By Jeff Blackey
Telecom expenditures are prevalent and can be costly for any call center, large or small. Here are some ideas on how to get the most from your telecom carrier without breaking the bank or sacrificing quality.
Look at T-1 service: A common trend in the business customer segment is to bundle multiple products on the same T-1. The provider should be able to integrate voice (local and long distance), Internet, and data onto one T-1 line. This could improve cost savings significantly.
Also, there are advantages of having multiple services on a single invoice. There is only one point of contact if you experience difficulty or have a question.
Consider bundling services: Bundling multiple services (such as local, long-distance, Internet and data services) together from one provider is normal operating procedure for many call centers. Flat rate pricing, the common trend between bundled offerings, is becoming more attractive. A 2003 J.D. Power and Associates report found that customers who bundle services report higher overall satisfaction than those who do not have a package of services.
Local support: Local presence is important. Call centers should choose a carrier with a local and available account team. It is important to know your sales representative, as well as asking about technical staff. Providers often offer local access to a solutions engineer and an account development manager to service your account. Select the account team and company that best serve your needs, then negotiate price. Also, make sure your account team will be your main point of contact and will not disappear after you have signed the contract.
Contracts: Contract lengths are generally three to five years. However, customers are becoming weary of multiple year deals. This is due to industry shrinkage and new technology. Business customers do not want to be stuck with poor service or outdated technology. Choose a carrier that has a clear service level agreement and comprehensive customer satisfaction guarantee.
Ask for an audit: Ask your potential providers to provide a telecommunications audit. Some carriers will provide this service at no charge. An audit can generally find 10 to 15 percent of pricing errors with the existing setup. An audit may even show errors with the current provider including lines thought to be disconnected, lines that were ordered but never properly connected, or billing mistakes.
Ask your carrier to explain their mix of surcharges for telephone services. While some of these surcharges are legitimate, others are simply price quotes and billing practices meant to confuse and possibly deceive customers. Commonly called “nuisance charges,” these surcharges have been created or manipulated to generate revenue for the carrier. They can vary from carrier to carrier, so shop around and ask providers to provide written explanations for all fees associated with their invoice.
Bankrupt or emerging carriers: Customer service, specifically response time, generally suffers with carriers undergoing bankruptcy reorganization. Find out if leadership and service levels have remained the same post-bankruptcy. Call centers should select carriers who have stayed true to their business model and enjoyed steady financial success. You don’t want worry if your carrier will be around tomorrow.
Poor service or low quality of service: Make sure there is a satisfaction guarantee built into the entire length of the contract, not just the first 90 days. If they say they can’t, just walk away.
Consider trends: One of the most promising communication tools in the marketplace today is Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), an emerging technology that transmits voice conversations over data networks such as the Internet. Unlike a conventional telephone call that continuously reserves bandwidth capacity between two calling parties, VoIP converts voice calls into compressed data packets and allows them to be intermingled with other forms of IP traffic, which are then transmitted over high-speed Internet connections. This allows call centers to make full use of their bandwidth no matter what type of traffic they are using at a given moment, whether it is voice or Internet.
Multi-Link Frame Relay is another innovation telecom providers should be offering. Most small to medium-sized businesses today access the Internet using high-speed T-1 lines, which provide a mid-range power of 1.5 megabits per second. But as call centers add remote locations and satellite offices, many are finding they have outgrown the bandwidth available on T-1 lines – but aren’t yet large enough to justify the cost to upgrade to a T-3 line, which offers a whopping 45 megabits per second. Therefore, a growing number of call centers with several locations are filling the gap by installing multi-link frame relay connections, an affordable solution that lets users bond multiple T-1 line connections at several locations for faster speed and wider bandwidth. This solution allows call centers to incrementally increase Internet capacity without investing in costly new technology or installing more expensive T-3 lines.
Carrier suitability: Not only do you want your current provider to grow with new customers, but you also want them to retain existing customers. That tells you that the decision the new customer is getting ready to make has been made before and reinforced again by others. Look for a carrier with a high customer retention rate.
Next, ask for referrals from other call centers. Carriers understand that different types of businesses have different types of needs. Look for a carrier that specializes in your industry and has the expertise to serve the needs of a particular business segment.
Lastly, ask what new services the carrier can offer. Are there any interactive tools to monitor usage, track bills, or change account codes? Ask about products that are in place that will allow you to quickly make changes on-line and minimize having to talk to a live person.
Jeff Blackey is the Senior Vice President of Marketing for US LEC, a telecommunications carrier providing integrated voice, data, and Internet services.
[From Connection Magazine – March 2005]