ITEXPO begins in:   New Coverage :  Asterisk  |  Fax Software  |  SIP Phones  |  Small Cells
April 2007
Volume 10 / Number 4
For The Record
Kelly Anderson

Where’s the Customer Focus?

By Kelly Anderson, For the Record

I ran into an interesting article this week by Robert Heller about creating new business models. It got me thinking about our industry and as it moves into new areas of service, we need to continually take inventory of goals about the way we operate our services. Not only is it important to constantly review your operations to make sure they are as efficient as possible, but it’s also important to look at your approach to the customer. So many operators have a “less than desirable” reputation regarding their approach to the customer, primarily reflecting their legacies from years gone by. If a provider had a regional outage five years ago, people still remember it. They forget the cheerful sales representative or the newly designed web interface. Because the communications industry has experienced so many changes in reputation, company names, and services over the past few years, we “industry folks” have to look at what the common customer is doing, what they are willing to buy, and what will make them loyal.

In a book titled, The New Wealth of Nations, Thomas Stewart lists three varieties of intellectual capital necessary to effectively manage all areas of a company’s services. He lists the first intellectual resource as human capital, which consists of a manager’s ability to access their own creativity and resources to find new ways to offer services and do business. Stewart claims this type of capital is the most understood today and the most sought after. The second most known resource is the structural capital, which is the collective knowledge and “know how” in an organization. He claims that though the two listed above are important in a balanced organization, he calls the third intellectual resource possibly the worst managed of all intangible assets, yet one of the most crucial investments — customer intelligence. How true is that today in the communications industry?

A friend recently commented about a telemarketing call she had just received. She called the only person she knew that was related to the phone industry (me) to ask, “Do you know anything about phone service that is hooked to a modem?” I asked a few probing questions about the offer and learned that it just wasn’t that good, and much of the information she needed to make a decision was simply not provided.. And, she could get a similar VoIP service for half the price. My friend’s real frustration came out when she told me that every time she asked a question, the representative deflected and never answered it. And what’s most interesting about her story is that this provider has been giving her broadband service for years now. I keep feeling we are missing something here. I have been to more conferences this year about being customer focused, getting customer data, keeping customer loyalty than I can count. Every time I leave these conferences I always feel like the message is getting across. If my friend’s experience is any indicator of our current progress in this industry, this ‘customer-focused’ concept has stayed in conference banter and has never touched the customer.

I sometimes feel like I hear an echo when I talk about customer data at major industry conferences. Everyone leaves the room, tells me what a good job I did, (or not), takes my card and tell me they’re going to call about reference implementations. I end up hearing from less than 10% of them. Barring any major personality defect I may be missing (trying to be humble here), I’m inclined to believe that gaining and using data for the purpose of offering a better product has just not made it to the operational layer of today’s service providers.

Some amazing work has flourished this past year across industry standards organizations that are focused on finding, retaining, and analyzing customer data, and we, as an industry, need to access it. There is no end to the capabilities and possibilities that will come from gathering data to create new and interesting business models for advanced IP services we have today. Creating something new, something that is “buyable” to current and future customers will allow these services to flourish and create excitement for the industry again. I want to challenge all service providers to step up and make the investment in creating a business that is customer- focused. The technology is now there; it’s time to implement.

Kelly Anderson is President and COO of (News - Alert), a collaborative industry consortium focused on developing and driving the adoption of next-gen service usage exchange standards worldwide.


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