Institute of Market-Driven Quality, “Breakfast of Champions”
February 18, 1993
Cellular telephones have become a way of life for almost half a million customers at Cantel today, from a start just seven years ago. With this comes the awesome, yet real challenge of being responsive to every customer we touch. Not only do our customers expect their cellular phone to perform as reliably as its wireline ancestor, they expect to be in touch instantaneously with a customer service representative, simply by dialing “O.”
Once sneered at as a rich man’s toy – as the yuppie fad of the eighties – the cellular phone, together with the products and services which drive off this phone, are fast becoming one of the key products of our century. They are changing the way in which society works. Some of us rely on this tool for making our daily lives better through increased productivity. Others use it for personal safety and security. Today, the cellular phone has positioned itself as “cellular for everyone.” As for new services, our imagination is our only limitation.
Cantel’s promise, “Making Today Better For You,” poses some challenges as we strive to “Make Today Better” for each one of our nearly half-million customers. This morning, I’ll discuss the approach we’ve taken to meet these challenges and keep our promise.
First, some background on our industry and our company.
Only within the last decade has the cellular telephone gained both technical and economic viability – thanks to the ubiquitous silicon chip. Cellular service in Canada was set up as a duopoly, as radio channels available for the service are limited. The local telephone companies were assigned half of the available channels within their served markets, and the remaining channels were to be assigned through competition. Ten years ago, in February 1983, Cantel’s founding partners applied, in competition with other hopeful applicants, for the national license to provide cellular telephone service across Canada. Our group was fortunate to win the license in December 1983.
Eighteen months later, in July 1985, 120 Cantel employees launched cellular service in Toronto and Montreal. By our second anniversary, our 270 employees were serving twenty cities and 3,000 customers. By our seventh anniversary last July, our 2,000 employees were serving 400,000 customers. The Canadian cellular industry has experienced one of the fastest adoption rates in the world – faster even than the United States.
During our short history, Cantel has learned to grow quickly. And there’s still plenty of room to grow. In the Greater Toronto Area, overall cellular penetration is about 7%. Canada will soon have over one million cellular users. This is expected to grow to three million users by the year 2000.
In addition to learning to grow quickly, Cantel has learned to compete. Our direct competitors in the cellular marketplace are the thirteen cellular service arms of the “landline” telephone companies in each province. They already had a long history of running a telephone company, and had expertise in place to broaden their services to include cellular service. So, we had to learn quickly, if we were to compete successfully.
The art and science of attracting and keeping customers has clearly become an essential part of Cantel’s success story.
MAKING TODAY BETTER FOR YOU
With this background in mind, I’d like to turn to our promise, “Making Today Better For You.” My remarks today are framed by three questions.
First, what do we mean by “Making Today Better For You?”
Second, how does Cantel make sure it happens every day?
And third, how do we know the promise has been kept?
FIRST: WHAT DOES “MAKING TODAY BETTER FOR YOU” MEAN?
At Cantel, “Making Today Better For You” means providing dependable, innovative communications products and services to meet our customers’ needs and wants. These products and services result in customer benefits, such as enhanced productivity or improved quality of life. As such, it is more than our positioning statement in all our advertising. It is a credo to which our customer service staff must deliver upon each and every day.
In just a few years, we have evolved – from a start-up company with a new technology, a license to operate, and a market for our mobile communications application – into a company addressing a variety of business and personal communication needs in multiple market niches.
Providing cellular service is, by its nature, a high-tech endeavor. However, I’ve chosen to focus my remarks today on “high-touch,” rather than “high-tech.” By “high-touch,” I mean the close relationship we’ve established with close to half a million customers. I’m proud of this relationship, and feel that Cantel’s approach would be of interest to you. So, I’ll take you “behind the scenes” to our “front-line,” and discuss how our customer service people meet the needs of our demanding cellular customers, every day.
It started with our senior management philosophy when we formed Cantel: to make our company easy to reach, and easy to deal with. We wanted our customers to make Cantel their phone company. Ultimately, our vision is to replace your wireline telephone in your home with “go anywhere, reach anyone” technology at an affordable price. In fact, we want to be your phone company.
We decided to make Cantel extremely easy to reach – just dial ‘O’ from a Cantel cellular phone, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Our customers are busy people, and we figured they wouldn’t want to remember different numbers for the business office, repair centre, and who to call to get help if they had problems with their then-unfamiliar cellular equipment. Our customers didn’t work normal telephone company hours – 9 to 5, with weekends off – so we figured they would expect us to be available whenever they called. Our customers put a high value on their time, so we figured we should have answers at our fingertips, and avoid transferring their calls to another person or department. Our early customers were often entrepreneurs, and since they were paying a premium for cellular service, they had high expectations for customer service.
