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Improving Your Business What Customers Want

Give the Customers What They Want

I have a friend Danny who is a CPA and he is doing something that I think is brilliant. He has taken over the accounting practice from his 72 year-old father and he also has a number of other older accountants who help him during tax season. (And I don’t use the term “older” accountant nonchalantly, being one of them myself).

For several years he has tried to force the older accountants into learning new tax and accounting software and they have resisted vehemently. Their arguments are that they had multiple years of tax returns from their clients in older legacy programs and they also were just not interested in learning yet another new program. In fact, his father told him that if he was forced to learn a new system he would just stop helping him. And the clients all love his father.

And so my friend Danny did a brilliant thing. He went out and set up his own private cloud network. He put all of the new software into the cloud that he and most of the staff use, but he also sent the various older legacy software that the older accountants wanted to use into the cloud. And he chose to use a cloud so that anybody could work with any of the software packages from anywhere.

He would have preferred to do this with an existing cloud computing service, but none of them were interested in helping him set up the legacy software, some so old that they are DOS systems. There are a number of cloud services that support new accounting software. In fact, one of the major selling points of most of the cloud service providers is that a customer will never again have to worry about having software that is out of date and the cloud providers tout how they will introduce every update from the software provider when it becomes available.

Accountant upstairs ↑ (Photo credit: jah~)ems. 

And the cloud providers are completely missing the point. Real life people don’t want software that is always up to date. My worst nightmare is to log onto a cloud server with a project with a deadline and find out that the program I use every day has changed and that I will have to spend hours figuring out the differences. People don’t mind upgrading software over time and we have all migrated through the many versions of Microsoft Office. But people are creatures of habit and our relationship with software has become almost intimate. Danny’s father is a perfect example. He won’t use anything newer than Office 2007. And this is his right – he paid for it and it still works. Upgrading software you use every day can be unnerving at best and traumatic at worst and is always a bit disruptive.

And so the cloud providers have some big lessons to learn if they really want to be successful with the average customer. The cloud providers have chosen to stress the benefits of always having the most recent version of software. And from an operational perspective this makes sense for them. They only have to maintain one version of the software which makes it easier on them in a number of ways. But this doesn’t make sense from the perspective of what their customers want.

In the telecom business we have a long history of offering a handful of standard products to businesses. And from the perspective of the telcos this makes sense for the same reasons that the cloud providers want to push one version of software – it’s easier on the telco in terms of staff training, operations and billing. Selling standard products is what Ma Bell did for a century.

I would argue that selling only ‘standard’ products is not in the long-term best interest of a telco. If your company only sells standard products then you have turned those products into a commodity. In a competitive world, customers have no reason to be loyal to you if they can get that same commodity from somebody else for less. But if you are willing to listen to your customers and give them a custom product that they want, then you have created a loyal customer who is likely to stay with you for a long time. I don’t think most telecom providers add in the cost of churn when looking at profit margins. It is worth spending more up front to get a customer who will stay with you than to sell standard products to customers who will always be price shopping.

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Technology The Industry What Customers Want

“Dumb Pipe” versus Full-Service Provider

Broadband and cable TV companies have been looking at their long-term strategy and they are going to have to decide if they are going to be what we at CCG call either a “dumb pipe” provider or a full-service provider.

A “dumb pipe” provider is a broadband company that sells a very fast Internet connection as its primary product and not much of anything else. A perfect example of this is what Google is doing in Kansas City. Google is selling a 1 Gbps Internet connection there for $70 per month. That is far more speed than is possible from the competition, but it is also more expensive. The only other product available from Google is one cable TV package that is bundled with the data for $120. Google only offers one other data package for low-income homes. Google doesn’t offer different size cable packages. They don’t offer voice. They don’t offer security, or cloud services or any of the panoply of new services that can be provided over fiber.

In my opinion Google has looked into the future and they believe that most of the other services that they could be selling will be available to customers over the very fast Internet connection that Google is selling them. One of the primary advantages to Google of the dumb pipe strategy is that they have a very simple product mix to sell. Fewer products means less staff needed to market, sell, provision and support customers.

The downside to the dumb pipe provider is that they will have a much lower average revenue per user (ARPU) than the full service provider. But both types of providers have a very similar cost of the network. And this is at the heart of the discussion that many of my clients are having about the long-term trends in the industry.

Most providers in the industry today are full-service providers. They support the full residential triple-play, have multiple options for cable TV, have multiple options for voice. They also sell a wide range of other products and their marketing strategy is aimed at getting the highest ARPU from customers they can.

But the full-service providers are worried when they look at some of the trends in the industry. They have already seen a lot of voice customers drop off the network. They are starting to see cable customers leave the network and they look ten years down the road and see a very different cable market. And so full-service providers are faced with figuring out how to go from where they are today to where they think they must be in the future.

