Headquartered in Evansville, IN, Metronet provides fiber-optic telecommunications services, including high-speed Fiber Internet and full-feature Fiber Phone. Founded in 2005, the company serves over 250 communities across 16 states.
We sat down with Woody Youngs, Customer Experience Manager, to learn more about the company and how the insights function helps meet its goals.
How many people work in your insights department?
We have three people dedicated to reporting insights to regional leadership, departments, and corporate leadership. This small team reports directly to Metronet’s Chief of Staff.
Organizationally, where does the insights function sit and how does it work with other data-driven departments?
At Metronet, Customer Experience (CX) is a stand-alone department reporting directly into the President and COO, operating effectively as a CX audit function for the organization. Research competencies are the backbone of our department; we have no separate insights team. Our marching orders: look in all quarters of the company to help the organization deliver excellent customer experiences. We have strong buy-in from executive leadership (autonomy, funding, and tools). Much of our research focuses on customer journey touchpoints. We capture, analyze, and report longitudinal tracking data (transactional and relational touchpoint surveys), conduct extensive qualitative research, manage a Customer Advisory Panel, and conduct 50+ ad hoc research projects each year – quite a list for a small team! Our internal clients include marketing, sales, Associate Resources, and operations teams. The ad hoc research includes concept tests, product evaluations, website usability testing/UX (love those microexpression, click monitor, and heat map tests), customer ethnographies, and studies to optimize operations.
Metronet’s culture initiative focuses on three ideas: SimpliFi (I will make it easy), SatisFi (I won’t stop), and PersoniFi (I am the face of the company). Specific tracking questions tell us how we’re doing every month through the customers’ eyes. Separately, we monitor associates’ commitment to those values as a part of our Associate Engagement tracker.
Our data analytics team does remarkable work tracking and analyzing performance metrics generated by internal systems. Our focus in CX is tracking and understanding the experience of our customers. CX collaborates with the data analytics team at the intersection of their internal data analysis and our externally focused information/insights. They help identify internally observed issues; we deliver the customer perspective.
Generally, how are requests for insights made to your department and how are research findings presented to leadership?
Some requests emerge as corporate goals are set each year; others surface because our tracking metrics shine a light on a performance issue in a certain geography, a certain type of interaction, or a particular mechanical issue that needs attention. Internal clients know we’re an available resource and they contact us directly for assistance. Just as a supplier generates a proposal for a prospective client, as an issue comes on our radar we prepare a SOW detailing background, the rationale for the project, expected action, sample parameters, method, timing, and estimated costs.
We run a dozen ongoing journey-based transactional and relational trackers - and report monthly/quarterly to all internal stakeholders. It is common to have a screen full of department or regional leaders on reporting calls (We use Teams, as leadership is widely scattered). The same is true as we report qualitative. We customize reports for each audience to make our insights actionable for coaching.
The backbone of our data is detailed tracking – supported by deep listening (qualitative) and ad hoc research. That combination has become the source of some great storytelling for our internal clients. Tracking the “what,” observing the “how,” and listening carefully to the “why” helps us deliver a very complete narrative as we share insights.
Who would you say are your most important internal stakeholders? Has this changed in the past couple of years? What are you doing to gain “a seat at the table” within your organization?
I joined Metronet just over three years ago after 43 years as a research consultant. When I arrived, there was strong corporate buy-in to create a world-class Customer Experience department in this dynamic, fast-growing firm. We built on that foundation of trust by delivering actionable data, on time, every time. We spend time with every new regional and departmental leader making sure they know how to use the information we share to improve their teams’ performance – then that’s reinforced as they see our reports every month. Today our CX team routinely shares insights with most functional departments and regional leadership teams. It is great to work in this culture! Just check-out our Glass Door reviews.
We hear a lot about “socialization” of insights – how findings can be effectively communicated across an organization so that they drive tangible action and change. How is this done at your company?
We share insights directly with core leaders in nearly every department and region every month. They use our insights for coaching, to drill down into problem areas, and also to celebrate successes! Our CX insights routinely show up in their reports to executive leadership. Our culture fosters open sharing of information – so when we shine a light on a problem, department leadership takes action to improve. It is a great relationship.
Corporately, Metronet has a Six Sigma mindset. Personally, I’ve been a 4DX guy for some years (4 Disciplines of Excellence). 4DX is a leadership tool that works well for isolated or ad hoc project management. I think one of the shortcomings in the research community is that we have great methodologies, techniques, and tools – we can deliver great insights – we can even tell great stories – but our clients sometimes don’t know how to act on that information to make a difference. They can see the end goal, but don’t know how to get there. A 4DX approach helps you identify leading indicators that if improved, impact the issue you’re trying to change. There are several good tools like this out there. As insights professionals we need to add one to our toolkit.
What business issues / questions is your department most focused on at this time?
