Customer Experience and Brand Strategy at T-Mobile

The President of T-Mobile's Consumer Group discusses brand strategy, customer experience, and the "Un-carrier" stance's impact on business and customer satisfaction.

45:40

Nov 03, 2023
21,287 Views

In Episode 811 of CXOTalk, host Michael Krigsman speaks with Jon Freier, President of the Consumer Group at T-Mobile, in a thought-provoking conversation focusing on the dynamics of customer experience and brand strategy in wireless. This episode provides deep insights into how a major telecom company navigates market challenges and opportunities.

Key insights you will learn in this episode:

  • Disruptive Strategies in Telecom: Gain an understanding of how T-Mobile's 'Un-carrier' strategy, initiated in 2013, disrupted the traditional telecom industry, emphasizing customer-centric policies over conventional norms.
  • Leveraging Data for Customer Engagement: Learn about the role of data analytics, and personalization in crafting customer experiences. Freier discusses the nuances of serving a diverse customer base and the importance of aligning technology with user needs.
  • Addressing Social Responsibility in Tech: The conversation extends beyond business strategies to examine the broader social implications of technological advancements. Freier touches on topics like youth safety in the digital world, showcasing how a telecom giant contemplates its societal impact.

Watch this important discussion and go behind the scenes of T-Mobile’s strategies, for valuable lessons on customer engagement, technological innovation, brand strategy, and social responsibility in the fast-evolving telecom industry.

Jon Freier is the President of T-Mobile’s U.S. Consumer Group, leading consumer-facing brands and operations for both postpaid and prepaid customer segments. He’s responsible for thousands of employees spread across teams that lead consumer strategy and experience, consumer marketing, consumer operations, go-to-market planning, branded retail and customer service and the portfolio of independently owned and operated sales and distribution channels.

Starting with T-Mobile’s originating company, Western Wireless, Jon began on the frontline when the company had fewer than 75,000 customers. Since that time, he has transformed T-Mobile’s Consumer Group into an award-winning team, contributing to one of the largest and fastest retail expansions in American history and garnering countless customer-experience accolades. This extraordinary growth allowed the Un-carrier to reach tens of millions of additional customers throughout America’s largest cities and smallest towns over the last few years.

Michael Krigsman is an industry analyst and publisher of CXOTalk. For three decades, he has advised enterprise technology companies on market messaging and positioning strategy. He has written over 1,000 blogs on leadership and digital transformation and created almost 1,000 video interviews with the world’s top business leaders on these topics. His work has been referenced in the media over 1,000 times and in over 50 books. He has presented and moderated panels at numerous industry events around the world.

Transcript

Michael Krigsman: Today on Episode 811 of CXOTalk, we're talking with Jon Freier. He is the president of the consumer group at T-Mobile. We're discussing customer experience and brand strategy. 

Jon Freier: I lead the entire consumer group at T-Mobile, which is all of our customer-facing teams, our retail teams, our customer care teams, all of our operations teams, go-to-market teams, and work closely with our marketing strategy and products teams to bring new value propositions to our growing base of 118 million customers around the country.

About T-Mobile’s Un-carrier and customer experience strategy

Michael Krigsman: Give us some context about your focus on customer experience and your Un-carrier strategy, which has been very disruptive over the last number of years. 

Jon Freier: We started this back in March of 2013. It was really about taking a hard look at what we considered to be a broken, arrogant, and stupid industry that wasn't for customers at all. It was really for writing the rules of the two largest carriers that were out there. 

I just told you we have 118 million customers. Back during that time, we had less than 30 million total customers. We were a very small player in the space. 

We just came off of a failed acquisition with AT&T. AT&T was going to buy T-Mobile in 2011. That came to a halt at the end of '11.

Then in 2012, we found ourselves in a place where we had declining subscribers, declining revenues, increasing costs, and two people came in to really help turn this company around. That was our then CEO John Legere and our current CEO Mike Sievert. 

We kicked off this Un-carrier Revolution as a way to go disrupt the marketplace, listen to customers, and tap into the incredible frustration and the increasing frustration that consumers and businesses had over taking an incredible utility like wireless mobile communications and being trapped in so many ways: trapped in contracts, trapped in "I can't upgrade when I want," trapped in overages and limited data buckets. We saw a huge opportunity, and we've done a lot of good throughout the country with this whole Un-carrier philosophy. 

Driving market disruption through customer feedback

Michael Krigsman: When you approach an industry and try to drive this kind of disruption – and I know you're continuously trying to do that – what's involved?

