The Customer is King: Proactive Customer Support
October 22, 2008
Recent events have given me cause to consider that perhaps for some, the “King” is truly dead. The “King” that I am referring to here is not Elvis but the customer. Most successful organizations have built their business on the “customer is king” principle and have touted “good customer service” as a key ingredient for success.
In the broadband market, recent customer report cards in addition to reports such as the “Telecom-Cable Industry Satisfaction Survey” indicate significant subscriber dissatisfaction with the level of customer service that they have received from some of the larger broadband providers. Many subscribers are so dissatisfied that they have indicated that they would consider switching service providers.
To add to the malaise, let’s not forget the rather heated debates over net neutrality and the usage of deep packet inspection (DPI) products by some of the larger broadband providers to “throttle bandwidth.” Some view this as yet another affront to the customer and their right for a free and unrestricted Internet. And to add insult to injury, many feel that this is just another example of technology being used to violate a subscriber’s right to privacy as DPI products have the ability examine packet payload, which is where sensitive information usually resides. As the courts begin to weigh in on these issues, one thing is clear - customer satisfaction is no longer a priority among many providers.
Proactive Customer Support
This has opened a window of opportunity for Tier 2 and Tier 3 broadband providers that are searching for new ways to expand their subscriber base. Customer acquisition can be an expensive and time consuming proposition for service providers with some estimates indicating that service providers spend up to $400 per subscriber when attempting to attract new business. In other cases, the smaller broadband providers are just trying to “defend their territory” from the major broadband providers as they begin to extend their addressable market to rural and outlying regions, areas previously served only by the rural providers.
To differentiate their service offerings and provide new and innovative ways to keep customers happy, these smaller providers have deployed a new service called proactive customer service. With proactive customer service, the provider is able to reach out to a customer to make them aware of a potential problem before the subscriber has even noticed that there is an issue. This program is very similar to a practice that the credit card industry has adopted in recent years to thwart credit fraud. When unusual or atypical credit card transactions have been detected, a customer service representative calls the card holder to alert the individual of a potential problem.
One of the service providers offering proactive support services is Mikrotec, a Kentucky-based Internet service provider that has branded this service Pro-Alert. Pro-Alert offers the broadband provider “live, dynamic visibility” into the performance and availability of every subscriber and application across the entire network ecosystem. This enables Mikrotec to proactively take action on an issue before one of their customers has even noticed that there might be a problem.
With Pro-Alert, the subscriber analysis system presents the customer service representative (CSR (News - Alert)) team with a daily list of subscribers that have undergone significant changes in their normal application activity over the past 24 hour cycle. In addition, the system allows the CSRs to drill down into the issue to gather the information needed to resolve the problem. For instance, the subscriber’s PC could be infected with a spambot, or any number of other variants that have been distributed out into the Internet. Unlike a DPI product, the technology underpinning Pro-Alert provides dynamic views of the application, subscriber and network interactions but does not dig down into the actual payloads themselves. Service providers can use flow-based, IP-level data that provides visibility across the entire application infrastructure, without deploying expensive inline hardware or software agents down to the subscriber’s household. As a result, service providers have the information they need to isolate and resolve the situation without crossing the line into privacy issues.
Armed with this information, a designated CSR will immediately call the subscriber to report a potential problem. In the months since Mikrotec first introduced the service, the service provider has been consistently identifying and resolving issues for dozens of subscribers before problems occur. In the past, when Mikrotec customers would call to report problems, these issues were escalated beyond the CSRs to network operations personnel and often required the expertise of several different employees and hours of analysis to actually pinpoint the source of the problem. Now, using Pro-Alert, Mikrotec’s support team can alert customers about issues before the customer has even noticed that there is a problem – leading to increased customer satisfaction and stickiness.
So as the battles continue to be waged between the FCC (News - Alert) and Comcast and the larger broadband providers and the smaller Tier 2 and Tier 3 players – one thing is clear: the customer cannot get lost in the shuffle. Investments in customer service can have a tangible impact on customer perceptions and in the end – subscriber loyalty. With proactive customer support, these smaller providers are sending a clear message to some of their larger counterparts– the customer is still king.
Jagan Jagannathan, founder and Chief Technology Officer at Xangati, writes the Real Time Insights column for TMCnet. To read more of Jagan�s articles, please visit his columnist page.
Edited by Stefania Viscusi