From Customer to Team Member: The Southpaw Story

southpaw-header She’s starting at the University of North Carolina now (Go Heels!), but it wasn’t all that long ago she was in middle school and begging me for her first smartphone. Both my girls have always been excellent students, driven by their personal goals to do well. They are passionate about science, the older one “digging” paleontology, the younger one determined to become an astronaut. [caption id="attachment_2568" align="alignleft" width="300"]Kim's older daughter volunteering at the USU Eastern Prehistoric Museum last summer. Kim's older daughter volunteering at the USU Eastern Prehistoric Museum last summer.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2567" align="alignleft" width="300"]Kim's younger daughter at the Atlantis exhibit at Kennedy Space Center, where she participated in the 2016 Conrad Spirit of Innovation Challenge. Kim's younger daughter at the Atlantis exhibit at Kennedy Space Center, where she participated in the 2016 Conrad Spirit of Innovation Challenge.[/caption]
        I have a lot of admiration for anyone who pursues their dreams with that kind of energy.
So when the future astronaut informed this stay-at-home mother that a smartphone would make her more productive, I had to figure out a way to make it happen. My task seemed easy enough. It was mid-2011 and my brother was paying just $25 a month for his smartphone plan. My family of four could do that for just a few dollars more per month than what we were paying for “feature” phones. I promised her we’d all get smartphones for Christmas. Oops. As soon as I spoke those un-retractable words, my brother’s mobile provider increased their pricing just enough to exceed my budget. I started looking around for another option. I found a “Republic Wireless” website with a picture of some hands tinkering with a phone, its parts scattered across a page that scrolled left to right across my monitor. Was this a scam? Who designs a website to scroll left to right!? Internet buzz was suggesting Republic Wireless would offer an affordable, no-contract plan. I refused to believe it was true; there had to be a catch. Hungry to know more, I read everything I could find about Republic Wireless, and reluctantly liked what I was reading. This company was going to make their phones work for calling and texting over WiFi in order to offer affordable plans. Away from WiFi, the phones would work like a normal cell phone.
There was a cool DIY vibe about the company – no call center for support, but an online support ticket system and an online forum where customers help one another out.
I bounced in excitement at the thought of never having to work my way through an automated phone menu just to have some bored tech sigh impatiently in my ear after repeating his instructions three times as I still failed to understand. Written instructions by support ticket! Friends helping friends online! Pricing within my budget! No way. Too good to be true. I was so not falling for this. While I was learning everything possible about Republic Wireless, my husband and I were also shopping around. We ended up with three used phones with grandfathered contracts on the same $25 plan as my brother. That covered my family members, but I could never score a fourth phone for myself…or maybe I wasn’t really trying hard enough because this Republic Wireless thing was still tempting me. I had started participating in their online forum and I liked the way the employees interacted with the potential customers.
Like my own science-impassioned daughters, it was obvious the people who worked for this place were passionate about what they were doing.
[caption id="attachment_2566" align="alignleft" width="300"]Kim's older daughter pointing at a fossil at Dinosaur Ridge in Morrison, Co last summer. Kim's older daughter pointing at a fossil at Dinosaur Ridge in Morrison, Co last summer.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2565" align="alignleft" width="300"]Kim's younger daughter at CERN this spring. Kim's younger daughter at CERN this spring.[/caption]           That passion had an effect on me that I think of as the Republic Effect: employees who exude energy and enthusiasm, treat their customers honestly and fairly, and strive to genuinely provide a great customer experience build trust and customer loyalty more than any gimmick ever could. Like others in their forum, I found myself helping other potential customers by pointing them to answers that had already been provided. Republic’s promised launch on November 8th crept into the wee hours of November 9th as their staff stayed in contact with the thousands of would-be members who were frantically refreshing browsers to try to get into this limited BETA. Sometime well after midnight, I hit refresh at just the right time, watched an order form pop up on the screen, and moved from skeptic to member. Over time Republic moved out of BETA, launched new phones, consistently looked for ways to improve their service, and I brought my family from those grandfathered phones to Republic Wireless. Even my parents joined. Addicted to the online forum, the Community, I became a top contributor and Ambassador under the username SouthpawKB.
A teacher by training, I enjoyed helping others with their questions, but even more, I loved the fact that I was constantly learning something new.
As I continued to participate, I saw time and again evidence that the employees believe the members are the company’s greatest asset. I’ve seen them alter policies after considering feedback. I’ve watched them delight in helping members in surprising ways. I’ve been amazed at how they engage with members in the Community, on Facebook, on Twitter, and Google Plus. I observed the Republic Effect in action every day, and I laughed whenever anyone asked me if I had ever engaged in this way with any other company. Nearly four and a half years later, a very dear friend quietly pointed me to a job listing for a Customer Advocacy role. I’ve always been impressed by the caliber of the employees at Republic Wireless. Yes, I’ve cyber-stalked them, I’ve read their LinkedIn profiles. These are seriously smart, passionate, driven people. People like my daughters. These are not used-up housewives with an expired teaching certificate and mediocre grades on a dusty college transcript. The job description tempted me, but I didn’t dare believe someone like me would ever be considered to work on such a pedigreed team. I applied and was amazed to be called for a phone interview. And then an on-site interview. And a follow-up breakfast. And another interview. Then, unbelievably, I received a call to let me know that instead of someone with an advanced degree or extensive job experience, the company wanted to hire me; they wanted the person who brings not much more than a demonstrated empathy for their members. I like to think such a hiring decision is a sincere testimony to how much Republic Wireless values the people they serve. I’m giddy as I move into my new role as a Republic team member. I’m often asked what it’s like transitioning from Community Ambassador to team member.
In many ways, the transition has been simplified by my familiarity with the service and phones, as well as the friendships I had formed with the people who have now become my co-workers.
Community members have encouraged me in my new role, something I’ve appreciated immensely. As an active Community member, I served as a Directly Expert and I’ve been asked to bring my perspective as a past Expert to my new role. One of my biggest surprises so far was being sent on a business trip in just my second week on the job to meet the Directly team. I thought I was being sent there to listen and learn; instead, I was expected to voice my opinion and draw from my experience to make operational decisions. Something that did not surprise me at all was the fact that the Republic Wireless office is filled with that same enthusiasm and energy I had seen online.
As a mother, I’m encouraged to see people come to work every day filled with passion for what they do; it gives me hope that my daughters will be able to follow their dreams and find jobs that fuel their passions.
As a subscriber to Republic Wireless’ service, this energy fortifies my confidence in the company. From my desk, I love to listen to the patience and expertise of the Help team as they call customers who need extra help. In meetings, I watch as team members’ eyes light up in excitement as they discuss their projects. As a new member of the Republic Wireless team, I’m delighted to get to be a part of the Republic Effect.