Light at the End of the Customer Service Tunnel

This is my blog, not a Rogers blog, but I work for Rogers and I think about the company and its industry a lot. One of the things I often think about (along with many others in the company) is customer service: how did it get so bad, and what can we do to fix it.

It got so bad because the company grew very swiftly in a hot market. I'm told that the wireless division at Rogers once registered 24 consecutive quarters of 25% growth. That's just short of miraculous. In a spurt like that, you're busy filling demand and capturing share, and people are so happy to have your product that they will put up with sub-optimal service. But eventually things catch up with you. The novelty wears off, growth in the sector slows, customer expectations rise (as they should because usage is higher and bills are larger), and you begin to learn that a lot of the people that use you don't much like you, or like dealing with you. And by that time you've built a lot of bad habits, annoyances, inefficiencies, and complexities into your business that are difficult to unwind (in part because you are now huge). That, in a nutshell, is the problem Rogers has been dealing with over the last several years.

The company has been working hard to improve customer service on two fronts. The first is psychological: you have to be aware of customer issues and committed to resolving them while still struggling to grow the business and meet your quarterly financial targets. Tackling customer irritants often costs the company money in the short term, so it's tempting to put off the improvements. In this business you've always got a quarter to meet and your leaders, your board, the street, and shareholders are breathing down your neck to deliver financial results. Its not for nothing that publicly-held companies are weak on long-term thinking.

The second front is technical. You have no idea of the complexity of our billing and customer information systems. Fixing these and moving to a new system that allows customers to manage their own plans on-line in a simple, self-serve manner may sound easy but in reality it is a herculean task. Our last CEO Guy Laurence and his management team got a good start on the problems but the fact remains that we're still somewhere in the middle of the journey.

Our hope, at this point, is that customers notice that we are seriously trying to improve, and that we've made headway on some fronts. We have a number of metrics by which we track our progress. One is the annual report of the Commissioner for Complaints for Telecommunications Services (CCTS), the industry watchdog for consumer complaints. In this report, just released, CCTS noted that

Rogers "has been proactively working… to gain a better understanding of the issues driving complaints [and] we've seen a significant drop in accepted complaints." We were down 53% in complaints year over year, and we showed improvement for the fourth consecutive year.

We are still far from perfect but it feels good to see its efforts to improve validated by an external authority.