To infinity and beyond

Chief Analyst Teresa Cottam tells you about her experience of having BT superfast broadband installed, and the lessons all service providers can learn from it.


File:'Endless Rhythm' by Robert Delaunay, Tate Modern.JPG 

Endless Rhythm by Robert Delaunay, 1934, Tate Modern


I got my superfast Infinity 2 broadband a few weeks ago. In a previous post I explained some of the short comings of the physical rollout of Infinity in my town. But putting that to one side for now, how do BT score on the service rollout?


Before we begin, I'll put my hands up to pedantry here: I am ambivalent to slightly irritated by the name. Infinity 2. Just a little bit too Buzz Lightyear for my tastes.


Infinity is infinte isn't it? Endless, with nothing beyond it. So unless BT has invented a new area of physics that really takes us beyond infinity, we're beginning our experience with hype and hyperbole pre-installed. Just adding "2" or, as will soon be the case, "160Mbit/s" (presumably soon to be called Infinity 3) doesn't really work for me. At a stroke, BT has commoditised infinity, diminishing it to something far less than endless everything. Why can't telecoms wean itself off this lazy habit of hyperbole? And why can't it resist the urge to commoditise things?


Ordering Infinity is an interesting experience. I tried to order it several times: each time I concluded I was too busy to be bothered. This is because the website bombards you with options to select from. While seven options adhere to the rules about lists (ie that they should never have more than seven items), it's actually confusing. I came to the site wanting Infinity but now discover there's actually more than one version of it? And I need to read through seven options and see what they include feature-wise, hardware-wise and even 'special offer' wise before I can order. And then there's the 'urgency': buy now because the offer ends in however many days! Pull the other one BT - that particular tactic has long been exhausted by cut price retailers and does little for your branding as a serious and premium provider of telecoms services.


For many customers the list of features they have to understand and then compare before buying, act as barrier to a decision. Features are bundled in that you might not even want and you cannot unbundle them. And since every package comes with a Home Hub why is it even mentioned? I doubt any consumer goes to buy home broadband thinking 'ah I must get this because of the super-duper Home Hub'. Rather than being a feature, isn't the Home Hub just a piece of necessary equipment, like a cable or sockets, that most people couldn't care less about? (News flash: the price of the screws is included in the installation cost! Wow.)


And in this day and age, shouldn't the ordering process actually guide people through the decisions one step at a time? Enabling them to add in options and lowering the barriers to decision making?


So you navigate the options and order the broadband package of your dreams. What happens next? Well next comes the process of having it installed. Another little anomaly showed up here, which admittedly is probably fairly unusual, but shows why the ordering process is sub-optimal, because it cannot flex to accomodate real life differences - resulting in unnecessary operational cost.


When asked if I want Infinity installed on an existing line or a new one, I discover my preferred option doesn't fit. I actually have a redundant second line I wanted to have Infinity installed on. However, the ordering process doesn't differentiate between no line, and a perfectly good line (physically) that just isn't being used. While this may be uncommon for households, it is likely to be more common for small businesses. There is nowhere we can inform BT of this, and obviously no database lookup to tell their engineers about a line they actually installed only seven years ago.


The consequence for BT is that this instigates an unnecessary truck roll. In our case, an engineer was scheduled just so he could say: 'oh you have a line and it's fine...' What a waste of profit.


On a positive note you can choose a day for the broadband engineer to come and connect you to the broadband service (note this is a different engineer to the one who physically connects lines). You can also choose a time slot within the day to get connected. However, this is not an appointment but rather a request to stay in for most of the day until the engineer turns up. This might be great for BT, but it isn't great for many customers, as it effectively requires them to take a day off work.


Interestingly though, the time slots disappeared fast, showing there is considerable demand for the service.


The next thing that happens is a BT Home Hub is posted to you. Given that the engineer turns up in his little van, I struggle to understand the logic of this. Having a Home Hub delivered by post simply adds unncessary complexity to the process for both the customer and BT. If the Home Hub doesn't arrive for whatever reason, then the installation can't go ahead. Of course, it did arrive but during the half hour I wasn't at home - requiring a trip to the Post Office depot to pick it up. This was a further inconvenience and meant that if I didn't have time to do this (our Post Office Depot only appears to open until lunchtime most days), then the installation would be delayed. And if you couldn't collect it in time and  didn't inform BT you hadn't got it, this would result in another unnecessary truck roll and the requirement to book another installation date.


Relying on a third party company like this - and one with less than an excellent record for customer service - affects the BT brand and the complete end-to-end customer experience. Enabling the engineer to bring the Hub, or allowing the customer options about how to receive it (eg pick up from a store with long opening hours, specified day of delivery etc) would be a small matter but improve the customer experience considerably.


The best bit was the BT engineer himself who was pleasant, professional and efficient. The unnecessary truck roll of a further engineer did seem a little odd, but didn't really impact the customer experience (just BT's profit). It might not be universally true, but this BT engineer was brand-enhancing, and my own personal experience with their engineers has always been positive. I was left pondering the irony that the people involved in the process were a credit to the company; but the IT-based ordering process (a part of the infrastructure I spend my life writing about) was not.


In this day and age when customers have multiple options for receiving broadband, CSPs really do have to pay more attention to reducing the barriers to sale. Did the broadband ordering process sell me the benefits or enhance my view of BT as a company that was easy to do business with? Well I'm sorry but the answer to that has to be no. Did the engineer? Absolutely.


What's to learn? The process of buying a technical product like broadband really needs to be a lot easier, with far more support for less technically astute customers. Even for those who understand their OSS from their elbows, the process should require minimal effort from the customer, including easier comparisons and support for decision-making. While much effort is often put into the design of websites from a prettiness point of view, far less effort seems to be put into making them usable. Likewise the whole end-to-end process of ordering broadband or anything else is a customer journey that needs to be plotted, understood and managed deliberately, rather than just allowed to happen. I'm truly disappointed that in the late days of 2012 I'm still writing about how difficult it is to spend money with a CSP.

Omnisperience: experts in digital experience

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It has always bemused me, too: the fact that marketeers - experts in the lexicon necessary to grab our money - do not understand what words mean. No.1 in my most disliked are oil companies who call their basic brand Premium. Leaving them nowhere to go for the more expensive petrol/gas options.


Regarding the delivery of Wireless routers by post: there are significant costs in putting them in vans, also possibly many variants of device to carry and vans have lots of stuff already so there is logic to the postal/courier service. However, I have heard great things of the 'Next' online service where clothes can be picked up and/or returned to high street stores. So I suspect a pick-up option would be a service improvement. 

I too have just had Infinity installed and empathise with your comments. By far the hardest part was deciding which commercial/pricing package to go for. However, I did think the fulfilment process went well for me - the hub turned up on schedule, and the engineer even called earlier in the day to offer immediate installation because of a cancellation. It only took an hour to set everything up and was handled very professionally throughout.


I can't imagine anyone not remembering to be in for the engineer, I got texts, emails, phone calls - you name it - reminding me about it and ensuring I was prepared.


Lastly, I'd venture that the Hub is dispatched because these are individually coded with passwords/usernames associated with your account. While this could in theory be done by the engineer on site, its just another thing that might go wrong. There may also be other practical reasons too.

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