• May 1, 2006
  • By Marshall Lager, founder and managing principal, Third Idea Consulting; contributor, CRM magazine

Nextel Partners Reaches Out to Touch New Customers

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If you ever had any doubts about automated phone messaging systems, you're not alone. Before implementing one, Tom Poston, director of customer finance at Nextel Partners, maintained these systems "are very weak--not user friendly." A slew of contact center challenges at the digital wireless telecom, however, forced him to consider an automated phone messaging system. And despite his skepticism, Poston took a chance on the technology. The decision paid off, providing significant increases in customer return rate, collections, and service satisfaction. Nextel Partners, the exclusive reseller of Nextel Communications' services in midsize and rural markets, serves 31 states with a total population of 54 million potential customers. Those customers require full--life cycle care, starting with sign-up and continuing through support, collections, and resubscription. That level of care typically means a labor-intensive contact environment. "When new customers placed their first call, we'd hotline their wireless phone to our call center," recalls program analyst Jennifer Reynolds. "It was great for list penetration, but it wasn't working on many other levels." At the other end of the process--collections--outbound calling was the main course of action, according to Poston. "We had trouble getting the collections team to effectively use an outbound dialer with live agents," he adds. An open mind would prove to be a necessary first step to solving these problems. PAR3 Communications, a specialist in customer communication and automated notification, contacted Nextel Partners in January 2005, offering its expertise in the contact center and especially collections. "Our salespeople reached out to Tom, who was a bit skeptical from his experience with these sorts of solutions," says Kael Kelly, director of market management for PAR3. The strengths of PAR3's solution overcame Nextel Partners' wariness and PAR3 initially installed its collections module in January 2005. The results showed Poston he had made a good choice. "Before PAR3, we were hotlining the calls of delinquent customers to our call center; a very good month would result in about $1 million of successful collections," he recalls. Agents had to be taken off the dialer to handle call spikes, reducing call center efficiency. "The first month after we implemented PAR3, we did $5 million." Poston attributes the success to PAR3's quick and automatic file penetration, but also to the level of feedback it provides. "Not only does it pound through the customer data file, but it's very good with providing stats and hourly reports--bad numbers, people reached, dropped calls, and such." "Much of PAR3's work with a customer involves strategy, deciding which customers to target with automated messages and which ones to send to an agent," Kelly says. That level of forward thinking led Nextel Partners to expand its relationship with PAR3 to the area of new customer service. In June 2005, Nextel Partners began using PAR3's Welcome Call system to contact new subscribers and walk them through setup and other options. "We can ensure that our new customers start out on the right foot by confirming that they understand their service plans and the features available on new mobile devices," Reynolds says. With nearly 70 percent of right party contacts listening to the entire message, the advantage is value delivered to the customer and time saved by agents. This freed another cohort of agents for more cost-effective tasks. Also in June, Nextel Partners started using PAR3 Contract Renewal and Survey Reports, followed in December by PAR3 Win-back. Each module extends customers' life cycle and makes them feel like they're valuable to Nextel. "In addition to delivering a better customer experience, we are also maximizing list penetration and minimizing the involvement of our customer care representatives, which provides a significant operational advantage," Reynolds says. "Our win-back grew from 300 a month to over 5,000," Poston adds. The Payoff Implementing PAR3 solutions for collections and service enabled Nextel Partners to:
  • reassign reps to more critical tasks;
  • increase average monthly collections 400 percent;
  • boost customer win-back 500 percent; and
  • get 68 percent of customers to handle initial service setup automatically.
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