Keeping the lines of communication open: Bruce Gordon answers the call for Bell Atlantic

Keeping the lines of communication open: Bruce Gordon answers the call for Bell Atlantic – Company Profile

Nadirah Sabir

As a Bell Atlantic college trainee, Bruce Gordon imply wanted to get a sense of the company and the telephone industry and then move on. “I’ve always bored easily,” admits the Bell Atlantic group president of consumer and small-business services. He adds, “I had this fear that if I stayed, I would be doing the same job my entire life.”

Twenty-six years later, that omen has become a blessing. Today, Gordon, 49, has moved up and across one of the nation’s largest Baby Bells, gathering in his path a wealth of experience in product management and customer service. Little did he know back then that he wouldn’t be taking that knowledge to another company, but using it to keep the $13.8 billion company on course.

After deregulation and the breakup of AT&T in 1984, regional phone companies were left to fend for themselves. Bell Atlantic Corp., which serves the mid-Atlantic region, was in need of an attitude adjustment if it was going to survive the shake-up. The comfortable, government-regulated monopoly had to transform itself into a competitive, market-driven company, ready to respond to the needs of its customers.

Enter Bruce Gordon. With a budget exceeding $7 billion, the lion’s share of Bell Atlantic business, Gordon’s innovations in customer service and management are two key factors that keep the Philadelphia-based Bell Atlantic in a strong leadership stance, as the competition jockeys for position. In 1988, as vice president of marketing and sales, Gordon took hold of the 100-year-old corporation and turned it “upside down and inside out.”

One of the keys to building a good customer base is accessibility. “It’s important to make it easy for customers to get to you,” says Gordon. Spearheading Bell Atlantic’s mass-marketing program, Gordon established sales outlets in retail stores like Sears, and put kiosks in shopping malls.

But as a major player in the phone industry, Bell Atlantic had to strengthen its greatest link to the customer, the customer service department. As the gateway for 11 million household and 1.2 million small-business customers, the department handles all billing, service and sales questions.

Prior to Gordon’s move into marketing, Bell Atlantic’s customer service force was handling only 70% of incoming service calls within the requisite 20 seconds, the amount of time most people wait before hanging up. Gordon, who holds a master’s degree in management from MIT, sought to bring that number up to 90%.

The company couldn’t afford to hire additional people, so Gordon needed to find where the glitch was. He and a team of troubleshooters spoke to customer service managers, examined payroll records to determine if attendance was up to par, and queried customer service reps in an effort to develop solutions.

They found that the workforce was not being used effectively. Many employees were in endless meetings and training sessions; others were goofing off. These findings sparked Bell Atlantic’s corporate quality improvement process.

In January 1994, corrective action teams developed a schedule for employee breaks, meetings and training sessions. By that summer, 90% of incoming calls were answered in 20 seconds.

“A good number of people felt we had compromised their freedom by managing their adherence to a schedule, reflects Gordon. “But they reached the ’90/20′ goal in two months, and no one has looked back.”

Gordon also had to make some hard personnel decisions. “I had to decide whether the people who got us to this point in history could take us forward,” he says. After putting all positions up for grabs and making employees compete for them, he turned over 20% of the workforce.

Since his promotion last year, Gordon has also made himself more accessible to the 9,000 employees he supervises. Instead of moving into the executive suite, Gordon chose to have his office on the floor where his employees work. “Information gets filtered when you’re up there, and you cut yourself off,” notes Gordon. But now, in his modest office with one glass wall, he gets feedback firsthand, from all levels.

So far, his innovations have kept Bell Atlantic on a steady course through troubled times. And along the way, Gordon’s been anything but bored.

COPYRIGHT 1995 Earl G. Graves Publishing Co., Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group