Jon Freier: The real premise for what we do is we have an enormous amount of customer feedback. We have a lot of customer feedback through all kinds of avenues in terms of how we listen to customers and how we gauge consumer sentiment. 

Then we have, in our company, a tremendous number of frontline employees: tens of thousands of people that work in our retail stores and tens of thousands of people that work in our customer experience centers. We get lots of feedback from our teams. I have people email me every single day, multiple times per day, people on the frontline giving me feedback. 

We take that (along with all the data and all the telemetry that we have around the customer experience). We get a lot of insights from that. 

Then we start thinking through, "Okay. Well, what do customers really want? What are really the pain points that are still out there? And what can we help them with?"

When you think back at the beginning and the genesis of the Un-carrier Revolution, the first thing we heard was customers were stuck in these contracts. "When I purchase a cell phone from a company, I'm locked into a multiyear contract and I'm trapped."

Then the next thing we hear was, "Hey, when I want to upgrade my phone, I'm bound by the laws and the regulations of what the carriers have put on top of me."

Then I tell you the third one that was really disruptive is the feedback that we started hearing from customers that, "Any time I go out of the United States (if I go to Europe, if I go to Asia, or I go to anywhere else outside of the United States), every time I turn my phone one, I might risk running up the bill of hundreds of dollars or thousands of dollars with international roaming."

We've taken each one of these insights, and we've been able to act on them. 

Now, we've got to do that in a smart, thoughtful, and disciplined kind of a way not because we're just trying to enhance shareholder value. That's important. But what we're trying to do is earn the right to be able to do that again. 

If we can continue to bring customer innovation to the marketplace, solve real pain points for customers, and we can do that in a thoughtful way, we'll have an opportunity to continue on this journey of breaking more and more barriers down to what everybody needs.

Really, when you think about people that are between, gosh, the ages of 10 and 100, nobody doesn't have a mobile wireless device. Nobody doesn't carry a smartphone now. It's so engrained into how we live our lives. The utility of it is incredibly important, and what we've got to do (and what we feel very strongly within our company) is to elevate that experience and enrich that experience in ways that our customers deserve.

Addressing diverse customer needs across geographical regions          

Michael Krigsman: Jon, you have such a large and diverse customer base. And so, as you're getting that feedback, how do you distill down the common issues in order to make the decisions that we need to do this or we need to do that?

Jon Freier: One of the things that we've been very successful in over the years is playing in the top 100 markets. When you think about New York City, LA, and Chicago—the big, huge markets around the country—we've been very successful there.

Over the last three years, what we've been doing is we've had a corporate priority in a public declaration that we're going to be expanding into smaller markets and rural areas. That's roughly 40% of the entire U.S. population. We've had a very low share position there, and we're making nice inroads to grow our share in that position.

That obviously is very different. What customers say in Manhattan, New York, is very different than what they're going to say in Manhattan, Kansas. So, it's important to have that telemetry to really understand what that looks like.

We're still very much organized around regions of the country and markets of the country. One of the big things that we did last year to further enhance our listening systems is that we reorganized our retail teams, our customer care teams, and our network teams around a similar, common geography so that we can really listen to what New Yorkers need in the five burrows of New York City and what people in Alabama need or the people in northern Nevada need. We're trying to make sure that we're being really responsive to those local areas or those local geographies with all the information, all the data, and all the telemetry that we have around the customer experience.

Michael Krigsman: You're looking across your customer base to figure out (in the different regions) what are their unique needs in order to address those needs. But at the same time, you have a common set of service offerings, right? Therefore, they have to roll up into a common set of building blocks, which again I have to imagine is really hard given the breadth and the diversity of your customer base. 

Jon Freier: I believe I subscribe to a philosophy that every market is the same and every market is different; every person is the same and every person is different. There are core foundational things that I think everybody wants in their wireless service.

Of course, they want the most value that they can possibly have. They want the best product and network experience that they could possibly have. Then they want the best customer experience that they can possibly have. I think that's shared by everybody across the entire country.

Now, how we go about that in very specific places across very specific markets is a little bit different. For example, if you're thinking about Boston, one of the things that we have to do is we have to make sure that our coverage is superior and our overall network performance is superior at Fenway Park. 

I'm in Dallas-Fort Worth today. If you're here in Dallas-Fort Worth, you've got to make sure that the sporting events here and some of the downtown areas here are superior, as well as the suburbs that are exploding at the edges of Dallas-Fort Worth that are some of the fastest growing population areas in the entire country. What are we doing with that? 

