goals and their customer needs. Because whether that
niche service comes as a result of a new trend in technology, customer service or something else, the goal for telcos
remains the same: Serve the customer, serve the community. That’s not trendy, that’s just good business. l
Tara young is a freelance writer. Contact her at tara.young@
but a Whidbey Telecom retail and service location, a storefront for a local technology repair shop and a 100-person
conference room that’s available for public use. WiFire
operates as a wholly-owned subsidiary, but the coffee bar’s
management team has worked with Whidbey for years
and is as adept at talking latency as they are lattes.
The coffee bar’s tagline—“Coffee. Community.
Connectivity.”—conveys exactly the convergence between
technology, accessibility and the public
Whidbey Co-CEO George Henny was attempting to capture with the WiFire and the larger
Experience Center space.
“It’s not enough to ‘bolt on’ a coffee shop,”
Henny insisted. “Instead it was important to us
to focus on the customer experience. We
approached it with a philosophy of how ‘not to
be’ a telco or a utility company. Our focus was
on connecting the community—friends serving
friends through technology, inside an open and
inviting physical space. We want WiFire cus-
tomers to be fed physically with great food and
coffee, but also intellectually and emotionally,
and to leave the experience feeling enhanced,
That might sound like a tall order for a cof-
fee shop, but the customers have begun weav-
ing the Whidbey customer experience into the
fabric of their lives and their community. When
Whidbey Island was hit by a strong winter
storm in November 2015, WiFire, fueled by the
telco’s generators, was one of few places open
on the island. When it opened at 6: 30 a.m. the
morning after the storm, residents were lined
up down the street—not so much because of
the coffee, but because of the warm, safe and
community-centric gathering space WiFire
provided and the available gigabit internet that
helped more than 160 displaced telecommuters
work remotely from the experience center.
“For those three days, we were there for our
community when folks needed it most, a beacon of hope in literal darkness until our power
was restored,” Henny said. “And that’s what
we’re after with WiFire. We want to be known
not just as the fastest coffee shop in the world.
We want to encourage our customers to thrive
in this community.”
Following the Trends—or Not
Technology parks, contracting firms and coffee
shops show the large variety of diversification
options for telcos. For many, the key is finding
a niche option that aligns with their business
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