The network as enabler: 5 innovative ways to deliver better customer service

In a speech to the Toronto Board of Trade, Allstream president Dean Prevost talks about how providers can create a new paradigm around the delivery of IP communication services

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“Our industry isn’t known for customer service.”

It’s a perhaps inconvenient industry truth — but one that Allstream president Dean Prevost notes that telecom and network organizations should proactively work to change when thinking about IT innovation and networking strategy.

Speaking in front of business customers and members of the Toronto Board of Trade during lunch at a downtown Toronto hotel on Wednesday, Prevost stressed the point that advances in technology, particularly IP networking solutions, have effectively created a new way for Canadian organizations to innovate and carve out a competitive edge. His presentation, The Network: Enabling the Redefinition of Customer Service, noted that today’s global network platform is effectively rewriting the laws of customer service — and it’s up to companies to live up to that promise by leveraging the potential of networking to improve overall operations.

While telecom companies are hungry for the power and potential of networking, customers are just as hungry for a guarantee of stellar customer service, he explained. “Customer service…is a big horizon of possibility for my business and our customers too. What customers want today is a declaration – a guarantee – that you will serve them like they want to be served. And if you break that promise, they will expect something in return,” said Prevost.

In today’s connected world — with trends like cloud computing, BYOD, social networking and the proliferation of tablets —provisioning reliable network services to the business customer is complex and ever changing undertaking, notes Prevost. This is further complicated, he continued, by the billions invested in diverse technologies that need to be integrated and maintained across vast distances in serving tens of thousands of customers at once.

In the process, the industry has garnered an unfortunate reputation for being difficult to deal in managing its customer service challenges. “The net of it was – our industry became known for being difficult to deal with,” he said.

With this in mind, Prevost offered five best practices for organizations to leverage networking to deliver great customer service:

Humanize your systems: Today’s customers shouldn’t be seen as cogs in the machine but rather as real people with real business needs. It seems like a no-brainer but is often lost in a myriad of business systems and processes. “Every good business is built around the discipline of systems and process. But we’re all fed up with technology-based process that prevents two people from reaching a common understanding fast…which is a requirement for great customer service,” said Prevost. “A great network will give your people the means to collaborate more fluidly. It will help you balance the need for digital speed with real-time, human conversation with your customers.”

Create the pathways of least communications resistance and maximum responsiveness:

In the old days, you usually contacted customer service by phone. You did so because you could talk to a “live” person. This was preferable – and more human – than email. But then, another problem came about: your customers waiting forever in the voice queues of call centres. “The point is, you need a network that not only makes it easy to get in touch – but is responsive. You need flexible ways of communicating that allow for inquiry and dialogue with customers.”

Build trust one micro-transaction at a time: Building a strong network strategy will help organizations maximize the reliability and security of every point of interaction (and handoff) in the customer service chain. “Remember, all it takes is one bad hand-off – one bad moment in your process — to have an unhappy customer. And that’s what you want to avoid. It all amounts to the goal of building trust one micro-transaction at a time,” he notes.

Individualize accountability on the front lines: A solid network and IT strategy should be built on the premise of accountability at all times — from the call centre on up. “It’s about delegating or decentralizing accountability across all the platforms and processes in your business. You need the people who deal with customers directly to have the power to resolve problems and stand up for the business and your brand.”

Give control and choice where it belongs – to your customer: The network, and the people who use it, are there to serve customers on their terms, to give them choices and options for how they want to work with you. This is perhaps the hardest lesson for organizations to learn, notes Prevost. “While every good business relationship is built on a fair exchange of value between people, it’s clear that the ultimate power – and your success – is vested with the customer and their sense of control. Are you giving them enough? And is your network strategy helping you or hurting you in this regard?”

In advocating for better customer service within the industry, Allstream includes itself has working to change things: the national business provider recently unveiled its Allstream Service Guarantee, a program that offers customers a free month of service if the vendor fails to meet its owncustomer service commitments. “We’re the first to admit it…it was long overdue to put the customer at the centre of our business,” says Prevost. “It’s like the cobbler finally woke up and gave his own kids new shoes. We rewired our process – how people communicate, internally and externally.”

In owning and operating a 30,000-kilometre fibre IP network that goes coast to coast, Prevost notes the Allstream network represents billions in investment which keeps rising every year.  And the value of this network — in enabling a new generation of IP solutions — means that understanding how to best meet business expectations and improve the overall customer experience will be key moving forward, he notes.

For five more good ideas, download the free Gartner report, “The Business Case for IP Telephony Revisited: Five Reasons Why The Time To Evolve Is Now.

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