John Marick of Consumer Cellular: “Nothing is free”

Nothing is free — CEO’s need to invest in their companies. At Consumer Cellular, we focus on individuals who are 50+. We have found that in order to deliver on top customer service for our demographic, we need to employ more people than you would find at other wireless companies. Those additional staff allow us to spend […]

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Nothing is free — CEO’s need to invest in their companies. At Consumer Cellular, we focus on individuals who are 50+. We have found that in order to deliver on top customer service for our demographic, we need to employ more people than you would find at other wireless companies. Those additional staff allow us to spend the extra time necessary to help customers navigate wireless technologies.

As part of my series about the five things a business should do to create a Wow! customer experience, I had the pleasure of interviewing John Marick.

John Marick is the co-founder and CEO of Consumer Cellular, one of the largest and longest operating mobile virtual network operators (MVNO) of cellular phone service in the United States. He began his career in marketing with McCaw Communications, which later became the country’s first wireless service provider. It was there he realized his vision for Consumer Cellular — a company that helps everyone obtain affordable cellular service that is easy to understand and use. In October of 1995, Marick brought his vision to life, launching Consumer Cellular with co-founder and COO Greg Pryor. Under Marick’s leadership, Consumer Cellular has grown to more than 1,900 employees and over 3.8 million customers with offices and customer contact centers in Oregon and Arizona. In addition, the company has ranked #1 in customer service among non-contract providers eight times in a row by J.D Power and consistently ranked #1 in Consumer Reports’ annual wireless service providers survey. Marick was recognized as one of the 75 Significant Business Alumni from the University of Portland as part of the School of Business’ 75th year anniversary.

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

I started my career in the cellular industry in 1987, well before anyone knew what a cellphone was. It was an exciting time as we worked to introduce customers to a brand new technology, helping them understand how it could be utilized in everyday life.

Fast forward to October, 1995, when my partner Greg Pryor and I started Consumer Cellular. The wireless industry was still relatively small and was mainly utilized by business users and a few cellular technology early adopters.

Greg and I saw an immediate void in the market and set out to make the convenience and safety of cellphones accessible and affordable for everyone. By the end of 1995, we had a whopping 40 customers and couldn’t have been happier. Many of those early customers were our family and friends, but who cares! We knew we were onto something.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

One memory that stands out is something that happened when we opened our first office in Phoenix, Arizona. Having grown up in Oregon, we were used to enjoying our summers outside. Our management team thought it would be a great idea to go to Phoenix and share a picnic lunch with our newest team members just as we did annually with our employees in Portland. Turns out, it gets really hot in Arizona! We chose a day in June that turned out to be a steamy 110 degrees. Luckily, we changed course quickly and moved things inside.

That day, we learned the importance of understanding unique needs and conditions that need to play into our decision making. We are still committed to consistent company wide recognition and employee appreciation events. Thankfully, we have learned to take the time to make sure the execution is tailored to the uniqueness of our locations and individuals rather than assuming one program will work everywhere.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

Consumer Cellular’s co-founder, Greg Pryor, is the person who helped me get to where I am today. I first met Greg while we were working at McCaw Communications and immediately recognized that we worked well together. Like all good co-founders, he brings certain skills to the table that I don’t possess and vice versa. Being a team for so long has allowed us to accomplish much more than we would have separately.

Thank you for that. Let’s now pivot to the main focus of our interview. This might be intuitive, but I think it’s helpful to specifically articulate it. In your words, can you share a few reasons why great customer service and a great customer experience is essential for success in business?

At Consumer Cellular, great customer service is simply part of our DNA and has set us apart from the beginning. When we built the company, we knew that we wanted to offer the best customer service available. That commitment is just as strong today and has really turned into a competitive advantage. As the wireless industry has become more competitive and almost a commodity, we need a solid reason for customers to choose Consumer Cellular. Having the best customer service — as proven by the numerous awards we receive — is one element that helps us stand out in the crowd.

