Saturday, January 26, 2008

No home line? what about the internet

Having just moved to Wellington I have recently been through the process of setting up broadband access. The whole process was more difficult than I had planned for but it got me thinking of various approaches to avoid sitting in the internet cafe....

Naked DSL
Cable Broadband
Public WiFi
Public WiMax

The classic approach would be ADSL. The apartment we moved to didn't have a phone line already connected which is the pre-requisite for ADSL. Who says you don't need copper anymore?

Given the take up of mobile handsets as the only phone of choice for many people what then are the choices when you don't have a land line? This is where Naked DSL comes to the fore. There are however scarce numbers of providers that run Naked DSL lines into homes, none that I could see in New Zealand.

There is however Telstra Clear that operate a cable network to supply TV, Voice and with a cable modem broadband access. This is the best option for subscribers in the US if you want to drop your Ma Bell telephone in favour of your mobile "line". The down side is that Telstra Clear are still pushing cable and haven't got as far as pushing cable anywhere near our apartment yet :( If you're in Auckland, Vector is extending their fibre network at the moment.

AirCards are quite popular here. In a country with ~4 Million people only 400K households have broadband subscriptions. This is where the AirCard fills the gap. Run by Vodafone it's usage of the CDMA network to get "broadband" access, faster than dial up (but we'll ignore that as we're assuming we don't have a phone line) but not by much. OK for IM and Email but not much more than that.

The last two are nowhere near developed in New Zealand yet, although plans are moving forward for a network of WiFi hotspots in Auckland.

Still there is a strong argument for Telcos to invest in their most visible asset, that of the public telephone network (pay phones). So I raise the notion again that if people are really dropping their land lines in favour of mobile then use the copper assets to drive some value added connectivity for people who want broadband access. The other option for public WiFi is for utilities companies to build out capability. Vector is an electricity, gas and communications company. Street lights are even more common place than payphones, many phone boxes have already been decommissioned. This is a natural network than could easily be adapted to provide more than light.

The final part is the continued promise of WiMax. Telecom did win the auction for spectrum and have asked to begin to develop plans around the technology. We could see extensions to the Broadcast trials to build out a real alternative for broadband coverage. After an unsuccessful foray into fixed wireless access by Ionica in the UK WiMax will become the fixed wireless access platform of choice for many countries.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Why Simple is best

In the move to New Zealand we decided to keep one of the mobile numbers here. The operator, DTAC, has been quite creative with options to retain the number at minimal cost.

The first plan they offered was zero monthly charge and to retain the number you have to keep the account active with at least one transaction every 90 days. Not a bad plan if you were going away for three months or less. However we won't be back until August at the earliest.

After describing the problem in the outlet the CSR suggested to transfer the number to pre-paid. This is the best model for convergence for me allowing me post-paid functions with pre-paid as a payment method. It seems that this operator is starting to understand the pre or post is no more than a choice on how I wish to pay, the services should not be differentiated based on service line, good news.

This pre-paid package, called Simple, allows you to keep your balance and your number active for one year, that's 365 days. Sounded promising so the change was made and the IN rolled out the updates over the next three hours.

Then it all broke down. The reason why telcos should always keep their plans simple
in nature and not just in name is that the human factor of the CSR in the call centre will always let you down.

First contact was to ask about top up options. The corporate website has some useful information but with four separate tables showing various versions of charge rates, top up amounts and expiry periods the effort is lost in a confusing over supply of information. So the call to the contact centre is made.

The usual problem of CSR's is that they typically don't have enough information to the helpful, they work hard but get nowhere. We ended up educating said CSR on the core principles of the plan and asked again on top up options using online banking. The poor CSR was let confused and unable to answer to we asked them to check and get back to us.

You can fault the service mentally, they went away did their homework and dutifully called back to talk through the steps.

Now that the balance has been topped up the confirmation SMS arrives saying that the balance will expire on 14 February 2008. That is 45 days, 320 days short of what the plan states should happen.

Back on to the call centre to ask what is happening, why the balance will expire so quickly. This new CSR explains that you will receive a new SMS within 24 hours showing that your expiry date has been extended to the full year, thanks for phoning the call centre you've been charged 3 baht.

After all the hard work in the promotion design, the rep in the outlet, the first CSR that did their best and phoned back, now the customer is very unhappy because they have had to phone the call centre again to get conformation and been charged for the privilege.

This is why robots and IVR will always be better than CSR's. If plans become too complex and the CSR's are not trained properly all of the hard work in generating a good customer experience is thrown away. All because the first CSR did not have enough information to answer the question fully the first time around.

The subscriber is charged for two calls to a call centre that should be able to be handled in a single inbound call. A cynical mind would ask if this is a plan to generate additional revenue from the call centre. Forget customer satisfaction, keep them calling in repeatedly and charge them every time.