Our customers contact us frequently: to ask questions, report problems, get help, suggest improvements, and complain about whatever’s bothering them. For example, one call was from a sheepish customer who wanted help in finding the portable phone he angrily threw out of his car the day before, after learning of a stock deal gone sour. And yes, we found his phone, but unfortunately couldn’t help his stock deal.
We have three incoming call centres, located in Burnaby, Toronto and Montreal. Our three call centres, with 150 staff members, handle over four million calls per year. We hear – and react to – “the voice of the customer” thousands of times a day.
To “Make Today Better” for each of these callers, we established a unique call centre approach. We certainly had to meet our callers’ direct needs, such as, having answers at our fingertips. We also had to meet our callers’ indirect needs, adapting how we answer calls to Canada’s diversity in language, culture, geography, and business segments.
When our customers join the Cantel network, we ask them whether they want to communicate with us in English or French. Thereafter, we answer every one of their calls in their chosen language. We’ve also learned to match callers with call centre personnel from the region, to closely match speaking rates, or speech tempo, and to ensure knowledge of local geography and culture. One moment, we have to ready to serve a fast-speaking urban Montrealer; the next moment, we might serve a rural customer calling from Oxford County, Nova Scotia. As well, we have augmented our staff to better serve Cantonese- or Mandarin-speaking customers.
Unlike other call centres, we consider our “front-line” personnel to be an integral part of our market strategy. They know a great deal about our network, cellular service, and our customers. We call them “customer service consultants” because of the broad types of assistance they provide our customers. Calls can range from how to use the phone, reporting lost or stolen phones, questions about cellular coverage in Algonquin Park (“can I use my phone on my canoe trip?”), and help with problems.
One of our construction industry customers called to complain that he could barely hear conversations on his phone. Our customer service consultant agreed, observing there was a lot of noise on the line, and she could barely hear what the customer was saying. The consultant struggled to elicit information to diagnose the problem; was it related to radio interference, a network equipment problem, or the customer’s cellular phone? Suddenly, the noise stopped, and the conversation was totally clear. “What happened?” asked the Cantel consultant. “Oh, we just shut off the jackhammer,” responded the customer.
Our customers tell us that our “front-line” people, our customer service consultants, are “tops” – friendly, understanding and great problem solvers. Our customers take the time to write to us about how they feel, for example: “I have always found dealing with Cantel people a pleasure. They are always polite, helpful and professional. Cantel has two things going for it, service and an excellent staff. You people can’t lose.”
As “agents of change” within Cantel, consultants have developed strong influence on other Cantel departments, and are a source of ideas and stimulus for the benefit of our customers. Cantel people from other departments often drop by our call centres to gain first hand knowledge of customer issues and concerns.
I think the level of customer service provided through Cantel’s “front-line” customer service organization is an excellent example of how Cantel is “Making Today Better For You.”
SECOND: HOW DOES CANTEL MAKE SURE IT HAPPENS EVERY DAY?
The simple answer to the second question, “How Does Cantel Make Sure It Happens Every Day?” is: we depend on our employees.
Each call on our network is a “moment of truth” and our employees know it. Increasingly, service companies such as ours recognize the benefit of “front line” customer service as an added value to our base service, cellular communications. From a customer service perspective, achieving our promise depends on putting the right kind of customer service consultants on the “front-line,” and providing them with the right kind of backup support.
We think that some of the unique qualities of our call centres stem from our decision, when Cantel was formed, to take a different approach to a number of call centre management issues, including:
• decision-making authority
• support tools, and
Recruiting is key. The characteristics of your customer relationships start with the personalities and abilities of the people you hire. We decided that our customers wouldn’t want to deal with clerical personnel who had to follow strict guidelines. We decided instead to hire people who had little or no experience in a traditional call centre – people who were bright, energetic, funny, empathetic, flexible, demanding of themselves, with a great voice!
Next, training. Our training is continuous. Each call centre has a dedicated training group consisting of several full-time trainers. Initial training consists of a Cantel-developed six-week training program that combines classroom, role-playing and practice, teaching telephone relationship skills, cellular network features and services, and support tools. We train our people how to deal with a variety of situations in a positive, helpful way. We train our people how to use our computer systems, so they can find answers to questions on their own. We train them on cellular technology and our network so they can help our customers effectively use the service. And we train them on the financial aspects of running a cellular network, so they understand our pricing, as well as our billing and payment cycles. Graduates from the program attend follow-up training sessions to communicate forthcoming promotions, new products and services, and to further develop their knowledge.
Coupled closely with training is coaching. Our first-line managers are primarily coaches; their key responsibility is the evaluation, development and growth of consultants. Consultants soon are granted sufficient freedom and authority to deal with most situations on their own.