We have all had times either in a store, or online, when we’ve had a very poor experience as a customer or user. If the importance of a good customer experience is so intuitive, and apparent, where is the disconnect? How is it that so many companies do not make this a priority?

Most companies say they have great customer service and might try to make it a priority. It really comes down to how well your actions live up to your words.

It is expensive and at times difficult to maintain exemplary levels of customer service. It has to be a top priority that is carefully managed and reviewed often to ensure that it is being delivered every single time. Many companies start to skimp and cut corners, leading to poor customer experiences.

Since we are privately owned, we are not beholden to making decisions just to satisfy the demands of our shareholders or Board of Directors. Instead, we are able to take a careful, strategic approach to ensure that every service and product we provide yields maximum benefits for the people we really answer to: our customers.

Do you think that more competition helps force companies to improve the customer experience they offer? Are there other external pressures that can force a company to improve the customer experience?

Competition and consumer expectations are key in driving the level of customer experience. The wireless space is a prime example. During the early growth years, the industry was notorious for poor support. Now everyone is trying to focus on improving the experience. When a company is fighting to acquire and retain a customer, it forces them to work harder and perform better in all aspects of their business. We have been dedicated to meeting the unique wireless needs of our 50+ customers, who truly value the high level of customer service we provide.

Can you share with us a story from your experience about a customer who was “Wowed” by the experience you provided?

There are countless stories of our team members going to extreme lengths to help a customer. While we appreciate those efforts, what we are even prouder of are the simple, everyday interactions that are followed by a customer saying “thank you for the help.” We want all of our customers to leave with a smile, knowing they received the service they needed. We know it is extremely hard to achieve that level of support every single time, so what we strive for is that consistency more so than a handful of extraordinary interactions.

Did that Wow! experience have any long term ripple effects? Can you share the story?

The ripple effects of this every day commitment has been 25 years of sustained, substantial growth and success. We are proud of the validation we receive from our customers, either via email, phone calls, letters or through our consistent top ranking on Consumer Reports and JD Power, both ranking us #1 in customer satisfaction year over year. Those rankings, voted on by our customers, validate the work we are doing.

Ok, here is the main question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a founder or CEO should know in order to create a Wow! Customer Experience. Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. Nothing is free — CEO’s need to invest in their companies. At Consumer Cellular, we focus on individuals who are 50+. We have found that in order to deliver on top customer service for our demographic, we need to employ more people than you would find at other wireless companies. Those additional staff allow us to spend the extra time necessary to help customers navigate wireless technologies.
  2. Lead by example — Simply telling people to go provide great customer service is not enough. They need to see that every single person and department in the organization is deeply committed to that objective. Our leadership team is very hands on, assisting customers and removing barriers so our customer service team can provide an exceptional experience. If your team witnesses the commitment from leadership, they will be compelled to join.
  3. Remove barriers — One of the most important elements in providing great customer service is to alter business practices that create poor experiences. A great example of this is the fact that Consumer Cellular has never utilized long-term contracts. The wireless industry was notorious for long and confusing contracts. If a customer is not happy or has a life change, a long contract with a stiff penalty creates friction. Doing away with contracts eliminates this barrier and allows customers to stay because they want to rather than because they have to. Providing great customer service becomes even more important as we work to retain customers.
  4. Hire great people — There is no substitute for the people that are the face of your customer support. Determining their willingness to provide the level of support your organization is aiming for is key.
  5. Get out of the way — Once the people are in place and the business practices are aligned to allow for great support, get out of the way and let it happen.

Are there a few things that can be done so that when a customer or client has a Wow! experience, they inspire others to reach out to you as well?

The first step is to make sure your team is consistently providing that great experience. It only takes one negative interaction to lose a customer’s loyalty. We have found that as long as that customer is receiving top notch service during every interaction, regardless of the department, they will tell their family and friends about their experience.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Be nice. We have found that there is no substitute for simply being nice to others. If you start by being friendly, caring and compassionate with everyone you deal with, you can accomplish a lot.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

Thank you for having me!

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