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Newly installed chief executive officer Joe Natale says Rogers Communications Inc. has to take an “end-to-end” approach to make meaningful progress on customer service.

Gloria Nieto/The Globe and Mail

Newly installed chief executive officer Joe Natale says Rogers Communications Inc. has to take an "end-to-end" approach to make meaningful progress on customer service.

Poor customer experience, which leads to high subscriber turnover and increased costs, has long plagued the Toronto-based cable and wireless company and, on his first day as CEO in April, Mr. Natale pledged to "obsess" over the issue.

Now, five weeks in to the job, he says "there hasn't been enough of a concerted effort" to improve overall customer experience across the "complete value chain."

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"I think there's been some reasonable progress in what I would call the various 'silos' of customer service – looking at improvements in terms of retail stores or the call centre – but, in this business, you really have to look end-to-end to drive the needle on customer service," Mr. Natale said on Thursday, speaking at a Scotiabank investor conference hosted by analyst Jeff Fan.

Mr. Natale is still getting to know the company but his remarks on Thursday provide an initial sense of what he plans to change. He said he wants employees working in different parts of the business – from the product side to handling orders, installing services, billing and customer support – to focus not just on their own direct responsibilities but on how it all works together to support sales and improve customer service.

"That focus, that mentality, I think, is not as ingrained as it could be," he said. "There's a real opportunity on that front."

Mr. Natale also said he would focus on cost controls at Rogers, saying "there's a huge entrepreneurial spirit in the company," but there are opportunities to improve on both customer service and expense management.

Mr. Natale's predecessor, Guy Laurence, who left the company in October after just less than three years as CEO, also tried to tackle Rogers's failings on customer service, and made some progress.

However, the company's rate of wireless subscriber turnover – or churn – remained much higher than the industry leader Telus Corp., Mr. Natale's previous employer. At the end of 2016, Rogers's churn rate was 1.23 per cent, compared with 0.95 per cent at Telus.

Churn matters because it is expensive to win new customers, as carriers often offer promotions and provide subsidies on expensive smartphones.

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Rogers chief financial officer Tony Staffieri, who also spoke on Thursday at the conference, credited some initiatives put in place under Mr. Laurence – such as a flat-rate international roaming service and a wireless data management tool – with helping to reduce customer turnover in recent quarters.

For the first three months of 2017, Rogers reported a churn rate of 1.10 per cent. Lower churn helped boost its net subscriber additions – which is a key figure investors evaluate – to 60,000 in the period, the most of any carrier.

Mr. Natale said Rogers – which is the biggest Canadian wireless carrier and has an extensive distribution network – can benefit immensely from improvements in turnover.

"You can see very clearly, as we improve churn, the almost turbo-charger effect it has on our business."

Earlier this week, Mr. Staffieri said he believes Rogers can get its churn rate down to 1 per cent or below. "There's no structural reason that we can't ultimately achieve best-in-class churn for our sector," he said Tuesday at a J.P. Morgan investor conference.

The Blue Jays are worth $1.3-billion (U.S.) even though they’re playing bad baseball. Business columnist Andrew Willis thinks the new CEO should sell the team and make Rogers a pure telecom play. The Globe and Mail
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