Frontier execs smooth a bumpy Verizon transition

EVERETT — Less than 18 months ago, when Stamford, Conn.-based Frontier Communications paid $8.6 billion to buy out Verizon’s landline phone services in 14 states, including Washington, many critics predicted the Fortune 1000 company would never be able to handle its planned expansion to a tota

l of 27 states and nearly 5 million new customers.

After all, Frontier’s main expertise was in serving rural areas that most large communications companies bypassed. Now, Frontier would become one of those large providers and add many urban areas across the country, including all of Snohomish


The challenge of morphing into a Fortune 500 company with more than 15,000 employees while keeping vast numbers of new customers happy led to media predictions that Frontier would fail, as many small communications companies did when they expanded too quickly.

Instead of failing, Frontier says the venture has been a success overall and it continues to expand its customer base, offer new services, grow revenues and gain respect.

Being successful doesn’t mean it wasn’t a bumpy road from the beginning, according to Everett General Manager Ken Baldwin and senior Vice President Richard Klena, who oversees six regions in Washington state, including Baldwin’s.

Together, the two executives shared their views of the company’s progress in an interview at Frontier Communications’ Everett headquarters. Both said the company has done a lot of things right since it took over Verizon’s service and they talked enthusiastically about more future changes, products and services while soothing angry customers.

Neither one dodged the issue of customer complaints of botched orders, poor connections and inexperienced employees. Both executives said they’re working to resolve those issues by upgrading equipment, streamlining services and focusing on the company’s “local engagement philosophy” that makes customer service and communication a priority for every employee.

Sometimes, top corporate executives’ soothing talk about lofty customer service goals turns to smoke. But Frontier’s executives say they are making their responses real.

Baldwin understands the nature of the business and the local area. A large part of his 30-year career with Verizon was spent in the Everett facility that houses his offices today. Those were years when, in the eyes of many vocal customers, Verizon could do nothing right and complaints were abundant.

Coaxed out of retirement to fill a leadership role with Frontier, Baldwin likes the Frontier philosophy of listening to customers, responding and fixing problems. Working to make it a two-way street, he publishes his email address and his cell phone number on Frontier’s website and on his business cards. So do other top people at Frontier, including Klena.

“All of us have our contact information on our web site and people really do call and write us … and we call and write them,” Baldwin said. “That’s part of the company’s customer service policy, to reach out, make executives’ accessibility known and solve each complaint whenever possible.”

Asked about customers’ negative Web comments about Frontier Communications news stories they considered unjustly positive, Baldwin said he’s seen the complaints and responded.

“You’ll notice my name is there, too, where I’ve replied to those complaints online and asked them to call me,” he said. “And, many of them do and I work with them to resolve issues.”

When he reads Web comments that say “the north side of the Arlington airport has had terrible service this summer” or a Web writer tells Frontier “your customer service sucks,” Baldwin jumps into the fray to offer help.

One upset Frontier customer who posted a complaint on the Web was so surprised to see Baldwin’s offers of help that he commented that it was “nice to see someone from Frontier actually reads these comments.”

Another customer posted online, “Ken Baldwin has his contact info half-way down this thread. He WILL talk to you. I just did and disabused him of the notion all is good in Frontier Land. He promised to help get a fix … He understands that having your connection puke three times an hour is just not acceptable.”

Baldwin also understands that no matter how many services are going right he’s going to get a lot of feedback from people whose services are going wrong. But he’s prepared to do something about it.

“I remember one customer who called us to complain about something that wasn’t working right with her service and she was pretty mad,” Baldwin said. “It took only 20 minutes for us to resolve her complaint. It wouldn’t have taken that long but we had to wait for her to get out of the shower to answer our phone call.”

Although customer service is an ongoing challenge, he knows the changes Frontier has made and future changes will help to resolve many service issues.

The company has invested more than $10 million in system expansion and enhancements and plans to invest another $20 million by 2013, said Klena, adding, “We’ve already brought high-speed Internet access to 25,000 new customers in Washington state.”