You definitely have building blocks that are the same no matter in some of those elements that I just described. But when you think about our business and how our product comes to life in ways that people are counting on (where they live, where they work, where they play), that's obviously going to be very different geographically across the country, and that's why having that local intelligence. 

You can get so much information from data, and that's great. But if you're not careful, you can just kind of lose the customer sentiment in the averages. What we always try to do is we're trying to de-average the averages and get closer to the customers in local areas and bring them the things that they want.

Michael Krigsman: The data is obviously extremely important. But it sounds like you're also trying to really get a feel for what customers require in these different areas or different segments of your very diverse customer base. Then—correct me if I'm wrong—that then becomes the glue or the driver for how you make these decisions. 

Jon Freier: This is a national marketplace in terms of how customers buy wireless products and services. It's very much a national marketplace.

But when you think about how consumers, small businesses, and enterprises are using it, sometimes that's different by local geography, and sometimes it's different by customer segment as well (whether that be some of your traditional segments of age, ethnicity, of whatever other kind of segment). 

You can dice these segments up in lots and lots of different micro-segments, and so we're always looking at that as well. How can we serve very specific communities (that might have unique needs) even better in the future?

Michael Krigsman: Check out CXOTalk.com. We have amazing shows coming up. Be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel and subscribe to our website.

Jon, what keeps you up at night? Your T-Mobile's technology performance is doing well, your financial performance, so what keeps you up at night? 

Jon Freier: I've been doing this for a long time. Next year will be my 30th year in the wireless industry and as a part of T-Mobile and all the legacy companies prior to T-Mobile.

I've been doing this a long time, and the thing that keeps me up at night is not just kind of like making sure that we're doing the core business better. We're great at that. 

Our world is changing very quickly all around us. Lots of new technology. 

It wouldn't be a great interview if I didn't say AI, but the use of artificial intelligence and all the large language models. What are we doing with data to go and really serve our customers better? 

That's changing, and what we've got to do as a company, as a team, and as individuals, is we've got to stay relevant and contemporary with the change in times. That's one of the things that I'm always asking myself. It's great what we did yesterday, but am I as skilled, is my team as skilled? 

Are we as equipped to go and serve the ever-changing needs of customers tomorrow and being able to take advantage of these emerging technologies that are rapidly being deployed across the landscape today? Are we as equipped to be able to do that? That's one.

Two, we talked about a little bit. We have a diversifying customer base. I have a very diversified employee base. I lead about two-thirds of the workforce here at T-Mobile. 

We've got about 70,000 employees or so. I lead about two-thirds of them. In a world that's becoming more polarized, when you think about every topic has a lot of polarity to it, how we can make sure that we're appealing to all of our customers and to all of our employees, doing that with excellence is something else that I think about a lot. 

Then I would just tell you that, for us, as a company, we were always the underdog. We were always kind of looking up at the big carriers and, like, "Man, how are we going to compete against this massive scale?"

Well, what we've been able to do is we've been able to go from an underdog to a leader in this incredible space. For us, how we think about it at T-Mobile is not necessarily how are we going to be scrappy and continue to chase the big guys. We're already larger than AT&T and the fastest-growing wireless company in the space and have been for some time.

Now, as a position from a leadership perspective, what are we going to do to continue to lead this business, to bring more technology in, and to not only change it for our customers? The way that we've thought about it over the last ten years, success is bringing this innovation and these great experiences to our customers but also compelling our competitors to follow our lead because, for us, if AT&T or Verizon or any other competitor copies us, we find that to be a big success.

Michael Krigsman: That's really interesting. From an innovation standpoint, you're trying to drive change. But one of the guide posts that you look at is, so to speak, is the industry now following you? 

Jon Freier: Ten years ago, it was just, "Ha-ha-ha." People just laughing at us in terms of... [Laughter]

You know that's what happens when you're a small person. You look up and say, "We're going to go take these people on, and we're going to go change this thing." We've had colorful ways of describing that over the last decade or so. 

Now, I think we've proven that we can do that. For us, it really is change in this industry. 

When you think about our mission of being the best in the world at connecting customers to their world, we take that incredibly seriously. When you think about it, you can't go from here to there without your smartphone. You can't really do your work anymore without your smartphone (for the majority of the people in this country).

The majority of children who are going to school, they can't do their work (their schoolwork and their homework) without having the connection to the Internet from their smartphone. Our friends, our work, our hobbies, any of our interests are connected through the gateway of a smartphone. When you sever that connection or if that connection is not working as well, that's real consequences in people's lives. 

