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All Qwest workers called on to sell in race for customers
By Beth Potter, Staff Writer
Denver Post
Monday, March 27, 2006

At Qwest, the company's almost 40,000 workers may end up going far beyond the company's "Spirit of Service" motto in coming months.

In a battle for market share, the Denver-based telephone company is calling on all workers -- from repair technicians to receptionists -- to sell its high-speed Internet, phone and TV service.

The marketing push is driven by Qwest's loss of more than 780,000 phone lines in 2005.  That represents a drop of about 5 percent of its land-line customers across its 14-state region, according to a company filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

It also has trimmed about 6,700 workers in the past three years, about 2,600 in Colorado.

Chuck Ward, Qwest's Colorado president, pushed the unorthodox marketing plan in a pep talk to about 20 repair technicians and engineers at a company garage in Loveland one recent morning.

"We've got to figure out what will get a customer to call Qwest before they call Comcast," Ward said, pacing back and forth in front of a fleet of parked Qwest repair trucks.  "If they call us first, we have a better chance of getting them hooked."

Qwest worker Dave Sullivan told Ward that he had gotten a customer to request Qwest high-speed Internet when the customer moved to Loveland.  But when the customer applied for the service, he was told it wasn't available.

But Qwest had misinformed the customer because the service is available in Loveland, Ward said, shaking his head.

"It's very frustrating losing a customer because of an information problem," Ward said.

Ward and Mike Labate, Qwest consumer market group project manager, handed out "door hanger" fliers to workers who can volunteer to pass out the fliers during off-duty hours.

Qwest workers who refer new customers to the company get a modest fee, said Qwest spokesman Michael Dunne.

Ward and Labate said they'll financially support any reasonable marketing idea from employees, from hot-dog stands to sales pitches at grocery stores.

While the "all employee" marketing program has been around since 2002, Ward has traveled the state in recent months to get workers motivated.

Ward calls himself a "cheerleader" for Qwest's Colorado operations since being promoted in November.  Since 2000, Ward had worked on corporate and legislative policy at Qwest.

His predecessors as Qwest Colorado president spent most of their time lobbying at the Public Utilities Commission and the state legislature, Dunne said.

"If we do well, we all win.  If we don't do well ... I'll be called into Dick's office," Ward said, referring to Qwest chief executive Richard Notebaert.

What Ward left unsaid is that cable company Comcast recently unveiled its "Digital Voice" Internet phone service in Colorado.  Philadelphia-based Comcast has about 700,000 cable-TV customers in Colorado.

Comcast does not have an employee referral program, said spokeswoman Cindy Parsons.

Qwest generated $50 million last year from the nonsales-employee signups across its region, Dunne said.

Verizon recently started using a similar all-employee strategy to battle cable companies for TV subscribers in Texas, said spokesman Bill Kula.  Since December, Verizon groups who canvass neighborhoods in Texas have raised company revenue up to 40 percent in some spots, Kula said.

"It has morphed into almost a religious experience, where employees feel so excited about the opportunity to compete with cable companies," Kula said.

In Colorado, Qwest harnesses similar employee energy by asking workers to post marketing suggestions and tips about competitors' strategies on its www.winQwest.com website, Ward said.

But no matter how hard workers try to sell Qwest's high-speed Internet or long-distance, most new customers want cellphones, said Gary Baugh, another Loveland technician.  Qwest resells Sprint cellphone service on its own branded phones.

"My brother-in-law in Monument surfs the Web from his laptop connected to the cellphone," Baugh said.  "I couldn't believe it. It's really convenient."

Staff writer Beth Potter can be reached at 303-820-1503 or bpotter@denverpost.com.

http://www.denverpost.com/business/ci_3637936