In the hotly contested race for customer retention,
Verizon Wireless has logged two-and-a-half straight years of industry-leading customer loyalty. How does the company keep its customers happy and loyal? Lou Sigillo, Midwest area customer service vice president at Verizon Wireless, says it starts with simply meeting customers' expectations about products and service.
"When I was taking calls 14 years ago we had two price plans and one option -- voicemail. Now, [our business] is about handheld computers that also make phone calls," Sigillo says. The business grows more complex every year, but
internal culture remains steadfastly focused on the customer.
"It's corporate culture for us -- it starts with the quality of our network, because it's important that our customers can use their phones when they need to," Sigillo says, pointing not only at billions of dollars in infrastructure investment, but also at a rigorous quality-control process for new handsets introduced to the network.
With several nationwide contact centers and hundreds of storefront and kiosk points of presence, Verizon Wireless
takes seriously the challenge of ensuring that customers receive consistent treatment. "We try to make sure the
experience and the answers customers get in a store are the same as when they call into the call center," Sigillo
says. "We spend a lot of time making sure that the tools in both line up, that our messages are consistent, and that
we're treating our customers the same in both places." To that end, new contact center agents go through six weeks
of training, plus at least eight hours of additional training on a monthly basis.
Verizon Wireless also tries to influence the customer experience even when it doesn't control it. Since Verizon
Wireless relies on partners to provide the device hardware, the performance of those third-party products can ultimately
determine the fate of a customer's satisfaction with the overall Verizon Wireless experience. "Sure, there are times
when we may not be the first to market with a handset, or may release one a little later than some of our competitors,
because we want to make sure we do enough testing so that when our customers use the phone, it meets the high standards
our customers expect," Sigillo says.
Just how successful are these tactics at fostering customer retention? According to data released by the carriers in
financial statements, Verizon's customer churn rates, both in the contract-only segment and for all total customers,
are more than 40 percent better than its nearest competitor, and among contract customers, fewer than one in 100 customers switch providers away from the company. Not coincidentally, the company has also rated tops in its category for customer satisfaction on the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) the past 10 quarters.
Building loyalty depends on customer trust. Trust has two main components -- the intention to do the right thing, and
the ability to do the right thing. By focusing on making things easier for the customer, and making the network
more reliable, Verizon Wireless is building customer trust.
The company is feeling so confident about its reliability that it recently introduced a 30-day "Test Drive"
guarantee program, allowing customers to back out of their contract commitment if they are dissatisfied with the service.
So far, uptake of that safety valve has not boosted churn. "It hasn't had any negative impact on the call center...
we're standing behind our claims, and it gives our service reps something to stand behind and feel proud about," Sigillo
says. "At this point it's been nothing but a big success. Creating a reliable environment for our customers -- whether
it's a voice call, text message, or email -- will bring in new customers and keep our existing customers."