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Darren Kolb is the AVP of Client Services for Verizon Partner Solutions (VPS), which serves the global wholesale channel for Verizon Business and is responsible for domestic and international wholesale customer service, operations, and the digital customer experience.

In this role, he leads the global ordering, voice operations, network transformation, service delivery & assurance, and wholesale systems teams. This includes Wireline, Wireless, WAVE, Ethernet, Fixed Wireless Access, and Fiber to the Internet products. His team is also responsible for VPS Exchange, the platform for VPS’ digital customer experience.

Telecom Review recently presented some questions to Darren about client services at Verizon. Those questions and his answers highlighting the customer experience process at Verizon Partner Solutions include the following:

What do you believe are the key elements of an exceptional customer experience?

My team is responsible for ordering, delivery and service assurance for wholesale customers as well as the overall digital experience, so this is a question I think about often. For me, there are three key elements to providing a premier customer experience: a customer-centric approach, effective communication, and commitment.

Building a truly customer-centric approach takes time and effort across the business. From seamless operational execution and ease of doing business, to working with our sales and marketing teams to ensure we have the right products in our portfolio to offer our customers, it all has to come together. It’s why we focus on giving our customers a user-friendly online and offline experience. It's our job to put our customers first, giving them what they need.

Within this approach, communication is how we reach our customers. From transparent communication to personalized interactions, we build strong relationships directly with our customers. Our customers know us and therefore expect us to go above and beyond to meet their needs, which differentiates us in the marketplace in a way that only personal relationships can.

Finally, it all comes down to commitment: staying true to course with a customer-centric approach, continuously investing in the relationships, and constantly building on our foundations. For example, we pride ourselves on the quick resolution of customer requests: we are committed to always doing better for our customers.

What do you look for in the implementation of a customer experience initiative?

First, we lay the groundwork: we communicate any process enhancements or changes to our customers ahead of time with as much transparency as possible.

Then, as we’re defining a new initiative, we identify the key touchpoints for the customer prior to implementation and make sure our employees are engaged to support these touchpoints. This becomes part of the rollout strategy.

After implementation, we start by celebrating our successes: rolling out a new initiative is a huge team effort, and it’s too easy to forget the hard work that goes into it. Then, we get right back to it, measuring the initiative’s success and identifying areas where improvements are needed. We do this by listening to customer and employee feedback, and continually reviewing the process

How do you ensure that all team members understand and adhere to a company’s customer experience standards?

I see this in three parts.  The first is education. Just as we communicate with our customers, we also invest in our internal communications. We come together as a team to ensure that everyone knows what the expectations are, and from there, we provide ongoing training and support.

The second part is modeling the behavior. Our leadership team understands the importance of leading by example. Our approach, as well as the way we emphasize the value of each customer interaction, influences the way the rest of the team approaches the customer experience. And we also ensure that we recognize leaders within teams who are also modeling that approach.

The third part is actively listening and responding to feedback. We work with our teams to ensure everyone knows how our customers feel: we ask our customers for direct feedback during service reviews, which allows them to share their experience with us. This also enables us to pinpoint where our opportunities are and implement improvements. And we also support an open feedback culture. This ensures all team members understand and adhere to the standards that improve customer satisfaction. We’re constantly looking for opportunities to upskill or reskill our employees, and feedback is a great way to identify which skills and knowledge to focus on.

How do you prioritize which aspects of the customer experience to focus on first?

To start, it's important to know which elements of the customer experience are within our control, which are not, and then prioritize accordingly. For example, taking accountability and ownership of issues is within our control, and something we can address quickly. Other factors such as supply chain or lengthy build intervals are beyond our control, but we can still positively impact the customer experience by remaining focused on ownership and accountability. Communication is key and it’s a top priority to keep our customers up-to-date on the status of their service requests and anticipate their questions. We recognize that our customers have customers of their own who need to be kept informed. Through these behaviors, we build trust and long-term relationships with our clients.

What methods do you use to measure the success of a customer experience strategy?

We use a combination of qualitative and quantitative metrics, such as our Net Promoter Score surveys, Atlantic-ACM results, our annual VPS Partner Summit and Customer Advisory Board meetings. We review these types of metrics regularly and are constantly identifying successes and opportunities to drive customer satisfaction.  Our goal is to achieve and sustain peak levels of customer satisfaction across the board.

How do you stay up-to-date on industry trends and best practices related to customer experience?

We participate in many industry forums, including the Metro Ethernet Forum, Metro Connect, Pacific Telecommunications Council, Capacity Europe and International Telecoms Week. These forums are a great way to learn about what the rest of the industry is doing, and exchange ideas with others.  We’re also fortunate that because Verizon has customer service teams across so many different customer sectors, we have an extensive amount of training and insight easily accessible through our Learning & Development team.

Customer feedback through surveys is key to a good client issue resolution process. Can you provide an example of a time when you had to adapt your approach based on customer feedback?

Sure. For a long time, customers submitted their orders to us using ASOG-formatted Access Service Requests (ASR). To successfully submit an order, customers had to know which portal to use, as well as which codes to populate in hundreds of ASR fields. As you can imagine, this required training our customers, and also posed challenges for new customers not versed in telco acronyms and terms to send us orders. Once we realized the issue through customer feedback, we embarked on a digital transformation with the primary goal of making it easier for customers to do business with us. The result of this transformation is the VPS Exchange platform. We no longer require customers to “speak ASR”; instead, they are now presented with the option to submit their orders to us in simple everyday language, thanks to an API that still complies with Metro Ethernet Forum (MEF) and TMForum standards. Now, the platform provides a core set of quoting and ordering functions for our strategic products and service assurance capabilities. The capabilities on the Exchange platform are available to both customers that want to use the online portal or the B2B interfaces, giving our customers additional options.

How do you communicate the value of investing in customer experience improvements to stakeholders who may be resistant to change?

Wholesale customers have so many options in today’s market that it is more important than ever to stand out. Our performance speaks for itself with both our customers and our stakeholders: we have a proven track record of success when we focus on the customer experience. We continue to be customer-centric, to examine everything from the customer’s point of view. We aim to “make it fast” and “make it easy” by communicating clearly and consistently as we continue to evolve our network and our product offerings, including 5G, IoT, and Fixed Wireless Access. And we are committed: we firmly believe that we have the best network and the best people to support our customers. Continuing to focus on exceeding customer expectations and nurturing development within our team helps to ensure that we’ll continue to deliver the best results for our customers, and lets the work speak for itself.