Just a few years ago, cable companies were the poster children of bad customer service, consistently lambasted by unhappy subscribers, the loudest of whom was Bob Garfield with his "Comcast Must Die " campaign. And while Comcast's response via Twitter made headlines and established one social media superstar , a smaller cable operator, Suddenlink , was quietly attacking the challenge from the inside out.
Having seen Gibbs Jones discuss Suddenlink's customer satisfaction efforts at the Satmetrix  Net Promoter Conference  earlier this year, I was intrigued enough to follow up with an interview with Jones and his associates. And though Suddenlink is only the 7th largest cable operator in the US, from what I can tell, they are leading the way in their industry, thereby revealing 7 timeless ways to improve customer satisfaction.
1. Put someone in charge
As Abe Lincoln lamented, it's hard to win a war without the right general and so it goes with customer service. For Suddenlink, the battle turned with the "recognition that there was so much more to customer service than just the call centers," reported Pete Abel, SVP of Corporate Communications. Accordingly, Suddenlink created the position SVP of Customer Experience; the role Gibbs Jones took on nearly three years ago.
2. Measure thrice
For most companies, true customer satisfaction cannot be calculated simply by asking one question even the highly favored "Ultimate Question ." Suddenlink, in fact, has three ways to measure the customer experience starting first with the JD Power annual study. This is buttressed by "a relationship Net Promoter survey" which monitors overall satisfaction and "a transactional Net Promoter survey" which assesses the experience at each point of contact.
3. Fix the real annoyances
And while monitoring c-sat is a nice start, it means very little if the program ends there. As Jones explained, you must "fix those things that need to be fixed." One obvious annoyance that Suddenlink sought to address was service appointment scheduling. The industry standard of "all day windows" left customers stuck at home waiting and feeling disrespected. To fix this, Suddenlink now allows customers in virtually all areas to schedule service calls within 2-hour windows, which provided a statistically significant increase in customer satisfaction scores.
4. Link c-sat with performance evaluations and compensation
If improving customer satisfaction is really a top priority for an organization then linking c-sat gains with performance evaluations and ultimately compensation is a no brainer. Jones revealed that Suddenlink is in the process of launching a "career progression plan for [its] CSR's, which allows them to get promoted within the CSR role giving them additional pay and recognition for doing a great job." "Among the measures used for CSR development and promotion are measures of customer satisfaction; agents must get good scores from customers in order to move up in the program," added Jones. Other organizations may want to take this even further, linking bonus pay for all employees to c-sat gains.
5. Relish your detractors
Most unhappy customers silently stew, or worse yet, share their complaints with friends without contacting the offending company. Consumers that do express their dissatisfaction are creating an opportunity. Explained Jones, "customers are blown away that you actually took the time to read the survey and the fact that you followed up creates immediate promoters because it says that you care." Because of this, talking to dissatisfied customers has "become one of the most popular [CSR] jobs," reported Jones.
6. Leverage social media as a service
While marketing may drive social media at many companies, this is not the case at Suddenlink. As Jones noted, "it's in the customer experience department [because] first and foremost, it's a way to hear what our customers are saying." "Social media is another great customer touch point, allowing us to engage them directly and try to get problems fixed," added Jones. Another benefit of this approach is the potential for positive amplification. One happy Suddenlink customer turned out to be an investor in Twitter and shared his joy with his close to one million followers.
7. Never stop improving
Acknowledging a place for marketing in social media, Jones also reported that interest in improving c-sat flowed all the way up to the C-suite, with their CEO, CFO and COO all listening and responding directly to various customer issues. "We spend time every day on the things we can do to improve the customer experience," exclaimed Jones. "If you can understand the customer's perspective it gives you a lot more leverage to get things done in the organization," concluded Jones.
Final Note: In doing all this, Suddenlink has seen its overall Net Promoter score increase from 28 to 43 between 2007 and 2010. Not coincidentally, Suddenlink has also enjoyed superior financial performance when compared with the average of their public peers during this period. For my extended interview with the Suddenlink team, visit TheDrewBlog.com .