We take that role incredibly seriously. Like I said, not just for the 118 million people that we have the privilege of serving today, but for the over 300 million people in this country who have smartphones. We want to make this a better industry for everybody.

Role of data and personalization in crafting customer-centric solutions

Michael Krigsman: Of course, you have the body of data, but you're also kind of personalizing it or empathizing with the experience of individual consumers. It sounds to me like you're kind of looking at it from both ends.

Jon Freier: The hallmark of our brand has been really the latter, of taking our incredible people. I'm biased by this, Michael. I'll just admit. I have the best customer-facing team on the face of the planet. I'm very biased by that, but I would challenge anyone to find a customer-facing team (in our retail stores, in our customer experience centers) that are better than my team.

Now what we want to be able to do is we want to take data and technology and help them, enhance their experiences, not just to have them do the clerical transaction skills of having superior access to computers that customers might not have, but rather, to be able to put more information and more power into our people's hands to better serve our customers. For example, when you call one of our customer experience centers.

First of all, probably a great experience is you don't have to call us at all because we didn't cause a problem. That would be a great experience. We have a lot of measurements about how we're bringing down contacts per account (not for financial purposes but for experience purposes).

When you do call, we have a huge ambition around making sure that we're taking all this data today (between customer interaction data, between billing data, and between network data), being able to orchestrate that data in a meaningful way that gives our frontline people superpowers that probably tells them what the customer is calling about before the expert even says, "Hello." We've got a lot of work that we're doing around that. But that's one huge piece.

When a customer walks into a store, an existing customer walks into a store, we ought to know. We need to know their journey, and our people need to be equipped with data, with insights, and with the orchestration of that data to be able to help them.

There's nothing more frustrating to people when they're working with a large company. And I'm sure you and some of your viewers have had this experience. If you have an issue, you're working with a large company, you get bounced around from place to place, and you're always having to start over and repeat your story – nothing more frustrating. 

Today, in 2023, about to be 2024, that should be coming to an end. We want to lead and pioneer that. But just doing that and only that I don't think is enough. 

What you have to have is you have to have incredible customer-loving people with the spirit to serve. And if you can pair them and equip them with that data, you can do incredible things that our customers deserve.

Digital marketing, data, and personalization at T-Mobile

Michael Krigsman: We have a question on LinkedIn relating to this data question. This is from Timm Henderlight. The broader topic is how you use data, AI, and personalization to craft more relevant offerings. He also wants to go down pretty deep into the weeds on this. Any comments on the use of the data to model customers, to do a better job with customer experience, in summary?

Jon Freier: That's how we're thinking about things in terms of contextualizing that data. To personalize it on an individual basis, that might drive a lot of complexity, particularly for a company that serves 118 million customers today. You could think about contextualizing that data and being able to market to our customers, to be able to serve our customers with things that would actually enhance their experience.

All of us hate getting pitched things that have nothing to do with what we need. I mean, come on. Nobody wants that. 

If we can think about, "All right. Here's what customers have today in their relationship with us. Based on what we know about them, here are the things that would enhance and enrich their overall relationship with us; the things that they can actually get utility for," if we can bring the right value propositions with those products and solutions, then that's a beautiful thing. 

But that's something very different than, like, "I've got the next thing that I need to sell to you," because that's years and years ago. 

We've got to bring things to people that really, really matter and that enrich the relationships. If companies can figure that out, then that's going to be the difference between successful companies and not-so-successful companies in the future.

Aligning product offerings to T-Mobile’s customer experience strategy

Michael Krigsman: Again, really understanding what it is that the customers want because if you don't know that, then how can you craft solutions that they will actually care about?

Jon Freier: You're just putting stuff in front of them that they could care less about, and then they're just going to completely ignore you. Then if you were to figure that out in the future, you've already lost a little bit of trust and a little bit of credibility with the customers by serving them information or serving them solutions that have no meaning in their lives whatsoever. 

Be very, very careful. It's very important and you have to be very careful to get this right. There's a lot of this that we're doing already, but there's so much more that we want to do around this. 

Again, it's really around the customer experience. When you think about how many people... [Laughter]

All of us could probably relate to this. We're spending probably a little bit too much screen time staring at our phones and our tablets and whatever social media that you're looking at from Facebook to LinkedIn to TikTok to whatever. 