Having answers at our consultants’ fingertips is also very important. Cantel has invested heavily in systems to eliminate paper records. For example, we were the first cellular company to place all our reference material on-line, thus we can quickly change or add new information, making it instantly available in all of our call centres. This allows us to efficiently and accurately handle customers’ questions about equipment, services, rates, promotions and a multitude of other topics. Furthermore, our systems provide a communications infrastructure that ties together our distribution channels, activation centres, finance department, network operations and customer service groups. Our ongoing investments in the latest information technology, for example, make bills easier to read – and even easier to pay!
We also invested heavily in telecommunications equipment, buying the best automatic call distribution equipment we could find. This investment has served us well, by supporting our rapid growth and providing the management information to fine-tune our call centre operations. We are now moving carefully into the world of voice response technology, applying these capabilities to make certain types of information directly accessible to our customers. Many of our customers now appreciate the convenience of using their touch-tone telephone to enquire about their account balance, pay their bill, or remind themselves how to operate a seldom-used feature.
A word on leadership. Call centres are not for the faint of heart, and ours are no exception. A special kind of fun-loving leadership that taps the creative energies of the people on the phones is a definite requirement. As one of our vice-presidents says, “You sometimes have to strip away any sense of dignity you might have, and just act like a kid,” to get everyone excited about a new promotion, or to reduce tension from high call volumes.
One last point. Cantel was fortunate to be a fast growth company in a fast growth market. This has resulted in tremendous motivation and growth opportunities for our employees. Many of Cartel’s managers and employees started their careers at Cantel as customer service consultants, so a strong sensitivity to customer needs and concerns has almost become inbred throughout our organization!
THIRD: HOW DO WE KNOW THE PROMISE HAS BEEN KEPT?
Our promise depends on people. People may not always do what’s expected, but they definitely do what’s inspected*. This is where our measurements start. And our measurements end with the customer.
Cantel has four important types of measurements:
. consultant performance
. call centre performance
. customer satisfaction
. customer service gaps.
First, consultant performance. As I indicated earlier, our “front-line” employees are the key to our customer relationships. Therefore, it is extremely important that we maximize the ability of every “front-line” employee to meet our customers’ needs. Our call distribution systems provide useful quantitative information on each consultant’s efficiency, and a program of call evaluation and coaching ensures quality call content. To get a rating of “excellent,” consultants must demonstrate something we call “added touch” with every call – this is the “wow factor” – responsiveness, grace, empathy, courtesy – that sets Cantel service apart as clearly superior. In this environment, trainees quickly develop into full-fledged consultants, as the result of quantitative and qualitative measurement, feedback and focussed development within a strong team environment. Our last word on consultant performance comes from our customers. Letters of appreciation, dozens of roses, and boxes of chocolates are common, visible measures of outstanding consultant performance.
Moving to call centre performance, our call centre managers are accountable for both quantity and quality. To ensure our customers’ calls are handled promptly, we set an availability objective of 80-10, meaning that 80 percent of calls must be answered within 10 seconds, and we measure it continuously. To measure quality, we survey our customers weekly. We recently instituted a new methodology that uses voice response technology to sample customers within a week of contacting customer service. We write to them, requesting they call an 800 number at their convenience to anonymously answer a brief recorded questionnaire. Surveys completed this way may generate a fax to the call centre, identifying a problem requiring immediate attention.
We used to perform a quarterly report card of customer satisfaction, but frankly, discontinued this because we needed something that called our customer service teams to action, and we needed it on a continuous basis, not quarterly. We’re replacing it with a mechanism that will provide continuous customer satisfaction measurement, for management incentives, trend-spotting and focussing attention on areas for improvement.
We also measure customer dissatisfaction. Our industry calls this ultimate measure “churn.” This is defined as the percentage of our customer base that leaves us, in a particular period. We have formed specialized teams of consultants – we call them “Save” specialists – who have become experts in determining the reason why a customer may wish to leave Cantel, and providing solutions that may ultimately retain them as customers. Through instituting our “Save” teams, we have identified and resolved a number of customer service issues, and have thereby significantly reduced our controllable churn.
Customer service gaps result when Cantel fails to deliver to the customer’s expected level of service. Our work in the “Save” teams has identified and resolved a number of these gaps. As part of a new program introduced this year, we are forming teams of Cantel employees from different departments who will work together to continuously improve the quality of our internal processes, and identify and close remaining service gaps.
I’ve taken you behind the scenes to show you how Cantel’s promise, “Making Today Better For You” is achieved in our customer service groups. I’m proud of the success of our initial strategies in customer service, thanks to the phenomenal dedication of our past and present customer service consultants and managers.
However, our industry is not standing still. As our business is rapidly becoming “Cellular for Everyone,” we will be serving new market segments and tremendous growth in numbers of customers, and we will need to find ways of achieving greater efficiency, while continuing our service quality strategy.
Our people are ready for the challenge, and our management team is solidly behind them. Our continued focus on Service Excellence will ensure Cantel will be “Making Today Better For You,”… Tomorrow.