I was wrong about the Knology buyout: Rightsizing gone wrong

Box Boy
Originally uploaded by chimothy27

There, I said it. My predictions and expectations were totally off from what I prognosticated earlier this year.

See, like most parents, I assumed when given a great gift, the recipient would focus on the right item. How often do you give a great gift, and the child is more interested in the box rather than the actual gift inside (see picture to the right)? You could predict that might happen, but it doesn’t really make sense, does it.

I feel the same way about the recent buyout of Sunflower by Knology. They focused on the box rather than the gift. The real treasure were the human, not technical, resources. Most telecommunications companies run on a company set of standard and protocols. While Sunflower has some technical innovations, it’s the local people who created loyalty to the company within this community when competing with DirecTV and AT&T. “Hometown care” was the selling point. Knology kinda missed a key point of what made Sunflower successful. Disappointing, yet predictable of large corporations. Anyone remember New Coke? Another case of a company missing what customers liked about the product. Knology, not being a local company, doesn’t realize it’s the people who make Sunflower what it was, not the technology.

In particular, I don’t like the spin Knology has put on this. “Rightsizing” Sunflower is not being truly honest. The 50 or so customer service advocates (I love that term-it’s much better than agent), served our market well. If they are all laid off and all the calls from Kansas will be handled by the existing Knology call centers, then that means that up until the Sunflower buyout they were severely overstaffed. So instead of laying off people in those markets, they lay off the Kansas employees? It’s not like a telecommunications company could keep a call center in Kansas. I had hoped they’d keep the Kansas center and possibly lay off underproducing people in other markets.

More likely, this “rightsizing” has nothing to do with the allocation of resources, but rather will cause longer hold times at their existing call centers. Because they are not a local company, they don’t actually have to see the people they are putting out on the street. That’s a key to a local company, they actually see the impact of their decisions. Employees and customers see each other in town and they have to be able to work, pray, and dine with these people. Given Knology’s behavior so far and it’s focus on profits over people, I’m concerned about outsourcing of calls to foreign countries.

So what can we do???

Avoid negative actions
Canceling your service to make a “statement” isn’t always the best idea. Switch for the right reasons – if a competitor offers a better value. Moreover complaining on online forums, attacking Knology on online social media, or calling front line customer service employees to complain will have little effect. These people are not decision makers and are probably scared for their own jobs right now.

Let Knology know your opinion
Even in today’s fast-paced world, the most effective way to register a complaint is still a well-reasoned, old-fashioned letter to the corporate headquarters. Write Knology if you disagree with their actions in Lawrence. Here is a list of their officers and some tips for how to write a good complaint letter and if necessary the famous email carpet bomb. . You don’t need to be dramatic and threaten to cancel service, but you can let them know that what they did wasn’t the best way to introduce the Knology brand to Lawrence. Furthermore, Knology is a publicly traded company, http://www.google.com/finance?client=ob&q=NASDAQ:KNOL. As of this writing, the stock is about $15 a share. If you buy a share or two, that would give you the right to contact Investor Relations as well as have your voice heard at company shareholder meanings.

Thank your Sunflower neighbors
Realize they are going through a difficult time. When they help you with something, just don’t give a courtesy thanks, but a true and heartfelt thanks. If possible, write a letter or email so this can be put as a reference for a future job. Heck, drop by the Riverfront mall and bake them a few cookies (and send me a few since this was my idea!). Let them know how much you support local service. If you find yourself frustrated with the impact layoffs have on the Lawrence economy, realize layoffs are happening to others right now and donate some food or money to social services. Remember that the World Company is a major contributor to the local United Way campaign and unfortunately a national company may not be that involved. The social service community here is another loser in these layoffs.

Invest yourself in the community
Reading local forums, I hear lots of people upset about this national company hurting our local economy. The layoffs will surely have a ripple effect on our entire economy. So counter it. I find it harder to complain about a national company’s local actions, when I’m buying something off the internet rather than buying it local. Dare I say that’s a bit hypocritical?

Now is the perfect time to focus on buying local and thinking about the impact of our purchases. Obviously I’m biased towards the Lawrence GiveBack program since I’m a member. These merchants aren’t just local, but they give back part of their purchases. However, when the product you need isn’t available from GiveBack merchants, here’s a personal hierarchy I use for my purchases

1) Impact on the community?
I first look towards the merchant’s contribution to the community. If they sponsor local events and give back to the community, they are the most likely to get my dollars
2) Are they a small business?
Being a small business myself (actually they call people like me micro or nano businesses), I want to do business with this type of person whenever possible.
3) Are they locally owned?
Even if they are a larger business franchise, I’d rather deal with people who live and work in the community. They are most likely to be concerned about the impact of their decisions because they live and work in the community.
4) Are they regional?
If the owners don’t live in Lawrence, but let’s say it’s a business based in the metro or region, I’d like to keep the money local as possible
5) Finally, comes national chains owned by large national companies in another part of the company or world

I try to do this whenever possible, but like you, I’m looking for a value and I’m not going to avoid buying what I want just because I can’t find it locally. Nonetheless I *think* about my purchases and *try* to follow this guideline.

You might have a different purchase philosophy, but it’s important you have one and think about the local impact of your purchasing decisions. If you don’t, we are faced with companies like Knology who may not consider what their decisions mean to your local community.

Let’s hope I’m wrong again and Knology realizes the value of Lawrence and it’s workers and vests itself in this community.

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