Many governors have responded to the coronavirus pandemic by ordering residents to stay at home / shelter in place* except for essential reasons – such as buying food, accessing healthcare and performing essential work.
(*At time of writing 13 states have official orders in place, and the rest of the country is strongly encouraged to follow the same guidelines.)
This leaves communication service providers with a tough balancing act.
- On the one hand, they obviously have a strong desire to protect their employees and their subscribers from the virus
- But as the nation’s workforce starts working from home, there are a lot of people requesting new or improved voice and internet service.
Maintaining essential services… safely
In general, the construction, maintenance and support of communications infrastructure is being classified as essential – so state governors are expecting telcos to continue working… but how can we do that safely?
A few days ago (March 24, 2020) I sent out a survey to members of my email list asking how they were handling this crisis (in particular how they were protecting service techs and customers during on-site visits), and in this article I’ll be sharing the findings.
This was just a quick survey, so this isn’t an exhaustive data set, but so far I’ve had 19 respondents from 13 different states.
Most telcos have taken some measures to implement social distancing. Many respondents saying that the majority of workers are working from home, and in nearly all cases the front office is closed.
Telcos are taking a variety of other measures to protect workers and customers. Each service provider is making different judgement calls about how to approach this. Some are postponing service requests for non-essential issues and others are postponing construction projects.
Protecting service techs during site visits
I was particularly interested to see how telcos are handling on-site service/installation requests from subscribers – since these pose the greatest risk of human contact and spreading the coronavirus.
I first asked whether the volume of these requests had changed during this crisis – and the answers are all over the shop!
Some telcos are limiting the number of subscriber installs and service requests to an extent, but most are still performing some, so I was curious to see what precautions they were taking.
Many responses referenced the CDC guidelines but telcos are taking a variety of approaches. Having reviewed the responses there are four key ways in which telcos can limit customer interactions with service techs.
- Prioritization: “We are only visiting essential services organizations, and are providing remote support for others”
- Survey: “We ask screening questions about a customers health before sending a tech”
- Stay outside: “For new fiber customers we’re doing an outside install and facing a weatherproof WiFi unit in through a window”
- Protection: “Constant use of masks, gloves and hand sanitizer”
I was impressed that most folks in the industry seems to be taking this seriously. Organizations are defining guidelines and best practices for limiting customer interactions, and for making them as safe as possible when they’re necessary.
There’s currently a great deal of uncertainty – even among scientists – as to how long this situation will persist. Most respondents figure we’ll be in this boat for a few months, so it’s still early days.
As the pandemic continues I’m optimistic that independent telcos can continue to find ingenious ways to provide great service to residential and business customers while limiting the spread of the virus.
Be sure to share your ideas with the rest of us, so we can all be safer together.