This Industry Viewpoint was authored by Jason Moore, Co-founder and CEO, RouteThis
As economies across the globe begin reopening, conversations have turned to when the world will begin to go “back to normal.” After four months of lockdown—with restrictions in place that dictate who you can see, where you can go and what you can do—the world is eager to return to “normal” life. Unfortunately, going back to normal may not be as easy as it sounds, or as beneficial as people think.
Until the world went into lockdown, many industries were fairly predictable. There were no forces pushing businesses to think outside of the box or to alter the status quo dramatically. Internet service providers (ISPs) were no different. They had internet speeds defined for home and office use, customer service providers available to answer questions in the event of an emergency, and technicians to go into people’s homes to solve any other issues. Things worked fine, albeit a little inefficiently. But when the world went into lockdown, ISPs were forced to reimagine how they provided customer service, which has led to some fantastic results.
Even as the world begins to reopen, there are many aspects of business that may never return to before. Working remotely, for example, has proven to be successful for many companies. It offers flexibility for employees and is cheaper for businesses, as they don’t need to maintain an office space. Many large tech companies are now offering their employees the ability to work from home permanently after the pandemic, signaling a shift in what the future of work will resemble. But this shift in work culture also illustrates a change for ISPs, as home internet is not built to support the influx of demand that a permanently remote workforce will create.
Remote work also signals a move towards higher bandwidth applications used in homes. In order to stay in contact with employees and clients, remote employees have been relying on Zoom, Teams and other high-bandwidth applications. This has resulted in a 47 percent increase in average broadband data usage, a trend that could continue its upward momentum as remote work continues. The increase in home internet usage can contribute to more problems for ISPs, as their home offerings were not intended to support such high demands in residential environments. Now, any problems that arise with home internet could have serious implications for people’s livelihoods.
That’s why ISPs need to consider how to fix problems efficiently in minutes, not days. This also directly impacts how ISPs are used to solving their problems. After the initial call to establish the issue facing the customer, most ISPs send out a technician to the house. Not only is this time consuming, with most customers having to wait days for an appointment, it’s also increasingly ineffective and poses health risks. With limits on gatherings and the fact that COVID-19 can spread through contact, many people will become reluctant to let technicians into their homes. ISPs have always known that some amount of technician visits were unnecessary; however, in 2019, that hit an all-time high. It was discovered that globally, 50 percent of technician visits were not the result of line issues, and that the problem was really inside the customer's home, often caused by the customer’s own devices or Wi-Fi network. With proper diagnostic tools, these issues could have been resolved remotely, and could have saved companies money. It is time for this to change. The pandemic has provided the perfect opportunity for ISPs to reimagine how to provide more effective and less disruptive customer service.
Luckily for ISPs, the solution to providing more efficient customer service already exists and has been optimized to help improve the customer experience. Sophisticated personal devices, mobile phones and apps have become commonplace among individuals, and can help usher in a new era of ISP customer service.
When it comes to service calls for ISPs, most of them relate to internet speed or video buffering problems. With the residential sector representing 91 percent of all internet subscriptions, there’s a very high chance that service calls will be with people who know nothing about their home internet setup or subscription. This can result in lengthy back-and-forth conversations to establish the most basic information about their connection that involves their interconnected devices, router information or the network connection. It can also result in incorrect or inaccurate data, which can lead to an improper diagnosis of the problem.
The solution to these lengthy and difficult service calls is simple: an all-in-one diagnostic platform. By giving customers the ability to run a diagnostic quickly and easily from their phone or computer, and giving the ability for ISPs to review the information from this diagnostic, calls can be quicker and more accurate. In these diagnostics, information can be gathered on the configuration and health of the network, including router information, connected devices and speed tests. With data instantly available to ISPs, problems can be accurately solved, reducing the number of call-backs or unnecessary truck roll-outs.
There has also been an emphasis on leveraging video calls as part of the foundation for new ISP support systems. With video call functionality, customer support agents can “see” inside a customer's home to view issues. Although video call functionality helps, what will really set ISPs apart is the use of increasingly sophisticated platforms that combine efficient diagnostics tools with other elements. When technicians come into a customer’s home, they are able to check connections, coverage and run speed tests. By using all-in-one platforms, call center technicians can access the same information through calls that technicians would usually gather physically during a home visit. Based on the diagnostic, they can provide actionable insights to solve customer problems. Machine learning can also be leveraged, where previous issues are logged and used to help analyze future symptoms and solutions. With the ability to solve customer issues accurately, call center staff can replace on-site technicians and problems can be solved entirely remotely.
Inefficient customer service is not a new phenomenon among ISPs. There is a long history of unnecessary truck roll-outs and inaccurately solved internet service issues. Leveraging technology to reduce costs and provide better service can help ISPs increase customer retention and loyalty. It can also help keep customers and employees safe during the current pandemic.
As economies begin to reopen, it can be tempting to wish that we return to normal. We want to return to what was comfortable. Unfortunately, comfort often does not drive innovation or experimentation. There may not be a simple solution for the myriad of issues facing customer service and ISPs, and there may not be a definitive solution for reducing costs, but by leveraging simple solutions and commonplace technologies, ISPs can help pave the way to a new normal. And that new normal may be better than we ever imagined.
Jason Moore is the co-founder and CEO of RouteThis, a platform that transforms tech support by using in-home consumer devices and machine learning to empower ISPs in solving internet disruptions remotely.
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