You've got all kinds of information that's being presented to you. The things that matter, you're like, "Okay, well, thank you." The things that don't matter, then, okay, well, you're totally annoyed. 

How you do that and all of the mechanics and the orchestration behind being able to make that work is super important and what a lot of people within T-Mobile are working on.

Michael Krigsman: We have two questions on LinkedIn from Brian Perles who says, "First off, congrats on the Rangers winning the World Series."

Jon Freier: [Laughter]

Michael Krigsman: Congrats on the Rangers winning the World Series. 

Jon Freier: Thank you for that. 

Michael Krigsman: [Laughter]

Jon Freier: Yeah, thank you. I've got to tell you I'm a lifelong Texas Rangers fan. I'm almost 49 years old. I think the Rangers have been a team since 1971. I was born in '75. 

All my life, I've been kind of not seeing the Rangers win a World Series, so they won the night before last. I was going to go to game six tonight, but since they won in game five, you know it's okay. 

Michael Krigsman: Brian Perle, number one—talk about personal—he says, "Why did you discontinue SyncUP PETS, and are you going to replace it?" That's pretty down in the weeds, but obviously, he likes SyncUP PETS. 

Jon Freier: We have a whole SyncUP product line, which is basically you have SyncUP DRIVE. You've had SyncUP PETS. We've got a couple of other products and services around the SyncUP product line. We want to bring... We want to be able to do more there. 

I would say that that's the promise of the 5G ecosystem. In the LTE era and 4G, there were some things that we could do there. But now, with the proliferation of the 5G networks (and now that we've brought 5G ultra capacity, which is that really fast, 2.5 GHz spectrum – I don't want to geek out too much, but 2.5 GHz spectrum – to 300 million people around the country), we have a lot of aspirations around this particular area.

On SyncUP PETS, there are more things that we want to do. We've always kind of struggled a little bit with that product. It was a little bit too big. The battery life wasn't as good. We've got integration with the app that we want to do differently.

Rather than have multiple SyncUP apps, we need to have one app where all of this works in concert with one another. So, there's a lot of work that our teams are doing on this. Just stay tuned on SyncUP PETS or SyncUP—fill in the blank—because there's a lot of hard work that people are working on that product line.

Social responsibility and the brand strategy framework at T-Mobile

Michael Krigsman: His other question is broader. He says, "What can T-Mobile do to help protect our youth so parents don't have to constantly worry about what's happening with their kids on social media sites like TikTok?"

Jon Freier: I'm the parent of two teenagers, and I've got the same concern. It's a dangerous world out there. 

There are a lot of great benefits that we all know that smartphones and mobile technology has brought. Then with the rise of social media over the last two decades, there's also some danger out there as well.

We put a whole-on carrier move around ScamShield a couple of years ago, all the scams and people just being taken advantage of by all these scammers and milking people out of billions if not tens of billions of dollars. We saw a huge opportunity there, and we put some innovation with the invention of ScamShield to help go and combat that.

The same thing in this particular area; we're spending a little bit of time thinking about this. We want to probably do even more around this because, as you think about it, and I just mentioned it a few moments ago, so many children are getting their first phone call it third, fourth, fifth grade – somewhere in that – probably a little less than that. It might be a little bit too much, but some parents might want to be a little bit more into junior high and middle school. We feel a deep responsibility to help parents and help our customers in any way that we can to promote the safety and security of our youth.

Michael Krigsman: What I also find fascinating is, at its heart, you're a mobile network, which means you're a technology company. Yet, as we see from these questions, there are very immediate social implications that come up. And so, how do you think about that link between the technology of what you actually do and the social ramifications and responsibilities?

Jon Freier: It's a huge ecosystem that we're a part of. If it was just bringing information to people, that'd be one thing. But a huge ecosystem that we're a part of here.

We have a lot of debate and a lot of discussion as a senior leadership team around any kind of innovation that we're bringing to the marketplace, any kind of changes that we're bringing to the marketplace. Here are all the positive benefits, of course, but what are some potential implications around those changes or around those new product launches that we've got to think through?

We have a lot of discussion around this. We get a lot of insight and information and advice from not only within teams within our company but also people outside of the company, our board. 

Also, we're majority-owned as T-Mobile U.S. by Deutsche Telekom. Lots of information and idea-sharing that we have with Deutsche Telekom across the pond in Europe. 

I don't know if I have a good, like, one size fits all, answer. But it's such an important question and one that we rustle around with just to make sure that what we're bringing to the marketplace, that we have the responsibility and the foresight to bring responsible technology and making sure that the application of that technology is doing good in society versus harm.

