Tom White, Chief Technology Officer, Consolidated Communications
Think back to an evening in 2003 spent in front of the TV. Perhaps Jeff Probst was saying, “The tribe has spoken,” on “Survivor,” or Gil Grissom was pulling together forensic evidence on “CSI.” “Friends” was still somewhere in the line-up, too, and Netflix was shelling out physical DVDs alongside Blockbuster, with its switch to streaming services still four distant years away. As a cable provider, your biggest worry was a prime-time outage and a group of angry customers who missed tribal council or the close of the case.
Those providers have evolved into full-stack data services providers with quite a few more responsibilities – and higher customer support expectations to boot. Just as the entertainment landscape has evolved, so too has consumption of entertainment to encompass a more robust and technologically advanced set-up that requires multiple devices and services. While high-speed internet used to be a luxury for early-adopters of video streaming and workaholics, today broadband and in-home Wi Fi is the lifeblood of our work, education, entertainment and connection. Any downtime in the internet, streaming, phone or cloud services that power people’s everyday lives is deeply disruptive.
Right along with the technology advancements, the ways in which service providers deliver the customer experience have grown exponentially. Take the pandemic for one, which has brought a host of needs to the forefront, including increased bandwidth, cybersecurity requirements for a work-from-home workforce and growing interest in the cloud. Every time a new technology becomes a linchpin in our lives, it requires a retooling of service delivery and customer support. The line has continued to blur between where the provider’s responsibilities for always-on service expectations begin and end.
Some think that the customer experience is how you speak and interact with your customers during the order or service process. Some think it’s around the pricing and competitive offers. Others argue it’s the services you provide and the ease of use, performance and reliability.
The truth is, the customer experience encompasses all of the above – and then some.
Being in the business since 1992, I have had a front row seat to the shift in approach, from a traditional, in-person and phone-centered experience, to the all-inclusive philosophy that modern businesses need to survive.
The reality of the world today is that there is no longer a demarcation point between the broadband service provided to the customer and connectivity to all devices within the customer’s home. Not all homes are created equal and providing a true wireless connection to every corner and breakfast nook with the same signal strength and capacity has been a challenge for providers and customers. This expectation has challenged the WiFi equipment manufacturers to develop stronger antennas, more signal power, meshed network capabilities to allow seamless transfer between units as customers move within their homes, and easy-to-use, app-based visibility into the WiFi networks for customers and the providers.
This has added a layer of complexity for the average customer who really just wants the provider to determine what they need and manage it for them. Customers just want it to work – and rightly so!
Exacerbating the challenge further: the introduction of the internet of things (IoT) world where homes now have smart devices to control lights, doors, garages, thermostats, cameras, and more. All of these very handy devices have pushed the limits of WiFi even further and introduced other concerns such as cybersecurity exposures for customers.
As ISP options and the associated stress of staying connected have grown, home internet has become overwhelming for the average customer, and the service provider is in the perfect position to help make it simple and easy. Technology solution providers’ mission is to provide the most reliable high-speed bandwidth available and take the complexity out of technology so that the garage door always opens, the lights dim to the sound of your voice and your doorbell camera captures each package and visitor as they arrive.
Along with impeccable service delivery, the industry is answering the call for better customer service with an explosion of tech solutions that are constantly being developed. WiFi 5, with wireless speeds up to 1 Gbps, is the norm for in-home deployment, and WiFi 6 is becoming mainstream with 10 Gbps capacity. XGS-PON is being deployed, pushing the 1 Gbps maximum capacity of the past upto 10 Gbps capacity. Wireless heat mapping of customer homes to ensure solid coverage in every corner is the standard installation practice, and open visibility to all devices and utilization within the home is available to both the customer and the provider. All things someone surfing TV channels in 2003 may have never thought possible.
After nearly 30 years in the industry, it’s exciting to feel like we’ve put in the work to now enjoy the reward – millions of jobs maintained throughout a global pandemic because of reliable, high-speed internet, for one. While technology has been evolving for decades, there’s never been a closer lenson the way it shapes our lives, and vice versa. The ongoing feedback loop of growing customer expectations and leapfrogging technological advancements is driving our industry forward and keeping us sharp. Personally, I can’t wait to see what the next few years bring.