Sunday, November 11, 2007

Customer Premise - The Forgotten Piece of the Puzzle

From a company in MN whose specialty is the last 10 ft of FTTx networks and the transition to the new platform.


The field work is complete with the fiber installed and spliced. The CO equipment is ready and the vendor has provided training for key staff. Now it is time to start moving customers to the new network. The question is how to best implement this portion of the project.

There have been many improvements enabling service providers to streamline their deployments and cut installation costs. Pre-connectorized drops and advances in premise splicing equipment have made the installation process manageable for field personnel.

What has been overlooked with most of the engineering plans and requests for proposal is the customer premise.

The average customer with POTS and maybe DSL takes for granted that when they pick up their phone or turn on their computer they will have service. They will question why you are fixing something that is not broke! While a portion of your customer base is knowledgeable of broadband and will be awaiting the upgrade most will need to be educated on the benefits of your new network.

The vast majority of customers I have encountered had little or no knowledge of why they needed to upgrade or what the benefits would be for them. They were asked to sign a permit to allow the drop to be installed and equipment placed on their home.

The next contact they had was a customer service person calling to schedule the appointment for transition to the new platform.

Customers with POTS only don’t understand the need to install the UPS and associated power cable to support a service they already have that is working.

Installation of the UPS inside the premise were power is available and the location is acceptable to the home owner is a challenge with almost every residence.

DSL customers want higher speed and reliability but many times will need the internal wiring to their computer or router upgraded to support the advanced services.

Adding video to this equation be it RF or IP can further complicate the deployment.

You may need to qualify the existing customer wiring and update or replace connectors and or passives. When deploying IP based solutions will you use the existing coax and media converters or run new cat5 cable? When a CPE is used it will need to be integrated into the customers existing home entertainment equipment.

With all these issues to consider the ultimate challenge is getting into the customer premise to begin with.

Scheduling installations that will work into your customers schedule as well as the schedule of needed support staff at the CO can be painstaking.

To the customer this is an inconvenience and the time allotted for the appointment difficult to determine due to the number of unknown factors.

Educating your customers on what will take place and the benefits to them will reduce friction for both parties. I have been involved in many deployments across the country and have seen several approaches to these issues. Town meetings have been used in cooperatives that outlined the project with updates via news letters. Direct mailing to customers explaining the project with a hotline for questions is another method utilized by service providers.

When the time comes to activate the premise network customer service is crucial. The wiring needs to be done in a manner that is acceptable to the home owner and within NEC and or RUS guidelines. The installation staff must be knowledgeable of the equipment and capable of activating all services in one visit and in a timely manner. When installation is complete the customer must have services that are comparable to or better than what they had on the copper network. Your business case will determine the pace of the upgrade and whether to utilize in-house staff contractors or both.

Hiring additional staff to expedite the rollout of new services is one answer but requires upfront expenditures for vehicles, tools and training. Then once the upgrade is complete the inherent lower maintenance of fiber networks will require less staff in the long term.

Cable companies have used contract installers for many years to fill the inevitable peaks and valleys of the work flow associated with their industry. Most premise contractors today are required to be skilled in triple play installations.

Whatever route is taken the installation technician is many times the only direct contact your customers will ever have with your company. They need to present themselves in a professional manner and extend the values of your company while being able to produce a quality installation.

The bottom line is not to alienate your customers in this process and lose them to your competitors. By providing the best possible customer service you will be able to keep and grow your customer base.

Patrick McNelis

Director of Field Service

PONtech Corp