Lightning-fast networks need lightning-fast support
For many network operators – speed is everything. They compete with one another to boast how fast their networks run. Industry commentators often focus on these speeds as proof of efficient operation. Customers, the argument goes, are attracted by these lightning-fast speeds, so speed is a good proxy indicator of likely commercial performance.
Fastest mobile networks 2022
Average download speed Mbit/s
Source: Opensignal Global Mobile Network Experience Awards 2022 (February 2022)
But customers beg to differ…
Imagine the mobile experience like the driving experience. Many people admire Ferraris; but few drive one – and with good reason. In reality, people need more from a car than speed alone. They need it to have a good range, fuel efficiency, reliability, adaptability, comfort and so on.
The same is true of our networks. And, as we become ever-more reliant upon them for an increasing number of everyday activities and services, reliability is now the number 1 issue for customers worldwide.
Swedes climb apple trees to get a signal
“My wife usually runs around the garden, looking for a signal. Sometimes it works on the porch of our country house, sometimes to the right of the anthill up in the forest.” This centanarian homeowner advised his daughter to stand on a metal ladder by the oak tree, which acts as a make-shift mast.
You would not think that this description of a customer’s experience derived from one of the world’s most advanced digital economies. But, as the author points out, rural areas of Sweden have worse coverage than rural Kenya.
Lightning fast speeds, he says, are only impressive if you can access the network in the first place. What makes customers even more frustrated, however, is what happens when they try to fix their problems. The writer recounts a sorry tale of repeated and extended queuing, unsatisfactory support that doesn’t actually fix the issue, and a three-day delay while an analysis takes place of why their WiFi isn’t working. Yes, you read that correctly. Three whole days without WiFi!
When the issues still aren’t fixed, more queuing results, along with a customer service roundabout where the customer is passed from agent to agent, promises are made, and the customer is left completely in the dark. 12 days later, the customer receives a text to say everything is fixed.
“I live in the world's most modern country. It is a land of contradictions,” the writer says. “The web is lightning fast; yet asking for support requires hours of waiting…I live in a society of freedom of choice; what this really means is that I can choose between different companies which are all equally bad at customer service. I live in the freest society in history, and yet I’m a slave to all-powerful digital princes.”
Canadian customers ran out of money and got burgled when their network went down
In July 2022, a massive outage at Rogers saw 10 million people in Canada disconnected – over a quarter of the population. The outage was caused when an update deleted a critical routing filter, causing the core network to be overwhelmed and stop processing traffic altogether.
Canadians quickly discovered just how dependent their daily lives had become on internet connectivity. Not only could they not make calls or send texts, or even access the internet, but they couldn’t make card payments, access emergency services, and one hospital in Ontario even had to redirect patients because radiation treatments were affected. Canadians even discovered their internet-connected burglar alarms no longer worked, providing a bonanza for criminals.
Richard Leblanc, professor of law, governance and ethics at York University in Toronto said: "You don't have to attack financial services, or healthcare, or emergency services, you just have to attack the telco, because all these industries are contingent on these two or three players."
Customers were especially frustrated that they were left in the dark about what Rogers was doing to fix the problem. Leblanc’s response was typical. “Someone is coming over on Saturday to install my internet," he said. "I went with Bell."
UK customers got hot under the collar when the heatwave played havoc with their networks
In July and August 2022, the UK sweltered under a significant heatwave, like much of mainland Europe. This caused havoc with networks with TalkTalk suffering technical problems as a result of the heat. Customers immediately took to social media to complain. "Internet been out for the past two hours. Can't even log into my TalkTalk account to report a fault," complained one customer on Twitter.
TalkTalk’s response was to tweet: “Some of our systems are down, meaning our customer service teams are unable to support with queries at this time.” The company directed customers to a web page where they could see if their area was affected. Journalists from The Sun newspaper, however, reported that the only issue flagged on this map was a yellow warning that there were delays in customer service teams answering calls.
An outage a few days later at BT revealed an internal information gap within the UK incumbent. When customers began reporting problems accessing their email and getting online, a social media staffer could merely console customers with: “I tried mine as well and working on mobile with app but not computer. Hopefully it will be resolved soon and I'll let you know."
Mistakes happen - it’s what you do next that’s the deal maker or breaker!
While customers ideally want 24x7 reliable connectivity, they’re well aware that with something as complex as a telecoms network, things will occasionally go wrong. But when they do, how CSPs react is the biggest determinant of customers’ frustration, subsequent attitude to their CSP, and propensity to churn.
Quite simply, just how good your technical network support is, will only be measured under the stress test of outages and faults.
Get it wrong and your brand will be trashed on social media, customers will churn, and the regulator may even get involved. Get it right by fixing problems quickly and effectively, and providing a good support experience, and you can actually turn a negative into a positive - strengthening rather than destroying the customer relationship.