#FrontierFail & Frontier Lies… Why Competence is Required Before Lean


I think I'm done complaining about Frontier Communications on Twitter. It's been a very frustrating week, as I'm on day 6 of a complete internet outage. You can read my long rant about it here on LinkedIn:

How Frontier Communications Uses Twitter as Just One More Way to Chase a Customer Away

I'd like to think it was more than the typical rant against a cable company providing poor customer service (that's an old, unexpected problem)… I tried to raise issues about:

  1. Why do companies lie to customers?
  2. Why would a company reach out via a new technology (Twitter) only to just tell the customer a bunch of lies?
  3. What goes wrong when a company insists that an employee (in a call center or an online chat function) be fully utilized instead of focusing on customer flow?
  4. Do some of these same issues happen in hospitals?

Screen Shot 2016-04-24 at 9.21.14 AM

I imagine some of my followers heard about this and said something like, “Geez, that's not very Lean of Frontier. They should get Lean.”

I have no idea if Frontier uses Lean or Lean Startup methods. A Google search only brings up references to McLean, Illinois.

In my experience, Frontier has issues that run far deeper than anything Lean could fix… looking at Lean as a process improvement methodology or a culture and management system.

If a company is cost focused or efficiency focused instead of being customer focused, then maybe they shouldn't bother with Lean.

If a company has basic integrity issues… if they're willing to lie to a customer multiple times about a tech coming out or a manager calling about the situation, Lean can't fix that.

Or, maybe Frontier wasn't lying to me… maybe they are just very incompetent. Lean can't fix that. I've always seen Lean transformations being more of a “good to great” situation (with apologies to Jim Collins) instead of Lean being something that helps a completely messed up organization get good (unless that organization has a leadership change, like I saw at GM).

I was talking the other day with one of the hospital CEOs who will be on the panel I'm moderating at this year's Lean Healthcare Transformation Summit in June.

He said:

“If you're not predisposed to listen to your employees' ideas, then maybe Lean isn't for you.”

There are certain fundamentals that have to be in place for Lean to have a fighting chance. That includes integrity, trust, customer focus, respect for employees, etc. It also requires a basic level of competence at doing what you do. The hospital CEO said that most hospital CEOs aren't willing or able to “change their spots” at that point in their career. That makes CEOs like Dr. Gary Kaplan and Dr. John Toussaint so unusual.

I've met healthcare leaders at all levels who discovered that Lean was quite intuitive and natural to them. That was because these individuals already shared the beliefs and views that we see in Lean organizations. The Lean mindsets made sense to them… and Lean gave them a way of operationalizing those principles and mindsets.

So, Frontier is a huge mess. They've acquired large customer bases in Florida, Texas, and California and many customers are upset. I'm not the only one with a long outage. I'm not the only one who isn't receiving any updates or apologies from Frontier. I'm not the only one complaining about “no show techs.” I don't see any evidence that Lean would be a helpful strategy for Frontier.

The only good thing I can say about Frontier is that I was able to get my service canceled. They claimed there would be no penalty or cancelation fee. I'm not sure if that was because I had only been a customer 30 days or because I threatened to file complaints with the PUC and FCC (turns out the PUC doesn't regulate cable companies). They also said they were only charging me for March 23 to March 31… not after April 1. But, that could be due to the widespread billing problems that Frontier is having.

Not a Good Start for Time Warner

I'm not sure things are going to go better with Time Warner Communications, but I can't stand doing business with Frontier after they've lied to me so many times. A lack of integrity is worse than not being able to provide the service I'm paying for.

When I signed up online for Time Warner cable to replace Frontier, the website allowed me to sign up online for “Self Install” which I would have hoped could occur on Thursday.

Screen Shot 2016-04-24 at 9.38.55 AM

The website validates that you have a valid address and, I assume, that you're in their service area.

When I went to pick up the equipment, I was told I couldn't self install because:

1) I had existing service with a different provider

2) I hadn't been a Time Warner customer at that address before

I'm not sure how many people really qualify for “self install” then.

They could have easily asked those two questions on the website and I could have saved a trip to the Time Warner office and about 30 minutes of my time. They could have, in effect, “error proofed” against me trying to choose self install when I wasn't eligible.

Time Warner's internet is one third the speed of Frontier FIOS… for basically the same price. That's not good, but I'd rather have slower internet that works.


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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. Hi Mark.
    Been reading your frontier problems this past 2 days. I can relate to your complaints because in Mexico very few companies have a customer mindset. From this post i see a lot of value on the “requirements” to adopt lean, if it is valid call them that way. Many believe that lean is magic or that hiring somebody who has worked under a lean environment will do the trick. I know at least three different companies that think they are lean, but do not have the prerrequisites in place: a mindset of openness, integrity, core values, and congruence. Other important aspect is people, I believe that in order to succesfuly practice lean, the right people should be in place (people who is willing and open to grow, learn, contribute, and treat others with respect). I’m not suggesting laying off those who have a different view, but companies should be able to train and prepare employees at all levels.
    Bottom line is, companies need first recognize the need for change, prepare themselves instead of jumping to “implement” lean tools and wait for a dramatic success if they want to really be lean. Otherwise there are a lot of different approaches they can take in order to stay in bussiness.
    My comment.

    Great post by the way!

  2. Oh yes, Mark and Rodrigo Bernal!
    I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve presented to clients or potential employers, only to watch them become enraged when I describe the amount of work it takes to build relationships with stakeholders and the average times for a healthcare organization to go from suspicious workers with low morale to engaged co-workers who are continuously improving their processes. The sticking point is always treating employees like human beings instead of seeing them as objects for their own amusement. They’re just looking to have a specialist come in, lay down the law and knock a few heads together. Hire somebody who knows Lean and Magic! Submission and compliance.

    Keep in mind, little fish like me aren’t presenting to mostly Good organizations looking to be Great. Neither am I casting aspersions on their organization; these are people I researched and with whom initial contacts were promising. What makes them really angry is when they ask about my greatest successes and I talk about this or that group, how excited they became when Lean worked for them (mentioning specific outcomes of course), and how they were so excited by their success that more people wanted in and soon improvement projects were popping up everywhere. Hearing this makes them angry, because they just want someone who’ll yell at nurses, because they don’t want to be bothered to exert any effort.

  3. An interesting comment from the LInkedIn post:

    Linda Roberts Conrad
    Sales and Service Representative, Plow & Hearth, LLC

    I work for a company that uses various forms of social media. I am routinely answering Live Chat. Normal is3 chats and 1 e-mail at the same time. During high volume as many as 5 Live Chats at the same time. Upper management (Top of the Pay Scale) wants those actually answering the Chats (Low end of the pay scale) to respond in less than 1 minute, make the customer happy, with limited resources, and hope what we’re being told is accurate and really going to happen.Yes, there is a lack of training. Management does not want to spend the time or money making sure agents are fully trained, because of turn over. Its learn as you go, and what is right for today will be wrong by tomorrow.

    • As I suspected… too much multi-tasking means poor service. A lack of training means poor service… and also leads to unhappy employees, which can’t help in terms of providing decent service.


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