Personally, I’m focused on implementing a 3-year department plan to move our team to next generation platforms to help us stay at the top of our game as Metronet continues to grow. We’re also encouraging professional development through organizations like the Insights Association, the CXPA, and the Fiber Broadband Association. Great teams should include complimentary skills. That includes experience in different industries, different educational backgrounds, and a range of certifications and specialized data science training. There is always something new to learn and we need a mix!
Please describe how a recent research project provided insights for the company to act (launch a new product/service, change pricing structure, new ad campaign, etc.) Please describe the business impact of the project/end result.
Our customers can sign-up for Metronet services in several ways. We’re trying to make the online shopping experience as simple and quick as possible – while still providing the opportunity to explore as much detail as they wish. Our optimization research included heat maps, microexpression analysis, and click tracking (observational components) – augmented by self-reported data captured immediately after use testing. Those combined tools helped us discover areas where customers were delighted – and frustrated – as they completed online sign-up. Then our technology team did their magic! User feedback tells us this is now smoother and faster than earlier online sign-up options. Goals: simpler, quicker, lower abandon rate. Results? So far, so good – but we’ll keep watching!
What methodologies are you looking at to gain insights in a different way?
First, I’m not the guy with a hammer who sees all problems as nails - we don’t have pet methods! In the early 1900s the question before the research community was whether we should ever ask anyone anything (the dominant tool was observation). Then the methods and technologies we’ve all used for decades began to develop. Remember phone books in your call center and Nth number selection by column/page? How about the smell of printing questionnaires on a mimeograph machine, manually assembling them – then tabulating thousands of responses by hand? I could remind you of fax studies, door-to-door block patterning interviewing, and bubble wrapping 80-column cards – all tools of our trade a few years ago. But then we put a man on the moon, got more tech and the web became part of life – and our industry evolved. More recently we’ve seen the overlay of emotional state analysis with facial recognition technology, and other biometric tools. So here we are a hundred years later and we’re once again placing high value on observation, arguably more reliable than much of the self-reported data we’ve been using for decades.
What am I looking at NEXT? The huge increase in our customer base and the research we handle has led me focused on ways to automate more effectively, how to train/use Artificial Intelligence (AI) to quickly see patterns in open-end data, the ability to effectively mine well-curated data lakes – then quickly share what we learn with excellent data visualization tools. That’s all next on the agenda!
How do you see analytics and the incorporation of secondary data into insights impacting your work in the future?
We value triangulation; monitoring the tracking data, hearing people talk about their experiences, and observing consumer behavior first-hand. Secondary data mining absolutely has a place in this. It tends to be the starting point when a new issue hits our radar (What can we learn quickly?). Of course, an hour of search will deliver a lot of off-target and outdated articles – but we often find a few gold nuggets too - usually in consultants’ white papers, industry journals, and academic articles. We see secondary data as a starting point; content we explore more fully with our own primary research.
If you had to identify a single obstacle to gaining better insights – what would it be?
Time. We often talk about the importance of disconnecting from the whirlwind of activity to simply be quiet and think. That takes real discipline when you see many initiatives you’d like to tackle.
What has been one change in the way you have performed your project work during the Covid pandemic that has remained in place/that you would like to remain?
Before Covid I had conducted over 2,400 focus groups, nearly all in-person. During and post-Covid, nearly all my deep listening sessions moved online. That was a no-brainer in the pandemic, but personally it was a hard transition because I was trained to watch body language and microexpressions – and I find that much more difficult (at least very different) online. That said, I’ve seen huge efficiencies by using online groups. I also worked in an office for decades – and in Covid, discovered the benefits of working remotely. Today I work hybrid, wherever I need to be – and that flexibility is incredibly helpful!
What is your biggest frustration when working with your providers? What is the biggest value-add when working with your providers?
Having been a supplier for over 4 decades, I understand the challenges suppliers face and try to be realistic with SOW requirements – so frustrations are rare. The biggest value-add is hearing the perspective of suppliers who are seasoned professionals. I don’t expect them to discuss proprietary information, but when they can identify industry trends or concerns based on their broad book of business, that’s a valuable insight.
Broadly, what are the immediate (1 year) goals for your department?
My 1-year goals are part of our 3-year plan: automate, engage new technologies, and expand our sample size as we increase the size of our corporate footprint.
What prompted you to join the Insights Association / What have been the most valued benefits of membership for you and your team thus far?
I was active with the MRA and CASRO for many years prior to the Insights Association being formed – and to some extent, engaged with the AMA and other organizations for ongoing education. The MRA provided excellent training resources for interviewers, supervisors, and call centers. CASRO added state-of-the-art thought leadership, and opportunities to network at their conferences. The Insights Association does all of that and more. I appreciate their commitment to integrity, the legislative watch/advocacy, on-demand webinars (great topics and speakers) and in-person events, and their efforts to strengthen professional standards in our industry.