This is the second of a four-week series on how to make customer service your most effective community broadband marketing tool.
Last week, I explained why customer service is the keystone of community broadband marketing success. Large incumbents throw millions at trying to destroy even small towns’ network business, yet these public entities survive and thrive because great customer service creates insanely strong customer loyalty.
Building market strength through efficient, speedy, reliable service depends heavily on technology. The tech that goes into broadband infrastructure plays a huge role in the quality of your customer service, as does the tech you use to execute and manage customer service tasks. Non-techies as well as tech staff need to understand this 30,000-foot view on the subject.
The more you know your constituents’ needs, and build infrastructure to meet those needs, the better your “proactive” customer service will be. For example, if several hospitals and medical centers want to exchange hundreds of MRIs, x-rays and electronic records daily, build network capacity to address this and future needs so you minimize complaint calls about network speed. Don’t fixate on the speed an individual or organization needs, but the network’s capacity to enable a multitude of subscribers to get these speeds while accessing the network at the same time.
One of the best forms of proactive customer service is technology that flags or predicts problems before subscribers are aware they exist. EPB, the public utility that owns Chattanooga’s network, incorporates such technology into the fiber infrastructure that drives theirs smart grid.
“This extensive distribution automation system identifies and reacts to conditions in real time to re-route power around damage areas,” states EPB head of Corporate Communications Danna Bailey. “We installed roughly 1200 intelligent switches that work in teams to isolate damage and route power around it, greatly reducing the duration and impact of power outages.” This capability is a huge draw that helps convince businesses of all sizes to move to Chattanooga and subscribe to EPB’s Internet services.
Another element of the buildout phase that contributes to better customer service are well-written agreements with the multiple vendors whose hardware and software comprise your infrastructure. The last thing you want are customers calling you with service questions or requests, and four vendors stand around pointing fingers at each other yelling, “that’s not my problem.” All your agreements need to have clauses that bind vendors to ensuring that their products work together, and that all vendors are required to work on the resolving any problems that occur. A well-structured pilot project should test how well vendors’ products and tech support crews work together.
On the software side of things in particular, be sure to build into your network features that integrate various customer service operations and network operations. Many are the trials and tribulations of long, painful phone calls with incumbents’ customer service reps that fail to resolve errors in billing, ordering new services or just trying to cancel service. For customer service that gives you a marketing edge over incumbents, the business admin side of your broadband project team must work in closely with the techies to map out procedures for handling these business and network operations. Then determine what applications you’ll use to acquire and track new subscribers, handle billing and collection, add or drop services and manage related network operations. Finally, determine how these apps will work in unison with each other.
Once the network launches, you will need technology that further manages customer service activities. Here is where the marketing duel between your community network and competitors engage in earnest. How well you use technology to manage truck rolls for installation and resolving tech support issues, market new service packages, monitor customer satisfaction, resolve billing issues, etc. is how you maintain a marketing edge.
“As you choose this technology, keep in mind that community broadband is being deployed to compete with an incumbent by differentiating from “business as usual”, not simply repeating today’s customer experience,” states NuTEQ COO Mike Roddy. “Clearly the incumbent is not meeting expectations. You want to deploy new, convenient technology is not only less costly but also more user-friendly. Happier, satisfied customers routinely pay more and churn less – improving your network’s ROI.”
One particular technology that’s gaining appeal is using SMS text messaging. Not that every consumer will utilize this capability, but with a growing population of text-savvy consumers, the economics of answering questions or alerting customers of new services with automated texts rather than a phone call is compelling. Catering to subscribers’ preferences says “I recognize that you don’t always want / need to talk to a company rep to answer your questions.” Time is precious, hold time is not.
Always look for added value from the technology you choose. “Besides offering powerful texting capabilities, NuTEQ’s GOCare can trigger a survey to the customer’s mobile phone with a few quick questions following a contact with your staff on a service issue,” says Roddy. Customer responses control the flow of the survey. Was the Tech on time? Is everything working? Would you recommend us to a friend? If any of these questions yield a negative result, GOCare will notify a supervisor or GM for immediate intervention. The result is that the customer says “WOW! that was unique! I feel valued.”
Next week we look at additional ways of stepping up your customer service game.
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