On this last episode of “Journey — Exploring the Customer Experience” our guests discuss making customers your company’s greatest fans. What’s their secret to creating lifelong subscribers? It’s simple: listening to customers and recognizing their loyalty.
Transcripts have been lightly edited for clarity and readability.
Andy Johns: This is “Journey — Exploring the Customer Experience.” A special six-part StoryConnect miniseries hosted by Carrie Huckeby. Journey is a production of WordSouth and Pioneer Utility Resources. And in partnership with our presenting sponsor, Calix, whose mission is to enable broadband service providers of all sizes to simplify, excite and grow. Email us at hello@WordSouth.com to continue this customer experience conversation.
Carrie Huckeby: The customer journey podcast series — our six-week road trip — has taken us through awareness, evaluation, purchase and retention. We are here at the last stop of the trip: advocacy. Retention and advocacy are stops that are close together. And although retaining the customer is a good thing, the goal is to move them along to become brand advocates. Stop them from considering alternative offers and transition them into super fans. Fans that don’t just pay you month after month; they stand and cheer for your brand. They hand out sincere referrals and solid word of mouth recommendations because they feel valued, and they trust your product. They trust that your company will not let them down. It doesn’t get any better than that. In this episode, I asked my guests these questions. When it comes to reduced pricing and promotions, is it just for your new acquisitions? How do you reward customer shoutouts, milestones, loyalty and referrals. Do you monitor social media for positive comments, and when you see them, what do you do? And what is the employee’s role at the advocacy stage? As my guests answered the questions, they admitted they don’t have all the answers for this stop on the journey. There are challenges, resources, budgeting and tracking, to name a few. But all of them are doing things that weren’t put into action with just advocacy in mind. They do it because it’s who they are and what they do. And it does create brand advocates. And that’s an important piece of a great customer experience. We start with Dee Dee Longenecker from Eastex. New fiber acquisitions are definitely something that she has to think about as part of her job. But on her 2021 checklist, she’s making sure that her company has campaigns and promotions that do not exclude her long time customers.
Dee Dee Longenecker: I think a lot of companies make the mistake of focusing almost exclusively on new subscribers and sometimes to the detriment of their loyal customer base. I think we’re really lucky at Eastex. While I don’t have the specific stats, we do have some customers that have been with us for a very long time. And we do have some of those customers that sing our praises for us. In terms of how we reward or whether we reward those customers, we probably don’t do enough to reward those customers. We have had some promotions. Product and pricing promotions, where we do open it up, not just to new subscribers, but to everybody. In fact, during the pandemic, at the start of the pandemic, we had just an epic broadband promotion where anybody in our service territory who had students in the home from kindergarten through college or who had an educator in the home, that we extended two months of free broadband. And so we do try to make sure that if we’re offering a promotion that can lend itself to being a good option for both new subscribers and existing, that we do extend it to everybody.
Carrie Huckeby: In “The Power of Moments,” the authors explain how to engineer a customer experience moment. You can do it by recognizing milestones and creating surprises. Hardy Communications’s Derek Barr tells us about their anniversary bill discount that does both.
Derek Barr: When sign a person up for fiber, what we do is after a year we send them a coupon in their bill. They can sign that coupon and send it back in with their bill or we do it online or whatever, and then we give them a credit off of their bill just thanking them for being our customer for a year. And then after two years, we do it again. And so we make sure that they know, and it has a big effect. It’s not a ton of money, but it is just something where they think, “oh, wow, it’s been 12 months, and here they are remembering me.” And then after another year, they get another one, and then they’re like, “holy cow, this is like, yeah, I don’t get this necessarily from other companies.”
Carrie Huckeby: None of my guests have a program that they identify or they call specifically a loyalty program, but they do have many creative methods in place to reward loyalty and a referral. Minburn Communications’s Deb Lucht and Dee Dee Longenecker at Eastex tell us about their referral programs.
Deb Lucht: Really, the only advocacy that we do with existing customers is the I Experience Referral program, and that allows them for every touch point. It’s not just a one time referral. So if they want to make four or five referrals, and there’s a positive benefit from that referral, then they receive a financial reward on their accounts. So that’s kind of our way of thanking them and giving them credit on their services.
Dee Dee Longenecker: We also do customer referral promotions from time to time to reward people who are referring new customers. And those have looked all different, whether it’s a bill credit or a gift card or something of that nature. But yeah, we probably, like I say, that’s on my list. And we probably could do more to reward some of those customers that have been with us for a long time. And, you know, that we really appreciate in value their long term commitments to us.
Carrie Huckeby: Customers do want to feel appreciated and valued for sure. I know I do. So how does social media play a key role on the customer journey and at the advocacy stop? My guests use it as another tool to tell their company’s story and to engage their customers and to keep their ear to the ground. Although social media is often used as a complaint channel, some customers do use it to give positive shoutouts. Dee Dee tells us about the 5-Star Fridays.
