Customer service has been baked into RCN’s DNA from the company’s outset—a fact that’s reflected not only in the indie overbuilder’s customer care sector but across all operations from enhanced internet speeds to customized video offerings.
“We really took a comprehensive look at all the elements where customers interface with us and put a high priority on those not only with an operational focus but our investment focus as well,” says Chris Fenger, EVP/COO of the now combined RCN Telecom, Grande Communications and Wave Broadband. Despite the combination, RCN continues to operate as RCN, Grande as Grande and Wave as Wave.
Among areas in focus, seven years ago the Princeton, New Jersey-based RCN began heavily investing in network upgrades to provide increased speeds. The exec team also took a close look at program offerings. It had been offering a standardized channel lineup across the company’s footprint “when, in fact, every market was different, from Boston to New York to the Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania,” Fenger says. “Everybody didn’t want the same channel lineup, so we made some adjustments there, too.”
One of RCN’s most salient customer service upgrades was realized in 2010, when it completed the migration of its call centers from the Philippines to facilities in Wilkes-Barre and Allentown, Pa.—a move that saw the hiring of more than 150 employees during a five-year period. Prior to that, more than 60 percent of calls were routed to the Philippines, a practice Fenger said frequently rose to the top in customer surveys.
“As we like to say around here, you can’t have a customer call us up and ask what time the Red Sox are on and the person on the other end of the line doesn’t know what the Red Sox are,” he says. “On-shoring the calls has proven to be very popular with our customers.”
Turns out the move was more than geographic. Fenger listens to calls every month, and frequently spends time with agents in the call centers. “Our agents have a great way of conversing with customers, not talking at them, but conversing,” he says. “I’m always impressed at the tone they take in solving customers’ issues and really relating to them. That’s hard to do at a call center.”
That inherent human element among RCN employees starts with a Golden Rule ethic that trickles down from the top, enforced by a customer service pledge all employees must take, guided by a team of coaches, and verified by third-party scoring of the customer experience.
“We treat our employees like we expect them to treat our customers—with dignity and respect. And we have a firm belief in providing them the proper tools to do their jobs well, and hold them accountable.” RCN measures its service agents’ success on the quality of experience customers have, “not just on a bunch of KPIs,” Fenger says.
The biggest customer service challenge on Fenger’s mind today? Keeping in lock step with a new breed of customer who wants to interact with the company in different ways. “There’s a whole new generation coming up that doesn’t want to pick up the phone and call,” he says. “They want to interact online, they want to text, and aren’t interested in picking up the phone, so we have to adapt to that. We have to meet customers where they want to be met and serve them in the best possible way.”
Not surprisingly, RCN is already on it. The company recently set up a chat function, and is working on developing a more robust texting platform. “As that transition happens, we want to make sure we are accessible to customers and we are easy to do business with,” Fenger says. “We want as frictionless an experience as possible.”
– Cathy Applefeld Olson
- RCN service area: Boston, Chicago, Lehigh Valley, Pa., New York City, Philadelphia, Washington DC metro area
- The company instituted a customer service pledge three years ago that all employees must take.
- RCN customer care agents participate in a Customer Service week of activities in the markets they serve.
Last year’s theme was Building Trust.