Michael Krigsman: You definitely have a stance on the implications of the technology and your role in that broader social context. It sounds like that's very important to you.

Jon Freier: I think it is. It has to be. Any company of our size, any relevant, major player like we are in this space, you have to contemplate those things. If not, then I think that's a real problem. 

The impact of operations, culture, and organization on customer experience

Michael Krigsman: This is from Lisbeth Shaw, a very thoughtful question. She says, "In order to improve customer experience, what changes to operations and organization were necessary, and also the impact on employee experience?"

Jon Freier: I don't think you can talk about being a champion of the customer experience without first being a champion of the employee experience. This is something that's incredibly important to Mike Sievert, who is our CEO, to me, to our leadership team, to ensure that that overall employee experience can be as great as it can be.

You can never do enough around this. We have a list a mile long of things that we want to do to enhance that employee experience.

For us, what we try to do is we try to make sure that we're in front of our employees as much as we possibly can be. Just last week, I was in New York City and was able to talk to a number of people.

Then I was hoping to be in our Oakland, Maine, customer experience center. But unfortunately, there was some tragedy in Oakland, Maine, last week, and I wasn't able to get there.

I try to get to a customer experience center usually one to two per month. Get in front of our entire employees (500, 600, 700, 800 people) – a couple of our sites have as many as 1,000 people – and get right in front of them and help them understand where we're going and why we're going where we're going. But also, have an open-ended town hall where they can ask me questions and kind of hold me accountable to their experiences.

There's nothing that I love more than to help people understand where we're going and, again, why we're going where we're going, and for somebody to say, "Yeah, but that's not quite happening here, and here's our real experience." That gives us instant information that then we have a choice. We can just do nothing with that or we can go and make changes with that.

We try to get information. We don't want to change things up every five minutes and confuse the organization but if there's something that needs to be changed, if something is not quite right, we go and try to turn around a solution in 24 hours. That way it reinforces within the organization that employee voices are important, heard, and they're acted upon. 

Then when they're acted upon and we're being just as much as urgent around the employee experience, then it really connects with our frontline employees about why we should be urgent around our customer experience. 

I've got a saying within our company. I've been saying this for a long time that there are two types of people at T-Mobile: those that serve customers and those who serve those who serve customers. We're in one of the two buckets. Either you're serving customers directly or you're serving those who serve customers. 

What I try to do within our leadership team and around our support team is to really make sure that we're serving those who are serving customers. Get their feedback. Be incredibly responsive. Be incredibly urgent with that feedback. And make sure that the employee experience is the very best it possibly can be.

That includes ensuring that we have the right leaders at all levels of the organization. We have a lot of intensity around leadership competencies and how we're performing against those competencies and what we need to be doing to build skillsets to further those competencies for our leaders in an effort to continue to support those frontline employees so those frontline employees are proving an incredible experience to our customers. 

Employee experience drives customer satisfaction

Michael Krigsman: If we were to pull back the curtain on meetings that take place inside T-Mobile, how much is this customer experience theme explicitly raised and discussed?

Jon Freier: Every Monday at one o'clock Pacific, I have a business review with all of our top vice presidents across our retail teams, across our customer care teams, across our operations teams, our marketing teams, and our financial planning and analysis teams. It's a real cross-functional group of leaders that are charged with delivering the growth outcomes, the financial outcomes, and the overall customer experience outcomes.

The first thing we start with in this meeting is what's happening in the customer experience, the very first thing we start with, before we get to how are sales going and how are net ads doing and how are the revenues and how are the overall cash flows and margins and EBITDA and all that stuff. We'll get to that, but we're going to start our meeting and be fixated around what's happening in the customer experience and why is it happening.

Our top customer experience leader starts the meeting with real metrics around those things and gives us insight into what's happening not just to read out the news but also to report out on these are the two or three top themes that we're hearing from our customers. Here's the work that's in motion. And here are the things that we've decided and the things that are going to get implemented to enhance the customer experience. 

It's a huge part of our operating rhythm and something that we're just fanatical about. 

Michael Krigsman: It sounds like a very intelligent approach because, after all, your customers are what is going to drive financial performance – customers and employees – at the end of the day.

Jon Freier: If you're focused on that upfront, then what I have found – and this has just been my experience across the last three decades – is it's amazing how the rest of the things are downstream from that and they're just so much easier, so all of your sales performance and your net performance.

