If you live in the Midwest, or you're a Chicago White Sox fan, there's a good chance you're familiar with U.S. Cellular. As the sixth largest wireless carrier in the country after the "big four" (Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile, and AT&T) and MetroPCS, U.S. Cellular serves 6.1 million customers in 26 states scattered around the center of the country, New England, the Pacific Northwest, and the Southeast.
For much of its life, Chicago-based U.S. Cellular appeared content with serving its home network area and offering its customers a relatively uninspiring lineup of handsets that you could also find with other CDMA carriers like Verizon Wireless. In the last couple of years, however, the carrier has awakened from its slumber. It secured roaming agreements with other operators to form a nationwide network, it activated 3G data services, and it began to introduce exclusive high-end smartphones like the HTC Desire and Samsung Mesmerize. And just two weeks ago, it introduced the Belief Project, which is a program that rewards long-term customers with a variety of benefits such as quicker phone upgrades and a cap on overage fees.
Last week at CTIA in San Francisco, I chatted briefly with Mary Dillon, U.S. Cellular's president and CEO. Formerly the global chief marketing officer and executive vice president for McDonald's Corporation, Dillon arrived at U.S. Cellular four months ago. She's not only the first female CEO at the company, but also the first woman to take the top spot at a major wireless carrier in the United States. John Coyle, the carrier's senior director of customer strategy, joined us to talk about the Belief Project, 4G, Android, and growing a nationwide network.
Q: Last week U.S. Cellular introduced the Belief Project. What's the story behind it and what do you hope to accomplish? Dillon: We're very excited about the Belief Project because we expect that it will help grow our business. We expect we'll get new customers and, because of what the Belief Project is offering, keep returning customers at an even greater rate. It's all about rewarding customers and addressing that pinpoint in the industry. U.S. Cellular is the first to bring about this rule-changing way of business to the market.
Q: Some of the Belief Project's benefits, like letting customers buy a discounted phone without signing a contract and eliminating upgrade fees, are unusual for the bigger carriers. Will we see more of this? Dillon: Listening to what is on customer's minds is good for business. Being new to the industry, I see there is a real opportunity to have a human relationship to customers instead of it being all about the contract. Our competitors may follow suit down the road, but I think that we can deliver this better than anyone else. While others might try to replicate pieces of it, we're bringing it to life now.
Also, we've just won a J.D. Power call quality award for the tenth consecutive time in [the North central region]. That, along with the Belief Project, gives us a way to differentiate. It's an ongoing way of doing business. … Read more