If you will, imagine this scenario…
You’re selling hosted PBX services to companies and business appears to be booming. Your sales team seems almost magical, closing deals left and right, bringing your business to new peaks. But then… the rocket ship stalls.
Things seemed to be going so well, so why are there suddenly more problems than happy customers?
Maybe it isn’t crystal clear precisely what your sales team sold, making it tough for your design team to craft a solution that actually meets your customer’s expectations. Or the provisioning team is struggling to keep up with demand on the rise, mainly since building the lines and features can be both time-consuming and tedious.
Then, once the provisioning is complete and the customers are in-service, they begin experiencing significant issues with call quality or the provided features aren’t working as they expected, putting further pressure on the NOC who are fighting to keep up with all of the incoming trouble tickets.
While your teams are doing their best to be responsive and handle issues as quickly as possible, providing the highest quality customer service experience they can muster, frustration still builds among your customers, and some of the unhappy ones ultimately decide to cancel their service.
The frequent cancellations are hurting your business. Customers churning out puts a significant damper on growth while simultaneously harming the morale of your sales and operations teams. And that means you need a solution you can implement quickly and efficiently to get things back on track and keep your customers satisfied.
In this article, we’re going to look at 6 common problems in your hosted PBX product and what you can do to address these issues so you can lower churn, improve morale, and, ultimately, increase profitability. Let’s get started.
If your primary issue involves reconciling what the sales team sold to what can reasonably be provided, then it’s likely you aren’t meeting your customer’s expectations. This can occur when sales teams aren’t given clear guidance on what can be offered to which customers, providing them with too much leeway to create a package that might not be practical from the perspective of your business.
Instead of giving your sales staff free rein to combine features and services as they please, it is often wise to decrease the amount of variability by giving them some structure. For example, for customers with less than 20 lines (which generally encompasses the vast majority of sales), you can create a limited number of options from which the customer can choose.
Think of it as a 4-course set menu at a fancy restaurant; your options may be limited, but they typically represent desirable choices. This not only simplifies things from a sales perspective but makes things easier for Ops too. Plus, you won’t have to worry about customers being overwhelmed by choice, a situation that can lead them to make less-than-desirable decisions.
Instead, create a limited features list that is most relevant to customers of that size, and make sure that your sales team doesn’t deviate from those offerings. In the end, this approach will simplify things for everyone, ensuring your teams can keep the customer satisfied by keeping their expectations reasonable.
When it comes time to provision services, requiring your team to set individual fields on each line is a tedious and cumbersome way to do business. Not only is it inefficient, but it can also be frustrating and dull for your employees, making them more error-prone and less expedient when completing their tasks.
And, if they have a variety of complex decisions to make along the way, it will go even slower, increasing the likelihood of a backlog (which can harm morale) and delaying delivery (which can cost you customers).
Instead, a more effective approach is through the use of pre-designed templates. You can create multiple versions, giving your provisioners the ability to overlap them as needed to develop a semi-customized end product while making the application of standard feature sets practically effortless. All your staff will need to do is combine two to five relevant templates in the proper, pre-defined order, and the vast majority of the work is done. For Metaswitch-based service providers, MetaView Web does a really nice job of offering this functionality.
This approach is exceptionally easy if you follow the advice from the previous point since a more limited menu means requiring fewer total templates for the bulk of your customers. Plus, using templates doesn’t prevent you from going back in and making changes by hand when the need arises, giving you the ability to speed up provisioning while still being able to customize services based on the customer’s needs. It can also reduce the amount of training required to get new employees up to speed, as the process of utilizing templates is significantly less complicated than handling the fields one at a time.
When configurations are managed individually, you’re likely to experience a significant amount of variance. Each employee may handle things slightly differently, creating inconsistent results across the system. Additionally, this approach increases the likelihood of errors and may increase the training requirements for the position, all of which can be costly and time-consuming.
However, by creating a standardized MOP (Method of Procedure) or SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) for how to provision each type of line, you define your best practices for the provisioning team. Using templates (as described above) will be part of the MOP, but that’s not enough by itself – you need written documentation describing every step required to provision a new business group, from start to finish.
Furthermore, if an error is identified during the troubleshooting process, the correction can be added to the MOP. This ensures that a similar mistake won’t be repeated as long as the MOP and associated templates are used, effectively creating a long-term method to improve quality and reduce errors.
