initiatives and found ways to leverage each other's efforts, inserting Service Done Right messaging into other communications where appropriate. This helped reinforce the fact that Service Done Right was more than just a program; it was a culture change.

Service Done Right was also mentioned in the quarterly all-employee webcast, and articles were written for a monthly newsletter for engineering and operations employees--a key audience, because they have an impact on the customer experience but don't deal directly with customers.

Measurement

Measurable success was achieved in all three objectives, as well as an employee opinion poll gauging the impact of the Independence Day launch. In that poll, employees were asked, based on what they learned from the launch event, how they thought they could help make customer service a differentiator for Nextel. More than 1,000 employees responded to the voluntary poll, placing it among the company's top-participation polls of the year.

While the results of both the Customer Satisfaction Index and the Service Quality Index met or exceeded the objectives, the most important and overarching measurement was customer turnover. Nextel met its ambitious goal for 2004 of 1.5 percent--the lowest in the wireless industry. The company also achieved its ARPU target, coming in at US$69--tops in the industry.

The Service Done Right initiative helped to move Nextel toward a more customer-focused and profitable way of doing business. By communicating clearly and reinforcing the program's driving principles, the communication team was able to help employees make the connection between their focus on the customer and Nextel's strong bottom line.

about the author Steve McGough is internal communications team manager at Sprint Nextel Corp. in Reston, Virginia.
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Title Annotation:case in point
Author:McGough, Steve
Publication:Communication World
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2006
Words:973
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