high fees and perceived unreliable service is a recipe for churn


Glen Rogers can tell you that Rogers Communications suffered a nationwide outage of their wireless services on October 9th, 2013. Having the Twitter handle @rogers means that Mr. Rogers, a New Yorker with no affiliation to Rogers, is among the first in the world to know when they experience issues with their services, as thousands of Canadians turn to social media to discuss, complain, and have a laugh. It might be tempting to dismiss this social media event as a “tempest in a teapot,” but with more than 30,000 posts in the 6 hours of the outage alone, this was either a big tempest or a big teapot. Should Rogers be worried about the way Canadians reacted in social media? Was this all fun or did it expose a deep resentment among Canadian about their wireless services? Did Rogers handle the response to the outage well?


Josh Cobden, Senior VP of Environics Communications:

“A company’s slogan or tagline is only as good as how it will be perceived when they screw up.”   The most visible reaction Canadians had to the outage, by the volume of posts, can be characterized as laughing at folly. The jokes at Rogers’ expense are varied, but typically relate to Rogers’ taglines, slogans, or claims. People are quick to recall an often heard phrase from Rogers’ customer service representatives: “Has anyone asked #Rogers if they unplugged it, waited 30 sec, and then plugged it back in?” Others question whether Rogers really is “the most reliable network” and suggest they should change their slogan. These and similar posts were shared and re-posted broadly, having clearly struck a chord with many Canadians. Rogers likely did a lot of competitive and service history analysis before they felt confident calling themselves the most reliable network, since Bell and TELUS would not hesitate to challenge these claims, but they may not have stress-tested the slogan against a scenario like this.   Also driving content in high volume, and therefore quite noticeable, is the language used in the news articles as the story developed: Rogers is experiencing an outage, they are working to resolve the disruption ASAP, they apologize for the inconvenience.  On Twitter, this content is being driven largely by people retweeting @CP24 and @CBCAlerts posts, often with little or no commentary. When these news article headlines contain passion words, they are often descriptions of people as outraged, enraged, or angry, and not necessarily indicative of widespread emotional response: simply that some people are outraged. Although the re-posted jokes and news stories at this volume indicate that something noteworthy has happened, it is difficult to use either to uncover what people are feeling about the outage.   In fact, on balance, there seems to be little change in overall sentiment toward Rogers during the 96 hours that we monitored social media posts about the company. This is partially because most people are either re-posting light-hearted jokes or news stories, both large contributors to overall volume that are mostly free of sentiment, making the overall percentage of posts less negative. It is also in part because Canadians expect this sort of thing to happen and regularly vent their frustration in social media. In this sense, the outage response is an amplification of the long-standing concerns Rogers customers have with the company. According to Josh Cobden, “the speed and volume of criticism towards Rogers during its service outage suggests that while the company may be rich on paper, its bank of goodwill from customers has a lower balance,” (Josh Cobden, Senior VP of Environics Communications).

John Crockett, VP of Digital Innovation and Data Management at Environics Research

“Telecommunications customers tell us they want to switch providers because they are paying too much for their services – high fees and perceived unreliable service is a recipe for churn.”   Language related to payment is perhaps the clearest example of this lack of goodwill and is amplified by the outage. Canadians feel they spend the most money in the world for wireless service that is inferior to most other countries, often referring to it as “third world.” The lack of competition is blamed and is at the heart of the calls for Verizon to enter the Canadian market. People threaten to switch carriers and are quite cynical that the Rogers billing department would be as quick to issue a credit as they are to send the creditors after late payments. Contracts are another sore point, with many people blaming them for the poor service, and there are the typical four-letter responses for general feelings of frustration: not necessarily a fair indicator of sentiment, but the speed and volume suggests a kind of consumer fatigue. These issues go beyond one outage and in fairness, belong to the telecommunications industry as a whole, but the deep resentment expressed in these conversations should cause concern for Rogers.  


Josh Cobden, Senior VP of Environics Communications

“In crisis management, one of the most common mistakes organizations make is not failing to react — it’s overreacting.  Rogers understood that the first priority was to acknowledge the problem, and the second was to fix it.”


Rogers does not address the deeper concerns people express about their brand, keeping their focus on the “crisis.” The neutrality of the language generally and the quick correction in the negative sentiment that happens after the outage is positive and points to the likelihood that this was the correct short-term strategy. Their messages were clear and timely and had a positive effect on the sentiment of a social media conversation that could have become out of control quickly given the large volume of posts.


Offering a one day credit is one of the ways Rogers handled the crisis well. People begin discussing the need for Rogers to credit customers quite early into the outage. The sentiment in these posts is largely negatively before the outage, but is less during and significantly less after, following Rogers’ official announcement. Rogers waits until they have restored service before offering a credit, just before midnight on the 9th, and it is possible that they would have garnered additional patience and forgiveness had they announced it earlier. Still, offering the one-day credit is the point that the sentiment of the posts begins to improve. Another action with a similar effect is the apology from CEO Nadir Mohamed who called the outage “unacceptable.” The overall sentiment of posts improves noticeably after each of these actions.


It is likely that Rogers was monitoring public opinion during the outage and measuring its response accordingly. People asked for a credit and an apology and Rogers gave them both. When pre-paid customers complained that they were not getting a credit, Rogers decided to extend it to them as well. Rogers could have handled this better by simply extending the credit to all customers from the start as both would have been equally inconvenienced and unlikely to identify as a pre or post-paid customer. According to Josh Cobden, “sometimes you need to follow your heart, not your brain. There may be a business reason for not crediting all customers immediately, but favoring one over the other after disappointing them both seems pennywise and pound foolish.”


With Rogers’ wireless service restored, and internet traffic calmed to typical levels, it is safe to say that we have all survived yet another social media crisis; however, it would be a mistake to ignore the undercurrent of resentment Canadians have about the money they are spending, and their frustration that despite the cost, they are not getting the best or most reliable wireless services. This resentment is clearest when money, bills, and contracts are discussed and it is clear that many Canadians do not trust Rogers to deal with them fairly. According to John Crockett, VP of Digital Innovation and Data Management at Environics Research, “the concerns and complaints we saw on social media during the outage echoed the frustration many telecommunications customers express daily – the nation-wide outage simply amplified the volume with which they expressed their frustration. While the situation has calmed, the fever pitch is indicative of what happens when providers do not listen to their customers.” During this outage, Rogers has demonstrated that they know how to handle a social media crisis by acknowledging their error, correcting it, and giving something back, but they must have noticed these deeper concerns as well.


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