Verizon: They Can Hear Customers Now

By Alison Diana  |  Posted 2008-09-29

Once made up of multiple businesses—each with its own corporate structure, personnel and legacy systems—Verizon Communications now offers a united front to its customers and employees. The change is the result of an internal restructuring that rid the broadband, wireless and wired services provider of extraneous departments, redundant tasks and blocked communications channels.

After restructuring 18 months ago, Verizon’s three operational units—residential, wireless and business—now share some centralized organizations, including IT, purchasing and accounting. However, each business unit also has its own upper-level IT executives, who each report into the corporate IT organization, according to Eric Fremont, senior vice president of IT strategy and planning, who reports directly to executive vice president and CIO Shaygan Kheradpir.

As part of the reorganization, the company has migrated traditional IT operations—including managing the internal network, help desk and data center—away from the various business units and centralized them within the corporate IT organization. The IT groups within the business units focus their efforts on supporting strategic business initiatives.

“From Day 1, we got synergy savings,” Fremont says. “We combined like functions, and, in many cases, that resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars in quantifiable savings.”

In addition to powering up its purchasing punch by presenting one front to vendors and suppliers, Verizon also worked to deliver a single access point to customers. Before the change, the company targeted clients based on their size and the services they used. Now, Verizon engages customers with the entire gamut of its offerings, a move that frequently increases its market reach and improves customer service.

“If I’m a consumer, I view Verizon as one entity,” Fremont explains. “I want to call one person or one call center, and have a single point of contact who will assist me. I also want to take advantage of the fact that some products are complementary.”

Customers can access their Verizon account via one portal, which was developed by a diverse group of Verizon professionals with different areas of expertise, says Fremont. This site’s creation was reviewed by upper management on a quarterly basis.

As a result of open communication between departments and the elimination of compartmentalized sales, Verizon can offer product bundles that further cement customer loyalty and generate increased sales, while simultaneously giving multi-product clients a discount, according to Fremont.

To gain better insight into existing business and customer operations, challenges and opportunities, Verizon’s IT staff and executives sometimes make the rounds with technicians who are going to a client’s site to deliver or install products and services.

“I go on truck rolls myself and it’s fascinating,” says Fremont. “The folks in the field know what the issues are. Nine times out of 10, they’ll give you a solution.

“Often, you don’t put one and one together because you don’t know what the business problem is and they [the businesspeople] don’t know what the technology’s capable of. You must talk to the folks who are actually doing the work, and you need interaction between the players. Being close to the business is critical.”

In fact, if IT and line-of-business employees don’t communicate, the customer—and the company—may suffer. “I think there’s often a wall between IT and the business,” he says, “where the requirements are thrown over the wall, and software’s thrown back.” That’s a situation that Verizon is determined to avoid.

Talk to Me

A technology-intensive communications firm like Verizon is obviously eager to get feedback and ideas from its IT professionals. So top management frequently teams up IT and business-unit professionals to address challenges and opportunities, and to discuss how a particular technology tool may be of use.

“Ideas come from multiple places, and with ideas comes innovation,” says Fremont. “We have a normal business prioritization process that takes place on an annual basis, but it can take place any time during the year if there’s a good idea. Other times, projects and initiatives are launched from the top, with a focus on a given area. In those cases, subject-matter experts in various organizations form a working group.”

The IT department is integral to ensuring that operations are running efficiently and accurately, and it plays a major operational part in executing some high-priority corporatewide initiatives, according to Fremont. “In addition, in terms of the overall strategy, we play a fairly key role in defining the three- to five-year strategy from an overall IT perspective, and in working with the individual business units,” he says.

Working closely with top business management, IT executives have access to Verizon’s projects, plans and goals, and they are tapped to integrate existing or pending technologies, where applicable. Verizon also encourages its employees and executives to participate in relevant blogs, newsletters and threads that are submitted by personnel from around the world.

“A lot of sharing takes place,” says Fremont. “There’s a tremendous amount of intellectual capital in this company. In today’s economy, intellectual property has become even more strategic, and a good idea can be a game-changer.”

The IT group also offers its opinion on available or emerging technologies Verizon could tap for its customers. “Technology is radically changing our business,” says Fremont. “The competitors of yesteryear—many of which are gone—and the competitors of today are drastically different, and the battle continues for the digital customer.

“The fact that we at Verizon grew up with technology makes us more adaptive and, in many ways—particularly in IT—more accepting of change and, in some cases, more welcoming of change. From a technology enablement perspective, we tend to be bleeding edge because we have to be. That positions us to be more responsive to change.”

Verizon expects its communications-friendly business model to generate more synergies and positive results for the company and its customers. “I think you’ll see some new products that will wow you and start to demonstrate some of the capabilities—which senior management has already seen—that unleash the value of Verizon as a whole,” Fremont predicts.

When that happens, Verizon hopes the phones—along with broadband Internet and TV services—generate a buzz that will be heard around the world.

READ Convergence: The Wave of the Future