It also means that staff members won’t need to be retained to program things differently. As long as they consistently follow the MOPs, every member of the team will continually adhere to the ever-improving best practices.
By far, the leading cause of audio quality issues is the customer’s own LAN and their internet connection to the ISP.
If you are in the latter position, you typically have two angles for addressing this issue.
For pre-sales situations, you can use a tool that is designed to test the quality of the customer’s LAN by simulating VoIP traffic over their network (Metaswitch offer such a tool, which uploads the results to Service Assurance Server so you can easily review). This allows the situation to be reviewed before anything is provisioned, allowing you to inform the customer in advance if you suspect their LAN would be an issue.
During the simulation, look for a big margin of error – you don’t want to sign-off on a deployment only to discover that the test was run during an unusual lull in network traffic. And, if the deployment is particularly large and important for your business, consider running the simulation for approximately 24 hours as this will give you a much better idea of the peaks and troughs in congestion on the customer’s network.
For post-sales issues and ongoing support, there are multiple avenues for addressing poor call quality based on the customer’s LAN. One option is to set up a secondary network strictly for their VoIP service. This gives them access to dedicated bandwidth and limits the likelihood that variations in traffic or network congestion will cause problems.
You can also install an edge router, like the Edgemarc from Edgewater, as a mechanism for monitoring quality. This gives you a chance to diagnose the issue more efficiently, making it easier to correct.
Alternatively, you can consider using SD-WAN technology (Velocloud seem to be the leader in this space, although Edgewater have just announced that they’re adding SD-WAN to the Edgemarc) to manage the QoS, perhaps even across dual ISP links. This gives you a method of control that can help prioritize VoIP traffic over less crucial functions and can also automatically adjust for quality issues in one of the uplinks.
If your help desk team is overburdened and struggling to keep up, then you might want to examine your troubleshooting methods. To figure out if this is a factor, you need to ask yourself some critical questions.
For example, if someone contacts your support personnel with a problem, how do they figure out what happened? Do you have proactive monitoring of calls or do you need to set up a trace on the line? Do you just have signaling information or do you have packet captures as well?
By examining your current tools and processes, you can identify any potential shortcomings that increase the amount of time required to reach a resolution.
In some cases, you may want to examine additional technologies, like Service Assurance Server from Metaswitch or VoIPMonitor, as a method for collecting more comprehensive data for use in troubleshooting. Both of these services have robust diagnostic capabilities which have the potential to relieve some of the burdens your NOC personnel may experience if they don’t have access to the proper tools.
As a side note, some diagnostic tools have the ability to record calls on your network. While these may be very helpful for troubleshooting issues, it’s important to understand that there may be legal concerns associated with recording user phone calls, especially if you have customers operating in a particularly sensitive industry, like healthcare or finance. You should speak with a legal professional regarding the potential implications of such actions, with or without the customer’s permission.
While a number of support calls may be unique or infrequent occurrences that have to be addressed on a case-by-case basis, it’s likely that the majority of your customer requests run along the same lines. The question here is, after you troubleshoot a problem, do you only fix the instance or do you use the information to improve your processes, helping to avoid the same issue from coming up in the future?
It’s great to fix a problem for a single customer, but, now that you know there’s a potential issue in the system, why not fix it for everyone else too?
Not addressing the core issue that led to the problem means your NOC is likely dealing with way more trouble tickets than they otherwise would need to handle. Not only is this taxing on your team, but it also means customers have to wait longer for support, and that’s never a good thing.
If you are interested in improving your processes to help lower the number of trouble tickets, check out my article, Why Oh Why Does Your NOC Get So Many Trouble Tickets. It has a lot of valuable information and tips to help you refine your processes, identify root causes of issues, and implement changes that won’t just benefit your NOC, but your customers as well.
While change isn’t always easy, it is absolutely necessary if you are struggling to retain your customers. By addressing the six key areas above, you can simplify your sales processes, reduce provisioning times, create consistency in your configurations, improve call quality, troubleshoot more efficiently, and avoid recurring issues.
In the end, this will improve the experience for the customer from beginning to end while increasing your retention rates, boosting employee morale, and creating a more profitable business model, which certainly makes it sound like a win-win (or, if you include your customers, staff, and company, a win-win-win!).