When it comes to broadband projects, operations should set the stage for continuous expansion and sales. How, exactly, do you turn operations into part of the growth process?
Meet Patrick Reams, Director of Technology and Communications at Irby. Patrick is an expert at bringing a growth mindset to daily operations. We interviewed him to get his insights for turning network maintenance into sales opportunities. The benefits of a forward-looking model can pay dividends, says Patrick: “Operations and maintenance become expansion and sales over time.” Here are three ways he recommends leveraging operations and maintenance as a vehicle for growth.
Plan for sustainable operations
You made plans for building support, establishing strategic partnerships, attracting investment, network design, construction, how to leave your network open to expansion in the future and more—but did you plan for the day-to-day operations and maintenance of your network, including processes and budget?
Be sure you have a plan for maintenance and operations upfront. Plans need to account for the cost of operations; otherwise, you may lack the budget to keep the network running over the long haul. Projects that receive grant funding may be more likely to overlook this aspect than those that depend on commercial viability.
Deviations from your design may occur during construction due to unforeseen circumstances. After implementing any changes, there is a task that is easily overlooked: documenting the differences between what you designed and what was built. “Documentation and planning start together, and it requires significant effort to keep them together,” says Patrick. “You have to be intentional about what you’ve built versus what you’ve designed.” Your plan for operations and maintenance will only work if you base it on your actual, final network, not just what you intended to build.
The simplest way to ensure you have an operations plan that’s based on reality is to employ automation to document differences between design and your final, as-built network. This can be achieved by working with an algorithmic design partner who can ensure that data is interoperable for use with a construction-management platform.
Standardize equipment and operations
When it comes to operations and maintenance, predictability serves as the foundation of efficiency and scalability. Standardization of equipment and operations makes everything run like a well-oiled machine. Unique network situations require unique and costly solutions for every problem that arises. Solutions grow in complexity because technicians have to familiarize themselves with lots of different equipment. However, once equipment and processes are standardized, techs can become experts in specific methods and get things back up and running faster. Scale changes how, when and where to respond to problems, but standardization can minimize the surprises.
Patrick also has one more practical tip that is relevant to the times: “Plan ahead for supply-chain delays. Have your parts on hand always; the supply system is broken.” Post-pandemic supply-chain disruption makes keeping an inventory on hand more important than ever for smooth operations and growth.
Level-up operations with automation
The ability to automate stems from standardization, and with automation comes efficiency.
When operations are predictable, automation can take over tasks such as monitoring large areas to see if a device is causing a problem. You can then aggregate the data and even automate your reaction to problems, further enhancing the standardization and predictability of operations. Every instance of process automation brings the opportunity to save and scale.
Get in the habit of developing and documenting processes and rules that standardize operations so you can automate them. “Most new providers act in areas where traditional purveyors have not gone,” says Patrick. There is no roadmap in this new frontier except for the one you make through development and documentation of processes.
How will you approach and solve problems? Do your systems support transparency across the organization? Do they support growth? Asking questions like these before trying to set new policies and procedures can help clarify your approach. As Patrick says, “The process of creating processes may not always be linear.”
One way Patrick supports the creation of processes is by breaking down silos within your organization. “There needs to be open communication across teams,” he says. Let other departments know what’s coming at them and foster cross-team collaboration. Doing so will help shape standard solutions to network problems across your organization.
Creation through education
“Going from 10,000 to 100,00 homes is 10 times more users, but feels more like 20 times more,” says Patrick. As the number of customers increases, it can feel like the number of customer concerns multiply faster. In Patrick’s experience, “When the power is out, it’s out. When a network is inconsistent, it’s more subjective. That makes broadband different from any other utility. People expect that their broadband just works. When there’s downtime, they feel like they’re out of communication, which drives up frustration.”
Customer perception remains as great a challenge as network health. The key is to turn all communications and services into opportunities to educate customers. Here’s how you can build a pro-broadband community with every interaction.
Focus on the basics
Educating customers takes a lot of time and effort, but you need to be proactive. “Create multiple paths to drive your message and educate with as much transparency and information as possible. Don’t get overly technical. Explain what’s going on and how you’re addressing concerns,” says Patrick. Emphasize essential broadband concepts like how the internet works, what buffering is and why it happens and what Cloudflare is. As customers understand fundamentals of the internet better, their expectations will become more realistic.
Let them know you’re there
Communicate early and often to help create goodwill and foster positive relationships. “You can begin communications as early as the design and construction phases,” Patrick says—long before the internet is switched on.
Be proactive with notifications about service intervals, outages and other news. Recruit brand ambassadors to help educate the community. Engage and advocate through high-visibility forums such as social media and message boards. Staying on top of communications helps show that you are there and that you care.
Approach service as an educational opportunity
Patrick recommends establishing a culture of service. Offer live and local service to help customers resolve problems. Focus on Net Promoter Score ratings and ways to improve them. You can leverage call-center metrics, including time on hold and number of calls on hold, to gauge the effectiveness of customer service.
“Have a culture of service,” Patrick says, “but beware of doing things to the Nth degree because it could cost you or become self-defeating.” Instead, be smart about service. Aggregate and analyze your call data: what are actual problems vs. education issues? Many problems arise due to customers misunderstanding internet technology. Bending over backward to fix what customers perceive to be problems can reinforce unrealistic expectations. Focus on education instead, as that addresses the customer perception that is at the root of many satisfaction issues.
Keep your engine humming
Be sure operations and maintenance are part of your plan to build a broadband network that will live into the future. Budget for the upkeep of your network. Don’t forget to document differences between your design and the actual network that you built. Standardize to create predictable operations, then automate them to scale efficiently. Stay on top of customer communications and service with a focus on educating customers—the more they understand the business of broadband internet, the more they will understand the value of the service you provide.
To learn more about planning a broadband project, algorithmic design or Biarri Networks, be sure to visit our news page. Got questions? Reach out. We have answers.