I am starting to see evidence of the shift in the strategy of full-service providers. In the last year I have seen data prices being increased all over the country for the first time. And this is not because the cost of providing data is growing, because the margins on data have grown steadily each year over the last decade and are still growing. I think the service  providers have embarked on a long-term upward shift in data prices so that they will be getting more revenue from the one product that is likely to survive into the future.

The companies with the biggest dilemma are these just entering the market for the first time. Do they make the leap straight to being a dumb pipe provider, like Google, or do they become a full-service provider and enjoy the remaining years of high ARPU before voice and cable TV losses pull those numbers downward? It is a hard decision and a conversation I am now having with every new service provider.

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Improving Your Business What Customers Want

What Business Customers Want

A significant percentage of CCG’s clients sell telecommunications services to businesses. When I ask them what they think businesses are now looking for from a telecommunications provider, I most often get the responses listed below.

Interestingly, saving money is not on this list. While most of my clients sell at competitive prices, they say that business customers value a reliable network much more than they do a lower price. Since phones and computers are often now tied together using IP, a network outage effectively can completely cripple a business if they lose both phone and the Internet.

Single service provider. Ideally, most small to medium businesses would like one service provider to take care of everything from data, phones, IT, computers, etc.

Reliable network. They want to be served by a reliable network, with reliability measured in terms of outages. This is often why a new network owner in a town will see slow sales to businesses for a few years until the local market perceives that their network as reliable.

Faster data speeds. While faster download speeds are always important, many businesses also covet fast upload speeds.

Employee mobility. Businesses want the ability for employees to be able to work from home or on the road.

Off-site data storage. Businesses want key data stored offsite to avoid catastrophic data losses. They feel safer if they know the company who is storing their data.

Fast provisioning and changes in services. Businesses want to be able to change things on the fly, be that moving an employee to a different office, changing the features on a given phone or computer, or increasing data speeds.

Physical security and surveillance. Businesses want next generation security systems with features like biometric access, motion detectors and hidden surveillance cameras.

Redundant connections. More and more businesses want physically redundant data connections since their businesses are more reliant on the Internet to be profitable.

Moving to the cloud. Lately businesses have been asking about cloud services since they hear it is a way to eliminate or reduce their IT functions and let outside parties take care of updates, security, etc.

Unified communications.  Businesses want phone calls and data to get to them over multiple devices across multiple networks.

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What Customers Want

What Do Households Want?

The telecom industry has spent decades bringing residential customers the products we think they want. This has resulted in the ubiquitous triple-play bundle of telephone, data and cable TV. But one has to only spend a little time with a Millenial to know that customers are no longer satisfied with what we have been selling them. While many customers are still buying the traditional products, more and more people are actively looking for alternatives.

And alternatives are showing up. I have one client who has been serving over 20,000 cable TV customers for many years. But for the last year they have been steadily losing 200 customers each month and it doesn’t take a lot of math to see that in a decade they won’t have any cable customers left.

So I am advising clients to start looking at delivering products that people want today and into the future. To help figure out what those products might be, I think you have to start by understanding what customers want today.  I offer the following list of I have made a list of what I think households want today from their telecom provider:

The ability to use multiple devices shared across multiple networks. Customers want to a variety of devices to access the web. They want to seamlessly move from desk top to cell phone to pad to TV to game box. Customers want to be able to move back and forth between the cellular and home WiFi network for voice. Anyone who can facilitate this ability will have an edge.

Faster download and upload speeds. Households want to ability to operate multiple devices at the same time. This requires faster speeds and in some cases QOS.

Mobility. Customers want mobility in both directions, both into and out of the house. They want to be able to start a phone conversation on a cell phone and seamlessly transfer it to a landline when they get home or to the office. They want to be able to access data and do work at home or wherever they are.

Choice of video. Customers want the option to buy only the video they want to watch. And they want to watch it on multiple devices.  

Security and alarm services. Many households want reliable alarm services. They also want to easily operate cameras they can watch remotely.

Integrated entertainment. Customers want to share entertainment content. They want to watch what they want in different rooms and on different devices. They want to be able to move seamlessly from TV to PC to pad to phone. 

Use of cloud-based services. As more and more data is stored in the cloud, customers want an easy way to access and manage the cloud.

The ability to make impulse purchases. Customers want to be able to buy a TV show, a movie, a song and then experience it immediately. People are shifting from buying large monthly subscriptions (cable TV packages) to buying entertainment in small doses.

Help making things work. Households are faced with a confusing array of possible technical solutions and they will value anybody who can make their video, computers, wireless networks and other devices work seamlessly together.