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A Wish for 2024: Better Communication, Better Customer Service
In 30 years as an independent consultant, I have seen so many industry ups and downs, technologies being introduced or falling out of use, predictions, acronyms, and bleeding-edge solutions. Reflecting on 2023, I saw some disturbing situations that I hope and/or wish will improve in 2024.
Where Did Customer Service Go in 2023?
Thanks to industry forces from acquisitions and mergers to bottom-line expense reductions, we saw numerous layoffs in the technology industry in 2023. There were many noteworthy acquisitions and mergers which resulted in reductions of force. While these events have been positive for the vendor’s bottom lines, it has been disastrous for their customers and end users. I assist many clients with the contract negotiation, acquisition, and implementation of new carrier services, and over the years, I have established many long-term relationships with account teams in this space. These relationships and the ability to navigate within a vendor organization are of real value to my clients; thanks to the layoffs and reductions in force, many of my colleagues in the industry are no longer in their old jobs – and neither is any customer’s access to their experience and expertise. Many jobs, particularly in operations have been outsourced to groups that do not understand the work they’ve been assigned. There is a lot of company knowledge lost because of these staffing reductions and it directly impacts customer service!
For example, I worked with a client to port approximately 3000 DID numbers as part of a larger technology upgrade project. Our carrier told us that we would have a "number porting specialist" assigned to this project. This specialist would validate the order, document the order, and monitor it through the implementation process. As a consultant, I always check, crosscheck, and recheck all the details of a number port to verify that the order information is accurate before sending it to the vendor.
The client and I pored over all the details of the order for several weeks before submitting it. The order specialist assigned to the project was on an outsourced team that did not understand the complexity involved in number validation, vendor coordination, and the port itself. Communication with this team was suboptimal: They did not answer questions, and when they did, they provided inaccurate information. As a result, the vendor missed several deadlines. When the port time/date arrived, only 40% of the numbers were ported correctly! It took us an additional five ports over four months to get all 3,000 numbers moved; we did five times the work we would have needed to if we had only been working with client-facing colleagues who had background in what we needed. Ironically, these numbers were being moved from the carriers' digital trunks to the selfsame carriers' sip trunks! Just think what would have happened if we were changing carriers completely.
We Saw Longer Service Delivery Times in 2023
We can thank the reductions in staff for the loss of customer service – and we can also thank the reductions for customers experiencing resulting longer service delivery times. Less experienced staff cannot make decisions that will move an order forward promptly because they do not have the background knowledge necessary to do so.
Also, many experienced field technicians are retiring, and a wealth of knowledge is being retired with them. In this era of copper network decommissioning and the expansion of fiber services, an understanding of both worlds is still important to successful customer outcomes. I work with many clients to get their buildings "lit" with high-bandwidth fiber services. A typical new fiber build used to take approximately 60-120 days, with an average of 90 days. However, in 2023, carriers are delivering fiber services in 120 days or more. When escalations are requested, many of the order/implementation managers do not apply the same level of urgency we once saw.
Landlords Clashing With Carriers in 2023
In all my years in this industry, I have never come across this circumstance. A building owner denied access to a particular carrier from providing services to their tenant, my client. My client would like this carrier to provide internet services to their suite. Typically, building tenants can select any carrier they choose to do business with. The carrier will coordinate with the building management to bring their services into the building to serve the tenant.
Usually, this arrangement requires a right-of-entry agreement, i.e. an agreement that outlines the specifics of the use of the building facility, like requiring the vendor to have insurance to cover any damages that occur, and the owner promising to provide adequate access to the necessary spaces, etc. Though I have no experience with this, I have heard of building owners requesting a small fee for the “real estate” they are providing to the carrier. The amount of space most carriers need these days is minimal. Electronics are becoming smaller and smaller.
In this situation, the owner is requesting a significant amount of "rent" from the carrier so, in essence, it does not make the arrangement profitable for the carrier. This, in turn, denies the tenant access to their preferred carrier and forces them to deal with carriers that will do business with that particular landlord – an unpleasant complication. There are currently two other carriers in this building. My client has a relationship with one of them but has been dissatisfied with the other. So, a third option would be helpful in this case.
In closing, my hope for 2024 is that vendors realize that attentive communication (human, not a technology substitute) is key to effective customer service. The issues I highlighted here could be resolved with more effective attention to client needs with real interest in successful outcomes. Not giving customers the attention they need may eventually drive those customers away.
Denise is writing on behalf of the SCTC, a premier professional organization for independent consultants. Our consultant members are leaders in the industry, able to provide best of breed professional services in a wide array of technologies. Every consultant member commits annually to a strict Code of Ethics, ensuring they work for the client benefit only and do not receive financial compensation from vendors and service providers.