Opinion: Broadband Barriers

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The crisis of poor customer service from broadband providers raised by subscribers CRM Forum- The Enterprise Software Community exposes a major barrier to the goal of Broadband Britain, says Bruno Teuber, VP and General Manager EMEA, Motive Communications.

Customer service plays an increasingly central role in the growth of the residential broadband service and the achievement of Broadband Britain. Without scalable, flexible service and support many providers will not be able to satisfy their customers, recruit new customers and in turn achieve their revenue goals.

Broadband internet access is now delivered to over 1.4 million homes in the UK, and is growing at a rate of 30,000 subscribers per week and continuing to grow. The number of Internet users has now reached a plateau and ISPs are pushing their current dial-up connection customers to broadband. Customer service has a great role to play. Additionally, many broadband users are now approaching the end of their first year’s contract and without adequate service customer’s may consider changing providers, in what is known as ‘customer churn’.

Subscriber’s problems often start as soon as they place an order with an ISP. This application is forwarded to a local telephone company who sends a technician to the customer’s house to test the line. A second technician then comes out to deliver the DSL modem and an Ethernet card and configures the subscriber’s PC.

During this process several problems can occur. Firstly, the user’s ISP and the local telephone company may not communicate effectively. Secondly, the telephone company may have difficulty determining whether the connection is running properly. Finally, the technician who arrives to configure the user’s PC may not have the required knowledge to do so. These problems cost a great deal of money, anything between £200 to £500 per home and have the further problem of decreasing customer satisfaction. As customer bases continue to grow, the potential service costs can grow to crippling levels.

Not surprisingly, providers are looking for methods of reducing these costs. One method is self-install, which Telewest launched in January. It is a much-talked about method where the provider packages the modem, CDs and cables into one box and the subscriber configures his PC in a few moments at his own home.

However the biggest customer service problems arise after the installation has taken place. Customers find service and support frustrating because many providers have in the past chosen to rely on the classic helpdesk model - telephone, email and occasionally chat. A support telephone call can take up to one hour including holding time. Passing callers around various departments and companies only exacerbates frustration, proven by the fact that ‘customer churn’ rates are at 15% and climbing.

Providers need to keep subscribers long enough to make a profit – usually several years and the key point to ensure loyalty is superior customer service – a lesson that all providers are learning. Traditional service methods simply cannot keep up with industry growth and automation has to be considered as an alternative. It is estimated that whilst it costs £66 to provision broadband customers by phone, it costs only £1.30 if this same process is automated. This will leave operators providing automated service with a hugely competitive advantage – a saving that will in turn be passed onto subscribers.

Providers must be able to manage a number of different issues to deliver superior customer service. Firstly, they must be able to handle both technical and non-technical problems (e.g. billing enquiries). Secondly they must be able to help the subscriber when the network connection is broken. This can happen for a number of reasons such as the network downtime or because new hardware or software has broken the connection. Whatever the reason, it is vital to still be able to communicate with the customer.

Thirdly they need to be able to fix problems faster and finally they must be able to avoid calls for smaller problems. An example of this would be an email server going down. If the provider sent an email to all affected users stating the problem but that they will notify users as soon as it is up and running again, they would avoid a lot of calls from frustrated customers.

The only long-term answer to solving the broadband service gap must be scalable, automated solutions that can cope with the rapid growth in this area. For example, what providers offer at the moment is bound to change over time. As more competitors come into the market and prices become increasingly competitive, users will be looking for value-added services and these too must be supported through service.

The main factors that must be taken into account when providing service to broadband customers are:

*Provide a single point of service – don’t force the customer to abandon the application and pick up the telephone or send an email. Don’t expect the customer to diagnose his own problem or search for the appropriate path to service

*Make it easier for the user to get help. If self-service cannot solve the user’s problem or a network connection is broken, the customer should be able to escalate to a live service agent in one ‘click’. The entire history of the incident should be forwarded to the analyst automatically in all possible cases

*Be able to tie several call centres together, in order to share expertise and eliminate the ‘pass-the-parcel’ chain

*Provide ‘customer powered’ service. Bring service to the customer not vice-versa. Integrate service throughout the entire customer experience; make it seem like part of the application. Your service network should be optimised for serving the customer efficiently

In conclusion good customer service is achievable. Companies are available which provide service infrastructure software to enable this to happen. Customers need to keep demanding superior customer service and through this demand, operators have no alternative but to look to these companies for long-term solutions.

On an optimistic note most broadband providers have now got their infrastructure on track. Over the next 12 months, users will benefit significantly from the new service offerings coming into the marketplace, enhancing users’ broadband experience. Operators can now use automated service solutions to manage existing service issues. Only then will the door open for operators to up-sell additional services creating new revenue streams, while providing the same superior level of service without raising costs.

Motive can be contacted at www.motive.com.

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