What SMEs Should Expect from their Broadband Suppliers

An Ofcom survey out last month (September) that lamented the frequency of complained-about landline and broadband service providers in the UK, has highlighted just how important customer service is to broadband subscribers. Given the reliance of SMEs on internet services, the way in which a service provider interacts with small businesses can have a critical impact on its overall success.

Will Lebatteux, Operations Manager, Eclipse InternetWill Lebatteux, Operations Manager at Eclipse Internet, gives his top suggestions on what customers should expect from their service providers, and offers some advice about what you should be looking for before signing on the dotted line…

In the event of any service issues, you should be able to reach a real live person quickly

Getting through to someone quickly is important to all businesses. However, smaller companies can feel the effects of lengthy waiting times and prolonged automated menus much more keenly than their larger counterparts, who tend to have dedicated IT teams to support their systems.

Some service providers set themselves internal targets which stipulate how long it should take them to pick up the phone to answer a customer query. Minimum ‘ring targets’ as they are called, ensure standards of customer service, but also enable the call centre to remain efficient in dealing with your call.The more confident a service provider is about their ability to answer customers’ calls, the more likely they are to publish minimum call waiting times. Check for these and for whether your service provider has received any awards for customer service, especially from consumer organisations such as Which?,as these are based on real-life customer feedback.

You should be able to have a real conversation

With some call centres, particularly those based overseas, calls are very often scripted and they will run through the potential problems in a strict sequence. If your fault is 25th on the list, you will have go through all 24 before getting to your problem, by which time your stress levels have probably gone through the roof. It’s much better to be able to get through to somebody who is as interested in solving your problem as you are, and can advise you quickly and effectively – saving your business time and money. By talking to you in an unscripted way and getting your feedback, your advisor may also be able to help you solve other issues that have been on the back burner for a while because you haven’t managed to get around to them, helping your business function more efficiently.

You should be able to communicate with somebody in real time if you aren’t using the telephone.

Somebody who runs their own business cannot afford to dedicate unnecessary hours getting to grips with a technical issue, instead preferring other messaging methods such as IM, Skype or Twitter to communicate with their broadband provider – and more and more service providers are using this technology to deal with customer queries. Check to see whether your service provider has a real time service for talking to you; this shows that they understand your time pressures and the critical need for you to multitask, and are focused on solving problems and achieving results.

Your customer advisor should give you their full attention and try to resolve your call, so you don’t have to call back repeatedly.

When you do have to call into a contact centre, it can be extremely frustrating to be passed from one advisor to another, seemingly not getting anywhere. This is because many contact centres encourage their advisors to juggle calls to meet a maximum call allowance for queries – usually 10 minutes. This leads to nine minutes of absolute attention from your advisor, after which they will try to wrap up the call to ensure they meet the target, resulting in staff not owning problems or not developing the depth of expertise to be able to help you resolve your query. Don’t forget therefore to ask any service provider you are considering taking on whether they implement maximum call allowances, and how long there are, as well as the standard of their customer service advisors’ knowledge. Ideally, you should be able to talk to somebody who is experienced enough to solve your problem for as long as it takes straight away – and not have to wait to be passed onto a technical support person. Finally, whoever speaks to you should care about solving it as much as you do.

You should have access to a comprehensive FAQ section on their website to answer initial queries

Like many small business owners, you are used to solving problems on your own with a minimum of fuss, day or night. Service providers should therefore be looking to match that can-do, entrepreneurial, style by providing a lot of relevant information quickly and simply in some centralised form, usually via the website, that enables you to solve as many of the problems yourself in a way that meets your needs efficiently and easily.

It’s not unreasonable to expect to speak to somebody over a technical query who has dealt with your business before.

A service provider that is serious about meeting your needs will try to ensure sure that you can pursue continuing technical issues/faults within the same technical team, to provide continuity of service and to deal with technical issues most efficiently.In addition, broadband providers might also try to ensure that you can speak to a particular favoured person inside a call centre for day to day queries. Although they are not obliged to do so, it will help them retain your business in the long-run.

*Your broadband provider should tell you why your line is not working – and when it’s going to be fixed

Broadband providers usually obtain their broadband from a wholesale provider. If, for some reason the supply has been interrupted, they need to be up front about it and take full ownership and responsibility.A transparent account of what has happened gives you full possession of the facts, rather than simply telling you what they think you want to hear, and enables you to plan around the disruption to minimise the impact to your business – for example by changing your staffing levels to cope with the disruption. Your service provider should be able – and willing – to provide you with more technical detail as to the reasons for any disruption.

Your service provider should talk you in plain English and keep jargon to an absolute minimum.

Your broadband provider should appreciate that, however fascinating locating an Ethernet port might be to them, it might not have the same effect on you…… unless you want to know. Even then, any good advisor should be able to explain the technological details of a fault or difficulty, simply and fully. They should not have to resort to jargon to impress or confound you, but rather explain things in a way that makes sense.

Your broadband provider should be willing to respond to constructive customer comments to keep on improving

Whether it’s the choice of call centre hold music, or the colour of their logo, if customers don’t like something about their service provider, then they should have a mechanism for communicating this and being listened to. One way to spot a responsive provider is to see whether they engage with online forums to acknowledge criticisms, and have a dialogue with customers to find solutions to common complaints, or simply to find out what people are saying about them. Another good thing to look out for is whether your service provider carries out regular surveys or questionnaires about their service, or simply ask you how satisfied you are; it shows they are committed to providing a consistent level of service that isn’t all about meeting a basic minimum requirement. Finally, any service provider whose managers – like me – personally respond to complaints means that they are concerned about keeping a close watch on what customers are telling them. It shows that they have the finger on the pulse of their business and that they really do care.

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