Mother, Hugger, Keeper of the Culture?
That title adorned Colleen Abdoulah’s business cards, just above her other title, Chief Executive Officer of WOW! Cable & Internet (NYSE: WOW).
So what gives? Abdoulah, a corporate titan by any measure, leads with the title “Mother, Hugger, Keeper of the Culture?” And this title thing didn’t isolate to Abdoulah. WOW!’s CFO passed around cards that introduced him as “Family Man, Dog Lover, Teammate?” The senior vice president for human resources carried the title of “Mom, Book Lover, Jazz Enthusiast?”
“When people engaged with us, we wanted them to engage with us as a person, not as a technician or call-center rep or IT guy or CEO, but as a person who is a golfer, a reader, a foodie—whatever their descriptors are,” Abdoulah explained. “I remember when we messed up on something with a customer and that person wrote one of our marketing people and really blasted him and then said, ‘PS: I see you’re a vegetarian. So am I, and I’ve got some great vegetarian recipes.’ And—boom—they connected on the recipe side of things, and the service thing—which we resolved quickly—became secondary to their bond as two vegetarians. That’s the way we should be navigating through our daily lives—not based on our titles or positions but on who we are as people.”
As Keeper of the Culture, Abdoulah understood that her primary job was to connect every employee in the organization (several thousand in total) to WOW!’s purpose, to provide the best customer experience in its industry. Abdoulah understood the importance of making it personal. Abdoulah understood that making it personal was one of the first steps a Fusion Leader takes on the journey of “fusing” their team together around a shared purpose.
It worked—exceptionally well. When Abdoulah took the helm of WOW! in 2002, the company had $200 million in annual revenue and employed six hundred people in five markets. When she retired her CEO role, over 10 years later, WOW! generated over $1.2 billion in revenue, employed thousands of people and served customers in nine states. The firm won a slew of awards, including seventeen first-place rankings in the prestigious J. D. Power and Associates consumer studies of telecom companies.
One reason WOW! succeeded in the market and received these accolades is because Abdoulah and her team operated within what they called an internal “service structure,” which places the company’s frontline workers—well—front and center. The employees in the call center and the technicians in the field served as the firm’s focal point, because they relate directly with the customer. “We believed there’s a direct correlation between how happy employees feel and the happiness of the customers.”
Importantly, it seems everyone in the WOW! organization connected the dots between their “title” (as a person) and the organization’s purpose!
My brand signature when I was at WOW! was “Motown Fan. TV Trivia Guru. Gluten Free Foodie.” This brand experience helped us connect to our customers – both internally and externally. I loved working on this project and helping launch it to our team members. We learned so much about one other.
When I emailed with our customers, these brand signatures connected us as people vs. just “employees at WOW!”. I remember quite a few email exchanges from customers about our favorite Motown groups, or what we were watching on TV. A few even asked me some questions about gluten free foods, too. Our brand signature made the connection to one another.
Working at WOW! and helping launch this campaign was one of the best experiences I had in my career. It’s hard for a company to pull something like this off, but with WOW!, it just felt natural.