Dee Dee Longenecker: We get shoutouts. A typical situation is somebody will ask a question, you know, “hey, does anyone have any experience with Internet service in this area?” or whatever. And we’ll see customers of ours respond to that inquiry and say, “yeah, we have Eastex. They’re great!” And I do try to monitor all those kind of interactions. I’m sure it’s impossible to catch all of them, but I do try to reach out either on that specific thread and just say thank you. And I try to chime in and offer an official kind of here’s what we could do for you, and we hope you’ll reach out. But I do try to thank anybody who gives us a positive shout out on social media. We also try to reframe some of the 5-Star reviews that we get into a graphic, and we’ll post those. We have 5-Star Fridays. My partner, Caitlin Puckett, who’s our marketing manager, she’s been great about developing some social media content that kind of shines a light on those positive activities, too. So we’ll repost those and just say “we really appreciate our customers.” It’s really fun to see how much they appreciate us. And it makes our everyday work so much more valuable to us when we see these things. So we do try to promote and kind of recycle some of that so that people are feeling rewarded when they do those things.
Carrie Huckeby: Shannon Sears at WCTEL told us in an earlier episode about taking the risk on themselves and offering a no-contract installation. He recently took some risk using social media and a Valentine’s contest, and it paid off there too.
Shannon Sears: February just ended, of course, Valentine’s Day, and we did a Facebook contest and said, “hey, tell us what you like about our company.” And so that’s kind of risky because you could also have people say, “oh well, y’all suck.” But they didn’t. I mean, they said so many good things. And what the main message that I saw when I read it — it was just hundreds and hundreds of people posting stuff — was I mean, I just love talking to you. You have great customer service, and it’s great to talk to people. Your installers are great and so happy to have your service. And so it really was nice because we’re able to take that information and share it with our staff because they’re the reason why people say stuff like that. And so that was good. That was a fun way to do that stuff in a positive light. And you kind of get to hear what they’re thinking too. We get so many positive accolades really, that it’s sometimes almost embarrassing, really. And I know we, just like any other company, we do at times have things that are said negatively, but it’s how we respond to those things. But it has really been built into our culture from the beginning to provide top notch customer service and an overall customer experience.
Carrie Huckeby: Shannon, told me they give prizes on a regular basis using their social media contest. Everyone loves giveaways, right? Obviously, Shannon and his team are doing things very well and keeping his customers engaged. 75% of WCTEL’s customers have been with them over ten years. 23%, twenty plus years. So I’d say there are some satisfied advocates in that 75%.
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Carrie Huckeby: I mentioned earlier the challenges of monitoring social media and like many in the industry, Derek Barr, is a department of one when it comes to keeping an eye on Hardy Communications’s social media accounts. And although it’s tough to keep track, he explained that in a territory where everyone knows everyone, social media is a vital tool to build community and connection.
Derek Barr: That’s a lot of work. Because we don’t have — I mean — I’m the social media person. I have another person that helps me with that. So there are two of us that handle all the social media. And I don’t have an Instagram for the business or anything like that. Mostly it’s all Facebook, and that’s where the vast majority of our customer base is on. But just in terms of keeping track of the comments, you know, it might not be a message. You might just be a comment on something that you’ve posted. And so keeping track with all that is a lot of work. But people do expect that if you’re out there, that you’re going to be responding to them. So it’s pretty much you never have a day off in that sense, because you’re always checking and seeing if somebody made a reference to you or things like that. And it can be, I’ll be honest, it can get frustrating, too, because I’m sure everybody experiences this. But being a small community, a lot of the people here are local. They grew up here, so they know people. And I’ll just have another employee sometimes will pop in and say, “hey, did you see what so-and-so wrote?” And I’ll go out there, and they’re like, “yeah, my Internet’s down,” but they haven’t called us or anything. They’re not even writing on our page. It’s something on their own personal page. And there’s no way that you can track 100% of that stuff. I mean, I understand that. But to see that you could just see it and say, “well, they haven’t called us, or they’re not writing on our page, so don’t worry about it.”
Derek Barr: But no, we don’t take that approach. We take that approach as, look, somebody is putting this out there about us. So we’re lucky that we do know about it. Find out what’s going on. So we’ll contact them. And that’s always been a positive response. It’s not like anybody says, “what are you doing stalking me?” Because I’ve wondered why people haven’t thought that, to be honest, but it’s just because we’re a small community. It’s not like I’m necessarily known as Derek Barr from Hardy as much as I’m just known as Derek Barr, who was the barber’s son all those years growing up. I mean, they’ve known me here all my life. So it’s tough to keep up with. But that’s the type of thing that just enhances the whole idea that you’re part of the community. Yeah, well, we’ll usually just give them a thank you, or I usually make a point to comment. And as long as I see it, if it’s on our page, there’s no question. If there’s a comment or any kind of positive remark, I will give a reply to that. A thank you. Sometimes if it’s just a general that they’ve noticed something we’ve done, even if it doesn’t necessarily reflect on us one way or the other, I’ll make sure that I have some kind of response back, even if it’s just a like or something like that. I never just leave a comment sitting out there.
