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Every Customer, Every Time

At the Naples, FL, hub store, manager Lori Vallejo and her team send out thank-you notes to customers who come in with a problem. Yes, you read that right. It's one of the ways the staff tries to set GTE Wireless apart. Says Lori, 'The basic philosophy we have adopted is to make our customers not only satisfied customers, but customers who leave the store raving about the excellent service they receive ... Mostly, customers are flabbergasted, and they express appreciation for our attention.'"

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This excerpt is from GTE Wireless' book, Every Customer, Every Time: Inspirational Stories of Exceptional Customer Service, which it hands out to new employees.

"I believe it is important that we have a tangible manifestation of our customer-service philosophy ... Every customer, every time. It's what we need to believe and how we need to act," wrote Mark Feighner, GTE Wireless president, in the book's introduction.

Ask anyone at GTE Wireless -- from CEO to customer care associate (CCA) -- about the company's philosophy, and you will hear the same thing.

"We want to be the easiest company to do business with by servicing every customer, every time, so they don't have to call back," said Dan Mead, GTE Wireless vice president of technology & operations support. "We want to make sure that everyone is sending the same message consistently, time and time again."

Any customer can churn these days because of a better price or a larger network, so GTE Wireless differentiates itself from competitors through its service delivery, he said. What company wouldn't want to be known for great customer service? You can say you are dedicated to customers, but there is a strong difference between saying it and showing it. Through the years, GTE Wireless has bred a top-down dedication to customer service and a bottom-up idea-generating process.

RETENTION THROUGH TRAINING GTE Wireless emphasizes customer service by creating a strong training program that includes three major programs: Rookie Camp, a call-support hotline and a quality program.

GTE Wireless always has had an intense training process, but when CCAs brought it to management's attention that they didn't know what questions to ask supervisors during training because they hadn't actually experienced the job, Rookie Camp was born, said Margie Weaver, GTE Wireless manager, customer care. As part of Rookie Camp, which began last June, trainees sit in phone lab, where they take live calls for a week under supervision before they go onto the floor.

"CCAs feel more confident on their first day on the floor because they feel they have a strong knowledge base once they are talking with customers on their own," Weaver said.

If a CCA can't find the answer to a customer's question, GTE Wireless' call-support hotline can help. This program also began last summer and has been "the company's greatest savior," according to Weaver. The company's most experienced CCAs are promoted into the call-support hotline, and they are trained first on any new technology, rate plans or company changes. The hotline works as an internal help desk for CCAs who don't know the answer to a customer's question and need immediate help. CCAs at the call-support hotline strive to answer 90% of calls in less than 10 seconds so that the CCA calling in doesn't make the customer wait.

"We found that many escalations were calls for help from CCAs, and we are an additional resource where they can find support," said Blanche Walker, GTE Wireless supervisor, customer care.

GTE's call-support hotline answers 300 to 500 calls a day from CCAs, and it tracks all calls to let management know the areas where CCAs need assistance. If the hotline notices several calls about the same subject, for example, it can suggest stronger training in that area. Or, if a CCA calls with the same question several times, his supervisor can give him additional training.

Fred Jefferson, GTE Wireless manager, customer care, said another piece of the company's retention plan is its quality program, in which supervisors listen to phone calls as part of quality monitoring.

"When CCAs join GTE Wireless, they don't have all the tools they need," he said. "As part of training, they learn to listen, let customers vent and save the customer any way they can."

AWARDS & INCENTIVES Besides these three training components, GTE Wireless offers its CCAs other tools to increase call-center morale and encourage employee retention. The E-Race churn program pits the company's call centers against each other. Centers compete for service levels and retention, and employees at the winning call center receive cash awards. The company has created dozens of incentives to foster a team-building environment, many of them dreamed up by CCAs themselves. Ice cream, T-shirts, and tickets to Atlanta Braves and Falcons games are only some of the prizes. Last fall, a Halloween costume contest offered $100 for the best costume. Everyone dressed up, despite the fact that senior corporate executives were visiting that day.

Are these incentives effective? Just ask Jerry Eades, GTE Wireless CCA. Eades, a recipient of the annual presidential award, won a trip to Disney World for his whole family as a result of exceptional customer care. Weaver and Jefferson constantly encourage dynamic CCAs such as Eades to move into management.

"Jerry could be anything he wants to be," Jefferson said.

ROUND-TABLE DISCUSSIONS Mead noted that the management team looks to employees for ideas on improving customer care and enhancing the company's reputation.

"Employees know their jobs better than I ever will," Mead said. "We provide an environment to bring ideas forward and solve problems because they understand the problems and issues."

For example, each row of cubicles has a "street name," such as Technology Terrace, to give CCAs a better sense of identity and make them feel at home. That idea evolved from a working group of employees. Senior executives, including Feighner, visit the call centers and meet with CCAs over lunch or dinner for informal question-and-answer sessions.

GTE's management implements programs that customers suggest, too, which helps generate loyalty, Mead said. For instance, one customer in Norfolk, VA, said she didn't like to wait for her phone to be repaired because she could be shopping rather than waiting. The carrier now issues pagers at retail stores that notify customers when their phones are ready so they can run other errands in the meantime.

"The innovation here at GTE Wireless is not top down because then you lose brain support of representatives," he said.

Mead said the company takes its CCAs and customers into consideration when planning marketing programs, as well. GTE's marketing council, which includes one employee who represents customers, measures how customers will react to rate plans and promotions. Earlier this year, the marketing department developed what it considered to be some great ideas and put together advertising for them. The marketing council felt that the promotions might add confusion, however, and conflict with its goal of being straightforward. The carrier decided not to roll out the program.

Other things GTE Wireless has done to increase customer and employee retention include migrating to one unified billing system and creating an on-line job-training program to allow CCAs to answer questions quickly. The carrier also makes pro-active calls to customers, emphasizes service in its advertising and measures its reputation through an outside firm.

"Our reputation is important to us," Mead said. "We want people to understand our service, and even if they don't buy from us, at least feel good about the service they received."

That's every customer, every time.

GTE TSI's universal roaming services agreement simplifies and expedites international roaming, allowing you to access worldwide markets and roaming rates. Along with facilitating and managing roaming agreements, it provides administrative support.

On the Internet front, SEMA Group will become more Internet savvy by partnering with Broadvision One to offer e-commerce sites and customer self-provisioning. MapInfo, a provider of spatial technology, moved its wireless solutions to a Web-based interface so you can extract and input data about your company or a competitors' data. Primal systems joined Narus to turn network and usage information that is used to price and bill IP services into a customer-management solution.

Showing customer-care associates (CCAs) how well they are doing increases morale in the call center. Each day, CCAs in GTE Wireless's Alpharetta, GA, call center, check out "the dashboard" when they arrive at work. Designed like a car's dashboard, the display details results from the call center's performance the previous day. Supervisors measure the call center based on service level (the goal is to answer 80% of calls in 30 seconds or less), compliance (being in the right seat at the right time), quality (answering questions correctly), absenteeism, call volume and average handle time.

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© 2014 Penton Media Inc.

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