Baldwin said many customer calls and comments heard at the 80 community festivals and events that Frontier has sponsored or attended have been good ones.

“Many people have high-speed Internet access at their jobs but dial-up service in their homes. They’ve been pretty excited and complimentary to us about being able to provide service to them in those hard-to-reach areas,” such as Camano Island, Lake Bosworth and Lake Roesiger, he said.

Locally, 125 new customer service representatives have been hired for Frontier’s call center in Everett. Those local jobs came about because one of Frontier’s first moves was to close Verizon’s call center in India. All of Frontier’s employees are U.S.-based, Baldwin said, and “we’ve also given preference to military veterans returning from service. … We’ve hired 100 of them in recent months.”

Something else is new, too. The seven weeks of training for customer service staff now focuses on how to help customers with any problem, without forwarding them to one or more other departments.

Stephanie Beasley, Frontier’s West Coast communications manager, told news media recently that the company has “made a concerted effort to eliminate a lot of the phone tree … plus we’ve set a two-hour service response window,” so people don’t have to wait half a day or more for service calls. Installation technicians are now trained to show customers how to use the equipment and answer questions about other Frontier services.

Recently, Frontier partnered with the Red Cross in Snohomish County, providing them with a $15,000 donation for their needs in Washington and Oregon and arranging an $85 donation to the agency for each new Frontier customer who orders a bundled package of Frontier services.

Frontier also is working with Little League teams on programs to help them buy new equipment and will be streaming video highlights of selected high school sports events on its Web site, So far, the game highlights videos have included Everett vs. Cascade football Sept. 9, Arlington vs. Stanwood Oct. 8 and Marysville-Pilchuck vs. Lake Stevens Oct. 14.

In the home video realm, Frontier is switching from DirectTV to the Dish Network, which is considered a leader in satellite TV technology. Existing Frontier-DirectTV contracts will be honored.

“We also have our new MyFi TV service that allows customers to search millions of titles and options for streaming television programs and movies that are free to customers. They really like that,” Baldwin said.

Frontier also has security systems for homes and businesses, as well as computer online backups, free support for its products and second Internet connections in homes where the proliferation of desktops, laptops and streaming video devices are creating increased demand for digital phone, computer and television services.

“Our national goal is to equip people who have chosen our broadband Internet with state-of-the-art wireless modems to upgrade their present service,” Klena said. “We’ll be offering the new modems free because they provide customers with better service but also because they lower our costs, too, when they replace 7- to 8-year old wired modems.”

Baldwin noted that the ways people use their electronic services are continuously changing and Frontier is implementing plans to keep up.

“Many more people are working at home,” he said. “Companies like Alaska Airlines and Safeco are asking people to work at home, so we’re offering a second connection because one home connection alone can’t serve everyone’s needs.”

Klena said many families are sharing equipment and bandwidth at home and Frontier wants to help them upgrade services so parents can work with large data files while younger family members are playing X-Box online computer games or streaming Netflix movies.

He said Frontier also is aggressively promoting high bandwidth for small business owners and residences, using high-tech Ethernet so that users can upload and download data at the same high speeds.

Monthly customer newsletters are used to maintain contact, present new services and update customers on changes at Frontier. One continuing effort is changing and upgrading older Verizon equipment to allow Frontier’s system to operate more efficiently, Klena said.

In coming months, he said, Frontier will roll out new data communication equipment for businesses, including modern PBX phone systems, and continuing to upgrade consumer services and home systems.

Gripes, complaints and service upsets will never disappear entirely, Baldwin and Klena agree, but services will continue to improve, new products will continue to be offered and upset customers will continue to get to talk to top executives to find solutions.

Fast facts

Frontier Communications is the nation’s largest provider of communications services in rural America. The buyer of Verizon’s telephone, broadband and cable service in 14 states in mid-2010, Frontier now employs more than 15,000 people in 27 states.

Customers: 3.8 million

2010 revenue: $5.7 billion

Everett HQ: 1800 41st St.


Workforce: All U.S.-based


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