Carrie Huckeby: “I never leave a comment sitting out there.” When it comes to delivering excellent customer experience and earning advocates, that’s a powerful statement and a mindset to have. When it comes to the CX and creating champions of your company’s service and brand, employee buy-in is critical. Kurt Gruendling, the VP of business development and marketing at WCVT, explained why it’s so important for the employees to evolve just like their customers do.
Kurt Gruendling: I mean, everybody understands that we’re in a competitive environment now. It wasn’t always that way. Our services are also more complicated than ever before. It used to be, “Technician, I’m having a problem with my phone line.” You dispatch a technician. They’d walk to the side of the house, plug in. That’s an inside problem. That’s yours, and there was a clear delineation. That’s no longer the case. Even if fiber are made outside of the house and inside the house, it’s then an extension of the Wi-Fi, it’s all yours as well. That customer experience is down to the device level, the TV in the home. It really doesn’t matter. It’s ours. We need to own that. So that’s been a learning experience, and it’s something that continues to evolve. I think the good news is we’ve got better tools now to help analyze and identify the root cause of the problem. Help technicians troubleshoot quicker. From a customer standpoint, they don’t care. They just want it to work. And regardless of what that devices or the 30 devices in their home, they want it all to work, obviously.
Kurt Gruendling: And we all know with technology that can be a challenge. So we’ve had to provide a lot of education to our technicians, and we’ve been doing more outreach and education through webinars and newsletters and other pieces to our customers as well to try to bring them up to speed and help them understand the complexity of what some of the solutions might be. And that’s something I think that all our employees do understand. Obviously some deliver a better experience than others. But that’s something that we can work on. Now, you know as well as I that 25 years ago, we weren’t providing any customer service or customer experience training to technicians. It was only the customer service department. And then that’s when we started first talking about sales and sales training. Right now that’s been pushed throughout the entire organization. So I think we’ve all gotten better at it. I think the customer expectation continues to evolve. And how we approach those things is the training that we deliver to our employees is changing with that.
Carrie Huckeby: Advocacy is one of the tougher stops on the customer journey. Kyle Randleman at Star Communications always tells you like it is. No sugar coating from Kyle. When I asked him the advocacy questions, he didn’t hesitate to say, “we need to work on that.”
Kyle Randleman: That’s our weakness. We’re really not, just to be honest. It’s probably a task that I need to take on. I need to let it marinate my mind and try to figure out how the best way to do that. Because I mean, I don’t know the service anniversary dates of our customers. And, you know, I would love to be able to say, “hey, Miss Smith is celebrating her 55th year with Star” and post something like that on social media or whatever. Obviously, I’d have to have a release or something. But yeah, I don’t do a whole lot on the advocacy side as far as that goes. I think that’s an area that we’re not doing what we need to do, and we need to do better there. I’d say the other area that I need to focus on a little bit more is you getting the buy-in from other departments. You cannot just be your customer or your commercial department or your marketing department. And it’s got to be company-wide.
Carrie Huckeby: Like Kurt, Kyle echoes that all employees, all departments have to be singing from the same page in the same songbook, whether it’s accounting or the warehouse. The consistent performance by each of your employees is part of sealing the deal from customer to enthusiast. I want to conclude this last episode in our series with Gregg Hunter, the marketing and PR specialist at Nemont. It only seems right since we launched this special series with Gregg as he explained his first CX aha moment. And just like Gregg’s powerful opening of our first episode, his closing comments are equally impactful.
Gregg Hunter: If anything, COVID taught us is that we have to be able to adapt, and sometimes it’s to adapt overnight. It’s like you don’t have a lot of time to think. You just have to adapt, and you have to change with what you’re doing. If it’s not working, then go the other way. And I think we have to be versatile when it comes to that. And that’s probably the hardest thing for people to do, is to change and to readapt different ways. But I think we really have to look at that. That has to be a focal point in going forward, not knowing what’s going to be tomorrow, what it’s going to look like.
Carrie Huckeby: I want to thank all my guests that took time out of their days and talk to me about how they keep the competitive edge by monitoring the journey and the overall customer experience. I hope you’ve heard something that inspired you, pointed you in a new direction, supported your current initiatives, created new thoughts, or maybe it just provided some human connection hearing the voices of your marketing peers and friends. Thank you so much for being on this road trip with me. And I’m sending each and every one of you best wishes with all of your customer journey and customer experience efforts. I hope you have a fantastic, safe, healthy and happy 2021.
Andy Johns: We hope that you have enjoyed this episode of Journey — Exploring the Customer Experience. A six-part StoryConnect miniseries hosted by Carrie Huckeby. A special thanks goes to our guests and to our presenting sponsor, Calix. Visit calix.com to learn how their cloud and software solutions can help you simplify your business, excite your subscribers and grow your value. Journey and StoryConnect are productions of WordSouth and Pioneer Utility Resources.