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Technology Channel Association

The Technology Channel Association (TCA) is the first-ever non-profit trade association serving professionals working in the indirect telecommunications sales channel. With a mission to promote the growth and success of the indirect sales channel through value-added programs and the development of industry-wide best practices for both agents and vendors, TCA Board members will be sharing their insights into trends in the industry and offering ways to help make it better.

How to Differentiate Your Business

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Laura BernsteinBy Laura Bernstein

 Today’s telecom agent is faced with many challenges. With the convergence of telecom and IT, we are focused on how to reinvent and how to stand out from the pack. We realize the need for new partnerships but we can also look internally to improve and to grow. Here are three key strategies.

1. Proactive Customer Service (PCS). Anticipating needs.

Traditionally, customer service has been a reactive task and a reactive process. Whether you are the president of a company or an employee on the front line, customer service has been about serving the customer in a reactionary way. Since we cannot control the quality of the carrier’s customer service, most of us go out of our way to make up for any shortcomings. Providing an extra layer of customer service has been necessary in many cases and at the heart of the channel offering. However, it is now commonplace. Any business can expect the promise of support but this does little to differentiate us from another agent.  Anticipating the needs of the customer is the highest level of customer service. It is a proactive task and can be magical.  Does your agency consider what its customer may need and then provide that BEFORE the customer asks? What are their business needs, other than cheaper and faster?  For example:

  • The need to be informed rather than having to chase information
  • Presenting a Plan B, by anticipating an issue they might face
  • Even a small gesture such as communicating your absence before they try you and get an “out of office" message

Anticipating needs is more than a task. It is a culture that should be incorporated into every level of your business/ It will cement the customer relationship and drive home your commitment to them and their business.

2. Customer Satisfaction (CSAT) Program. A marketing play. 

A formal CSAT program when designed properly can be a significant differentiator for any business. A successful program is one that reaches out to the base quickly after key events. It must ask the target questions and then measure the response correctly, which in turn enables the business to course correct. However, there are many such programs that do not deliver the expected results. For example, programs:

  • That utilize a computer instead of a human to contact the customer
  • That never really had the goal of improving but rather only satisfying stakeholders or board members that survey work had been performed
  • That are scheduled only once instead of being an integral part of the business
  • In which course correction never occurs, usually because changes in people, product or process are too financially or emotionally challenging to make

The successful CSAT program can and should be used as a marketing vehicle for its ultimate purpose, to drive revenue. It will clearly convey your commitment to serving well. Others will claim to care. You will be able to demonstrate commitment and publish results.

3. Project Management. Not just provisioning.

Most agents spend a good deal of resources — both time and money — to support a carrier’s provisioning efforts. This is done because it is usually a time sensitive and difficult process with many touch points and many people involved. When the services being installed are small in number or not technically challenging, provisioning support frequently can and does suffice. However, as we add locations, multiple WAN providers, internal or external IT support and hardware vendors … the complexity increases dramatically. The more successful carriers often have their own project managers in-house, but their function is only to manage their service and not to manage all the players needed to complete the job. A good project manager documents all the action steps — who is doing what and when it needs to be done. They are the quarterback for the project and will drastically improve implementation. Through proper expectation setting, they will save time and money, and remove risk.

A project manager will enhance your provisioning staff. The agent can both hire and train from within or the role can be outsourced on a case-by-case basis. Provisioners can manage a simple project, but they are not project managers. Improve the first experience your customer has with your agency. Deliver successful, timely implementations. Consider a project manager.

Laura Bernstein is the president and co-founder of CRA Telecom, a Massachusetts-based company providing telecom help desk support to midsized businesses throughout the U.S. A member of the telecommunications industry for more than 20 years, Bernstein served on the 2010-11 Channel Partners Advisory Board and is a member of the TCA Board of Trustees.  

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