In our business, we have net accounts and net ads and ARPUs (average revenue per unit) and ARPAs (average revenue per account) and all those things. It's just amazing how much easier those things are if you can really stay focused upfront. 

Just staying focused upfront and only being focused on that, you've got to do a little bit more than that. But it is amazing how much easier it is if you can ensure that the experience of your team is where it needs to be, they're equipped to provide incredible experiences to our customers, and customers are happier customers. And they're out there evangelizing and promoting your brand. It's amazing how much easier a business is when those things obviously are working in your favor. 

How T-Mobile segments target markets to track performance and customer engagement

Michael Krigsman: This is from LinkedIn and from Kash Mehdi who says, "In your strategy, how do you package specific experiences for your target audience? How do you segment the audience? How do you track the performance by segment? And what are the key elements of that segmentation and target audience, structure and tracking?"

Jon Freier: We do look at that. We're looking at target audiences. We're looking at different segments of customers, and some of those are geographic segments. There are some different attributes by each one of the different customer segments. 

Then we're looking at key performance indicators and overall measurements within each one of those segments to ensure that we're appealing to them. Sometimes we have offers, promotions, or value propositions that are really appealing to one particular segment and might not be to another.

In our business, this is a direct, head-to-head competition business. Every single day, we're out there fighting for share. 

Our competitors are out there fighting. It's an intense, competitive business that, as you guys have seen if you're not part of this business, just watch some football games on Sunday. You can see how crazy-competitive this business is with all of our ads that take up the majority of the space between us and the insurance guys.

It's a very, very competitive business. And any time competitors do something that might be targeting one segment, then we've got that baked into the telemetry as well so that we can understand where we're gaining share, potentially losing share for a second, and what might we need to do from an adjustment perspective. 

Sometimes we might say we're not going to do something for these reasons. Sometimes we say we're going to do something very deliberately and very drastically for these different set of reasons. But we have a lot of telemetry that's baked into how we look at each one of those segments and how the performance is shaping up for each one of those segments.

Michael Krigsman: We have another question on Twitter from Arsalan Khan who is a regular listener. He always asks very thoughtful questions. Arsalan says, "For customer success, is there a distinct relationship between the success of internal customers (namely employees), and how do you measure both?" I think he's trying to get the link between internal employee success and external employee success on the measurements.

Jon Freier: When I think about our journey for the last three decades, we've had great times and we've had some tougher times. Those tougher times (when you look at customer results) they're often correlated to having a tougher time with employee results.

We're looking at a variety of things. We're looking at overall engagement and what's happening there.

We've got several things. We have an employee satisfaction survey that we do multiple times per year. It's looking across a number of indices and a lot of dimensions. 

Engagement, for me, is the number one thing I'm looking for. I'm looking for emotional connectivity that drives the kind of engagement that we're looking for, and make sure that people feel like they have purpose, they have belonging, and they can have impact.

When you think about companies that are struggling, generally what you have is you have a set of employees that have lost their purpose, that have lost their belonging. They don't understand how they can contribute. They don't understand their impact. 

Before you know it, they don't have an emotional connection to their work or an emotional connection to their company; you have transactional employment. Then when you have transactional employment, you could find yourself in a very difficult place. 

What we want to make sure that we have is we want to make sure that we have an emotional connectivity that drives an engagement and that engagement drives maximum discretionary effort and voluntary cooperation, the height of voluntary cooperation, particularly in a company that has, like most companies, lots and lots of functions and you're looking for cross-functional coordination and cross-functional cooperation to enhance the customer experience. 

Some of you know that if you work for large companies, you can find yourself siloed in functions, and you can find yourself kind of executing the mission and the agenda of your function only. You can lose sight of the customer really fast. It's really important that you have this voluntary cooperation and this cross-functional engagement.

We have a lot of measurements that help us understand that, and we spend a lot of time talking about that as a team as well. It's incredibly important and, like I said, we've had great times with that. We've had tougher times with that. I would say John Legere and Mike Sievert, our then CEO and our current CEO, have shown us the way on this so many times that it's engrained with me and something that I'll forever carry forward.

Empathy and data combine to create customer loyalty

Michael Krigsman: Correct me if I'm wrong here that, for you, yes, there is the data, there's the scale, there's all that, but your personal drive is to develop this empathetic, almost feeling for whether it's your internal employee stakeholder, whether it's an external customer. It's personal, the human aspect. That's my sense from you.

Jon Freier: Think about customers who absolutely love their brand. Any of you who are listening, think about a brand that you just love. 

