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The Net Promoter System Podcast

How Follow-up Calls Can Inspire Change

Charlie Herrin, Comcast's chief customer experience officer, discusses the role of follow-up calls in the cable giant's Net Promoter journey.

  • 20. September 2018

Podcast

How Follow-up Calls Can Inspire Change

The inner loop of the Net Promoter System incorporates delivering not only detailed, granular feedback from customers (in their own words) directly to frontline employees, but also following up with those customers whose feedback merits it. But in the early days of a company’s Net Promoter journey, making those follow-up calls to customers often meets with tremendous resistance.

Let’s face it, if you’re a manager or executive, you may dread making follow-up calls to customers. In the first place, you may fear that the vast majority of these customers will be angry. Second, you might imagine that you’ll be expected to solve customer issues on the spot, requiring technical or other skills you either never developed or have long forgotten. Third, making these calls takes time. You have more important things to do, like attending endless meetings, or answering a torrent of emails. 

But follow-up calls offer an opportunity to hear real customers describe, in detail, the things that make them love your company, or not. They allow you to learn how customers respond to your products, policies, people or technology, in their own words. They give you a chance to make the customers feel heard, valued and cared for. And, importantly, they can involve senior executives in learning what it’s like to be an average customer or an average frontline employee—to get out of the mindset of “corporate” and into the world where customers interact with your company every day.

In our last episode, we visited with Charlie Herrin, Comcast’s chief customer experience officer, who has been leading Comcast’s multiyear Net Promoter turnaround. This time, we come back to the Comcast story to learn more about some of the most important drivers of culture change there. Follow-up calls turned out to play a huge role in that change, and everyone at the company performs them, from frontline supervisors all the way to the president of the business. Charlie and I delved into not only how and why they make millions of follow-up calls every year, but also some of the other things his team has done to help accelerate this in-progress Net Promoter journey. 

You can listen to our entire conversation on iTunes, Stitcher or through your podcast provider of choice. You can also listen through the audio player below.

In this excerpt from our discussion, Charlie discusses Comcast’s philosophy on follow-up calls.

ROB MARKEY: What kicks a piece of feedback into the bucket of, “Hey, we should do a follow-up call?”

CHARLIE HERRIN: Well, there's certainly the service alert ones, like, “I have an unresolved issue.” Those get prioritized. But then within a functional area, you will have callbacks on your team that you run. And so you'll want to get a sample of those transactions. And then you just go up the chain into the higher levels of the company. Tony Werner, who's my boss on the product and technology side, may want to do callbacks on his latest piece of technology. So he'll look for customers that have the voice remote, for example.

And in those cases, you're kind of looking for, “I want to dial some people that got zeros, but I might want to dial some people I gave positive as well, and find out, what was so great about that agent? What was so great about that product?” Because we use them both. The key is, we ask everyone to do them.

Because to your point, you're repairing relationships. You're fixing issues that you missed. There is an impact. That's a million customer follow-ups that weren't happening a year ago. That's going to change the opinion of people and what they have.

ROB MARKEY: That's a lot of people.

CHARLIE HERRIN: Yes. It's a lot of people you're touching. But alsoyou shouldn't underestimate the value of those customer follow-ups at your leadership level, the next time they have to make a decision. Because they're going to have that customer conversation in the back of their head. And we see that all the time, whether it's a staff meeting with our CEO, or a staff meeting with my boss. We talk about some of the callbacks we've had. They come up randomly in conversations.

ROB MARKEY: So, one issue is an open or unresolved issue. Another trigger could be evidence that the relationship is at risk. But then the one that most organizations overlook is anybody who has taken the time to give substantive meaningful feedback, regardless of score, regardless of anything else. Typically, a good proxy for that is just word count. If they've written a book, you're going to have a good conversation with them.

CHARLIE HERRIN: Right.

ROB MARKEY: And they're going to feel rewarded for their effort.

CHARLIE HERRIN: Yes.

ROB MARKEY: A lot of people don't do follow-up calls, because they feel how painful they're going to be. Oh, the only people who we follow-up with are detractors. Don't do it. Follow-up with anybody whose feedback merits it.

And the truth is that there are two types of detractor. There are detractors who've written you off and hate you. Those are terrible calls. Those I hate. But you have to go through those.

CHARLIE HERRIN: They're still appreciative of the call.

ROB MARKEY: It's still meaningful. But then there are detractors who really want to be promoters. “I so want to love you, but you did something that hurt me so badly that I am angry as heck.” And they feel betrayed. That is better than disengaged.

CHARLIE HERRIN: Well, I think they would not have sent an email or they would not have filled out that survey if they didn't care.

ROB MARKEY: That's true.

CHARLIE HERRIN: So I think they're always appreciative of the follow-up. And so it's something that we focus on. It's easy to not do the callbacks, to your point, because you're scared about it. And as we went into non-frontline-facing organizations, that was a really—

ROB MARKEY: Like finance is going to be—

CHARLIE HERRIN: You know, or the attorneys. 

ROB MARKEY: And aren't they always worried, "Oh, but I don't have the skills or the capability to fix their problem."

CHARLIE HERRIN: Right.

ROB MARKEY: And that's not the point of a follow-up call.

CHARLIE HERRIN: It's not the point. But we also did give them the support infrastructure to have our people with them when they do the callbacks if they want, or a place that they can refer to.

ROB MARKEY: If there's something that needs to be followed up one, they can actually—

CHARLIE HERRIN: We've even started to play around with in the last few months is having pizza parties. So come on a Friday. We'll have pizza. Bring your team and do callbacks together. And it's a pretty good team sport. And I think it takes a lot of

ROB MARKEY: Team-building.

CHARLIE HERRIN: It really is. And it takes a lot of the fear out of, you know, sitting alone in your office and reaching out to someone who's not happy.

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