Don’t Be the Big Guys

Hurricane_Katrina_August_28_2005_NASALarge telco and cable companies took a pretty good beating in the press in 2013. There were tons of articles that don’t present them in a very good light. For all of my clients and friends in the industry who are not these large companies, I think it might more important right now to show your customers why you are not like the big guys.

Here are just a few things that made headlines this year:

  • Verizon said they would not replace the copper on Fire Island and parts of New York City that were destroyed by Hurricane Sandy and wanted customers to instead use cell phones.
  • AT&T told the FCC in a filing that they were planning on ditching ‘millions of access lines’ and wanted to transfer rural areas to cellphone-only.
  • The large ISPs, both telcos and cable companies came in at the bottom again on the national customer service satisfaction polls that measure the companies that the public most dislikes.
  • Almost every large carrier has been accused of handing over all of their telephone and email traffic to the NSA.
  • Cable rates had continued dramatic increases everywhere.
  • It was reported in California that telephone rates have nearly tripled since they were deregulated in 2008.
  • Verizon customers have accused the company of pressuring them to convert to FiOS and then not having access to older copper products.
  • All of these large companies announced record profits.

There is such a widespread dislike of these companies that we need to be careful that the dislike of them doesn’t wipe off onto the rest of us. In large cities many customer talk about holding their nose and picking the incumbent they dislike the least.

Unfortunately, some of my smaller telco clients have policies in place that also don’t win them any love in the marketplace. As an example, I ran across one company this year who would only accept customers who would pay with direct bank debit. I found another client who would only let somebody reconnect after being disconnected by coming in live with cash or a money order. I suspect many companies have policies that are not customer friendly. In the long run any such policy is going to cost you revenues and profits.

It’s easy to understand how such policies get started. Perhaps a company was having a high level of bad debt. But you can’t punish all of your customers for the behavior of a few (and in fact, you really shouldn’t punish anybody). I know personally that if I had to bring cash into my telco in person that they would never see me again, and I can’t be unique in this.

I think the constant bad headlines about telecom companies probably paint us all in a bad light. So I would advise that you take a fresh look at your company and figure out how you are going to let your customers know that you are not the same as the big guys. You may assume they know this, but these is a very good chance that they think of you just as the phone or cable company and that over the years you have done something to annoy many of your customers.

So take this new year as an opportunity to think about how you tell your customers who you are. Certainly you can always tell them with your actions, but it never hears to remind them in other ways. So what do you want your customers to most know about you? Figure out a way to get out that message.

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