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Are the Telecommunications Companies Ready for Change?

I can easily list 15 things I love about DirecTV, one of which includes the customer service experience from DirecTV.  I had a problem where ESPN intermittently would lose signal (why the hell did it have to happen to the one channel I actually watch?!?), and the Customer Service Representative walked me through several steps that diagnosed the problem. I capitalized CSR here because they were not only courteous and trained to troubleshoot common problems, but they also had access to a knowledge bank as well as access to engineers to help me while I was on the phone.  I could easily talk with someone to convince them why they should ditch cable for satellite.

I can list about 3 things I like about my home telephone, none of which include the company that provides the service.  It’s a home telephone which has barely changed in 10 years. In fact, I continue to question why we maintain a landline phone number at all: do we really need to give access to the 15 telemarketing calls we receive per day despite our National Do Not Call registry listing?  I would not be able to convince anyone why they should consider adding or even maintaining their existing landline service.

Customer service is just one aspect of a company. If you have the best customer service in the world for a product that sucks, you are doomed. You have to combine a set of compelling services with the tools to enable your customers to provide self-service. When your services are no longer compelling, you need to adapt.  When another technology makes your service less compelling by comparison, you must react even quicker.

VoIP is going to impact the wire-line carriers for the next few years in a significant way.  Current trends indicate a first-ever decrease in the number of new landline numbers provisioned, and communications companies have been slow to add compelling new services.  Communications companies seem focused on eeking out revenue on existing infrastructure and offerings.  The ability to adapt to a swelling consumer interest in alternative communications is going to be a deciding factor that shakes out the communications industry.  Already, legislation enabling landline number portability affected the companies that were not ready for the shift. The existing IT infrastructure cripplles the ability to provide new and compelling services at the rate of specialized companies such as Vonage.

Instead of rebundling existing services (ie., putting lipstick on the pig), communications companies should seek out ways to adapt their current infrastructure in a way that enables them to provide new services quicker and better than their competition.  Landline provider companies should no longer view their competition as restricted to other landline providers and cellphone carriers, they should see how services can and will converge and who is positioning themselves for this change.

One company that seems to be positioning themselves for this type of integrated service experience is Google.  GMail… let’s face it, 1 Gb for personal storage opens up tremendous capabilities.  If you can manage 1 Gb personal storage simply for email, then you can easily provide much more storage and open up the possibilities beyond the desktop. The remote desktop and truly thin client experience recently has started to seem possible.  That doesn’t just ring in my ears as a Microsoft employee who sees tremendous value in the desktop, it should ring very loudly for landline providers where services such as unified voice mail and VoIP stand to negate the desire for a landline in the first place.

Surviving In The New US Communications Market mentions the build-out of a Service Delivery Platform (SDP) using organic technologies such as web services to reduce operational expenses.  How do you provide speech-enabled applications while leveraging your current application portfolio?  How do you minimize the impact of providing converging customer channels such as web, speech, and IVR systems?  Microsoft has an SDP offering that I am starting to dive into to see how this helps address our customers’ needs.  In the meantime, communications companies ABOVE ALL OTHERS need to think about service orientation in a very real manner, and they should think about positioning current project investments to facilitate service convergence. The Longhorn concept video for telecommunications presents a seemingly obvious application to enable customer satisfaction through responsiveness and capability, yet I fail to see an onslaught of new services or a very real demonstration of capability by any provider that would make me want to do business with them. 

Things will change, and they will change very soon.  Are the communications companies ready?