Opinion: Spending money to save a shed-load

Do not service your customers, manage your customers

Personally, I don’t have too much of a problem with the concept that you have to spend to save. I can see its logic and can think of plenty of commercial situations where it applies. Some of those situations are to mitigate against low risk, high cost events; for example, where one pays a small, regular premium for insurance, to protect against the unlikely event of an accident. We all do it, right?

But some of those situations might be where you pay a relatively small amount to mitigate against a high risk, or even certain event, which demonstrably will cost you significantly more money than the premium. If you’re in business, you’d like to think you’ve got all those situations already covered, wouldn’t you?

What I find surprising is that many businesses can’t actually differentiate between the two situations. They simply get stuck at the “won’t spend” part of the equation, without bothering to contemplate what that spend might save them. It sounds irrational, even incompetent, but it is as common as the blue screen of death on deadline day.

“All right Cranna you wise-ass, get to the point”, I hear you cry. The one big area I see this in the ISP world is customer service.

My view is: do not service your customers, manage your customers. Servicing your customers costs a shed-load and does not necessarily generate customer satisfaction. It follows, therefore, that if you spend money on low-cost tools that allow you to manage your customers and reduce the amount you have to service them, you will save shed-loads.

Don’t get me wrong. Part of managing your customers is providing a service experience of some sort, be it via the contact centre, or a contractor visit to the home. But both of these are very expensive. The prudent ISP will therefore ensure it has a sound customer management process to filter only those customers whose problems will be solved via that type of expensive engagement.

Unfortunately, this is where the issues begin. This filter process normally consists of a series of, shall we say, somewhat low level questions the CSR asks the customer, who has already cost the ISP the expense of a call by ringing up to get asked the questions. Some ISPs have flirted with online diagnostic solutions such as speed tests but, generally, these are worse than useless, telling the consumer more about offshore contention in the internet than their ISP’s actual performance.

Not too far down the track from this, the trouble ticket is issued and the truck rolls. And suddenly, the ISP is spending a shed-load of money on an activity that has been through virtually no triage-type process that might determine whether this expensive action will provide a solution to the customer’s problem.

The only party happy in this situation is the contractor; certainly not the ISP, and certainly not their customer.

Okay, so now I’ve got to be careful not to make this article sound like a pitch, otherwise the editor will kick my wise-ass.

So let’s just say there are now tools out there that can provide your normal 21st century ISP with an awful lot of information about their customers’ experience, which can make a significant contribution to the efficiency of this cost-critical triage process.

These tools can improve the efficiency of truck rolls in two ways: either by confirming the issue is a network problem, and thereby not requiring a truck roll, or by confirming the issue is a CPE problem which does not require a truck roll, such as an OS issue. Just being able to provide users with this information will improve customer satisfaction, and you haven’t even fixed the problem yet.

One thing I’ve seen a few times since I started up Epitiro in New Zealand is the lack of credibility afforded to a solution not dripping in complexity. So often, senior, marketing or customer service management defer to the techies on the best solution. But they have their own agenda and not necessarily the right knowledge or experience. It scares me when I see how many good decisions don’t get made because a techie said no. The answer does not need to be buried in layers of acronyms and expensive options.

Thanks to broadband evolution, we are on the threshold of a whole new era of high-tech CPE, but few systems help ISPs and their customers troubleshoot the huge range of connectivity issues that will arise. Just being able to identify the problems now would be a start.

I recently heard a fascinating presentation from a senior dude at Juniper; he talked of the evolving concept of an “open garden” where ISPs provided customer-specific and application-specific support for the big content players.

Few ISPs are currently in a position to oblige.

Cranna is managing director of broadband benchmarking company Epitiro Technologies in Australasia.

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