TORONTO - The new head of Rogers Communications Inc. (TSX:RCI.B) says he's working to make the telecom and media company a leader in its industry, as it works to fend off competitors and vastly improve customer service.
The Toronto-based company continues to have Canada's largest base of wireless phone subscribers, a major cable TV and Internet system, and a media arm that includes specialty TV channels, conventional television, radio and publishing.
However, Guy Laurence — speaking Tuesday at his first Rogers annual meeting since becoming chief executive officer and president in December — said the pace of growth has slipped compared with its peers.
"This is not satisfactory," Laurence said. "To me, it's all about winning and winning consistently. You're either No. 1 or you're not. It is my goal to re-establish and re-accelerate that growth and our leadership position over the long term."
Laurence said he spent the past three months re-examining the business and areas where it can be improved, particularly in terms of the customer experience.
"Customer service is a journey, not a destination," he told a group of shareholders. "We've actually fallen behind on that journey in terms of meeting customer needs."
Customer service quality levels have been a longtime concern for Rogers.
When previous CEO Nadir Mohamed took over the top job from company founder Ted Rogers in 2009 he said he wanted to focus on improving the telecom company's customer satisfaction levels.
Shortly before he retired last year, Mohamed expressed his feeling that Rogers still had to "significantly" improve its customer service levels with gestures to show customers that it "values their tenure."
Laurence said he has a "good picture" now on the level of service Rogers provides, and what customers expect, after meeting with front-line employees, and even dressing up as a field technician so he could personally see their needs for himself.
"It will take us some time to get to a point where we provide an experience which matches your requirements," he said. "But I do believe we can get there."
The Rogers annual shareholder meeting came a day after the telecom and media giant released its first-quarter financial results.
Its net income in the first quarter dropped 13 per cent to $307 million or 57 cents per share. This compared with $353 million or 68 cents per share a year earlier. On an adjusted basis, the earnings came in at 66 cents per share, four cents below the average estimate of 70 cents per share, according to data compiled by Thomson Reuters.
Operating revenues were relatively steady at $3.02 billion, marginally below the $3.03 billion reported in the comparable year-earlier period. Rogers shares closed down more than three per cent, or $1.50, to $42.78 Tuesday on the Toronto Stock Exchange.
Senior executives blamed the stagnant growth on a combination of fewer wireless customers switching carriers, a lack of flashy new smartphones on offer, and challenges from its television division where it reported a net loss of 25,000 subscribers in three months, a slower decline than a year earlier but continuing a downward trend.
Laurence, who previously led Vodafone's U.K. telecom operation, said he will present a detailed action plan for growth to the board of directors in May. It's expected that many of his changes to improve the business' performance will be long-term plans, and will not include an expansion into the United States.
Some of these initiatives will also focus on fewer, bigger projects at Rogers, building on the company's strong asset mix, and capitalizing on its recent blockbuster contract to get the Canadian rights to National Hockey League games.
The company, which also owns the Toronto Blue Jays, has been bulking up its sports entertainment assets to help differentiate itself from competitors. The $5.2-billion multi-year NHL deal will provide content on all Rogers platforms in both English and French.
Laurence said an example would be running a promotion of a hockey contest in one of its publications to broadcasting the game over a mobile phone to employing the cameraman who shoots the game.
"We'll bring hockey to life in clever new ways," said Laurence.
Rogers has also been focused on strengthening the results of its wireless operations as competitors Bell (TSX:BCE) and Telus (TSX:T) grab a larger piece of the market.
The company made a $3.3-billion purchase of wireless spectrum earlier this month, which it says will help it better handle increased traffic on its network and allow users to stream video of NHL games on their mobile devices. Rogers said the 20-year contract for the spectrum will also improve cellphone coverage in basements, elevators and urban and rural areas for its customers.
"The foundation of the company is strong. We have a real opportunity to re-accelerate our growth and win consistently," said Laurence.
— With files from David Friend
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