That brand that you love probably is attributed to several things. It's attributed to a great value. It's attributed to a superior quality.

It's also attributed to an incredible experience: an incredible physical experience with people, an incredible digital experience. When stores are closed or service centers are closed – and it might be 1:00 in the morning and that's the only time you had because you had to put the children to sleep or perhaps you have a newborn and you have a whole chaotic life – you want that digital experience to be great as well.

For me, when you think about the companies that people love the most, it's because those companies care. Those companies have taken a personal interest in you. Those companies are committed to helping you live a better life. 

They're not here just to get more money out of you. They're not here to just enrich shareholders. They're here to make a difference in people's lives.

For a company like ours that has tens of thousands of people that serve our customers, it's a hallmark between success and a lack of success. I've seen it time and time again with our company or other kinds of brands that I deeply respect. When I look at other companies or other brands that might not be as successful, almost always – not entirely always but almost always – that's the difference between one successful company and one successful brand and perhaps others. 

Michael Krigsman: It's so simple. Actually caring. 

Jon Freier: It's crazy how simple it is. Of course, technology and the way that we're serving customers and all of that is changing. You can't just be like, "I care a lot," and hopefully, that's going to work. 

You've got to leverage all of that, harness all of that, and be super smart about that. But just doing that and only that without what we're talking about, I personally don't think it's near enough.

How the telecom industry has evolved over time

Michael Krigsman: Another question. Timm Henderlight comes back on LinkedIn, and he wants to know, "What changes have you seen in the wireless industry (positive and negative)?"

Jon Freier: Today, as I mentioned, we have 118 million customers. I started with the predecessor company of Western Wireless. We had 75,000 customers. I was 19 years old. I had a head full of hair. I was a lot thinner. I was going to school. 

I have seen everything change in this wireless industry and how people are using [mobile]. I mean when I started, landlines were a necessity and cell phones were a luxury. Also, when I started, you called places; you didn't call people.

Now, my children have no concept that you ever call a place. You always call a person. They have no concept of why anybody ever would ever have a landline phone.

I was selling pagers, too, when I started out in this business, and leaving my business card as a starving 19-year-old sales rep leaving my business cards on payphones so I could get people to drop pagers and adopt cell phones.

When you think about a world like that, that wasn't all that long ago, by the way. That was in the mid-'90s. Moving from that to where we are today and where this world is going, it's unbelievable. It's crazy. 

I would tell you that, as a personal story – and I know we're running out of time – I fell in love with our business on a horrible day, the most horrific day that this country has ever had on September 11th of 2001. The reason I fell in love with our business is because the products and the services that I was selling was helping people connect in ways that I never thought imaginable. People that were calling their family members and saying, "I'm okay," or perhaps calling their family members for the very last time.

That night, on September 11th of 2001, I fell in love with our business because our business matters. And I could see where the industry was going and the importance of communications and the mobile communications that we were bringing. I could see the huge impact. To me, the highlight of my career has been able to be a part of a story that enhances communication and enhances people. 

Now, like I said a few moments ago, there can be dangers of technology, and we've got to make sure that we manage that. We've got to think about that and be very responsible around that. 

But to me, if I had a chance to change anything over the last 30 years in terms of my career and in terms of my ability to be a part of this business, there's not one single thing I would change because it's been truly a blessing.

Michael Krigsman: Can we take one more very, very quickly? I'll ask you just to answer this real fast because it's a good question, again from Kash Mehdi who says, "What is the most critical expectation that you have from data leaders (for example, chief data officers) to be successful as a company and your leadership?" Really quickly. 

Jon Freier: Orchestration. There's lots and lots of data. We have data lakes that are disconnected from one another. 

It depends on your IT architecture and your data sets that you have within your own company. But the number one thing that I'm looking for from people is the orchestration of that and being able to make sense of data so that I can apply that to enhance our customers' experience. 

Michael Krigsman: Okay. With that, we are out of time. A huge thank you to Jon Freier from T-Mobile. Jon, thank you so much for being here with us. I really appreciate it.

Jon Freier: All my pleasure, Michael. Thank you, and thanks to all your viewers. 

Michael Krigsman: And thanks to everybody who watched, especially those folks who ask such great questions. You guys are an amazing audience. 

Check out CXOTalk.com. We have amazing shows coming up. Be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel and subscribe to our website. 

We'll see you again next week. Take care, everybody. Bye-bye.

Published Date: Nov 03, 2023

Author: Michael Krigsman

Episode ID: 811