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What if Carriers Operated like Amazon?


What if spelled in blocks
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Close your eyes for a second and take a moment to visualize a telecom industry that operates like — oh I don't know — a competitive business industry.
Okay, don't close your eyes because then you'd miss out on what I'm about to give away to the highest bidder. Today, I hope to provide some humor amidst the COVID-19 gloom. I also hope to motivate carrier executives (fingers crossed that they are reading) to see there's room for improvement in their businesses. Within this area of improvement, executives will find unnecessary waste and troves of savings (or reduce rates in my utopian world). So hold on, we are about to dream of a day when the telecom industry made sense.
In Marvel’s line of What If? comics (soon to be a TV series), major comic events were retold with a key part of the story changed. Below, we take that concept and apply it to the telco industry, comparing and contrasting other industry milestones, maybe to some comical effect, along the way:
  • We’ve mapped the human genome, cured many diseases, and offer DNA testing through the mail. What if telco carriers could handle more than one order on an account at the same time?
  • We have sent men to the moon, rovers to Mars, and a probe outside our galaxy. What if disconnect orders were processed immediately? What if billing disputes were not “inadvertently” closed? What if billing errors weren’t common, and customer/carrier AR meetings weren’t necessary?
  • The telephone was invented in 1849, the PSTN in 1876, the cell phone in 1973, and the Internet came into popularity in the 1990s. What if it was possible to port a wireline phone number in just a few minutes?
  • We can ask UPS or FedEx to redirect a package to a different address while en route. What if carriers provided a quick and easy method to RespOrg phone numbers?
  • Amazon was founded in 1994 and can deliver over 350 million different products to any address in the U.S. in just a few days, often overnight. AT&T’s history begins in 1876. Why does it take the largest U.S. carrier at least 60 days to deliver a data circuit and two weeks to ship a configured phone?
  • An entire telecom expense management (TEM) industry was built on the shortcomings of traditional telephone companies. What if carriers provided an accurate, online inventory of all our assets; allowed customers to manage those assets through an intuitive web portal and fulfilled orders in a timely manner while keeping all accounts in a single billing system?
  • The grocery industry quickly adapted to COVID-19, and within a few weeks, most provided curbside pickup. One person brings your order of groceries to your vehicle. How would consumers respond if one person brought out your meats, another brought out dry goods, and another brought out the dairy products of your order? Why then is it okay for carriers to split up an order for three POTS lines into three separate orders and dispatch three different techs over two weeks?
  • What if carriers would allow their union and non-union employees to efficiently work directly with each other? I don’t know of any other for-profit businesses that operate with such internal animosity and contention amongst employees within their own company.
  • Self-driving cars are now a reality and will soon be ubiquitous. What if a carrier could move VoIP phones from one location to another without the headache of a formal project? VoIP was touted as seamless and portable, but the fact of the matter remains, that the entire concept of rate centers and mileage bands still exist within the porting process. For example, I was recently told that I needed to port a VoIP number to another carrier, then port it back to my current carrier so that I could move it from one city to another.
  • My electric bill provides online, real-time data in a useful interface. I can view usage trends month-over-month and compare my usage to the same month last year. There’s even an overlay graph that provides the high and low temperatures. (What a smart and easy way for them to provide added value!) I can view my electric consumption kw/hr down to the day. The rates are clear, and I have never seen an error. What if carriers’ invoices were modernized and transparent? What if you could glance at your bill and actually know what you are paying for?
The fact of the matter is carriers are the product of multiple legacy companies running archaic systems that aren’t inter-networked together. It’s no excuse. Processes and procedures are extremely outdated and hampered by policies that appear to be inflexible and even illogical from my experience. It’s unfortunate and unnecessary.
Over time, business wireline services have become smaller segments of revenue drivers as carriers chase other sexier opportunities, such as entertainment, advertising, and 5G mobility. Business wireline services are still a large segment; process improvement could produce significant savings. Despite this, I still don’t expect the major carriers to put much investment into the continuous improvement of wireline services. It seems to me that the bell companies have decided to slowly allow these services to die on the vine rather than stop the hemorrhage of waste.
Perhaps they feel that there’s no return on investment (ROI) to a process improvement initiative. But what if they did?
I think the message to large enterprises is clear. From ordering, billing, maintenance, moves, disconnects, and information requests, the experience is painful. And to heap salt onto the wounds, prices of business wireline services continue to climb. The message is clear – move on. Move on to newer technology and if you move on to a tech company, rather than a traditional carrier, that’s okay too.