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It's all about speed and reliability

What do SMEs want from communications services – and how can providers keep their SME customers satisfied? Find out about the key issues highlighted in research for Ofcom.

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By John Kiernan
Head of Insight BT Wholesale

It’s fundamental

Communications services (fixed phone line, fixed Internet and mobile comms) are fundamental to UK businesses. So say 85% of SMEs in a survey for Ofcom. This figure rises to 94% for those businesses with between 50 - 249 people. This is great news for our industry, especially when over 80% of SME decision-makers also state that their needs are well catered for. However, fixed Internet services could do better with 14% dissatisfaction and this is particularly true of more remote businesses. The critical focus areas for business were getting more speed and consistent reliability. The survey report* also demonstrates the power of good communication from providers in service news and customer retention.

Happiness = speed + reliability

In 2014, Ofcom commissioned a comprehensive report on SME experiences with their communication services. This shows quite clearly that our industry and our services are critical to business success. Usage of communication services has grown since Ofcom did a similar survey in 2010. Fixed Internet is a major element of the communications mix but receives higher levels of dissatisfaction. In fact, satisfaction levels have not changed much in this four-year period. There are still areas that need attention.

What made businesses happier with the fixed Internet were:

     •   Reliability for email and Internet access
     •   Geographic availability
     •   Connection reliability.

When SMEs were unhappy, the main focus areas were:

     •   Connection speed
     •   When they can’t get the speed they paid for
     •   Ease of contacting customer services.

To make things absolutely clear, the research agency conducted statistical analysis to identify the key drivers of satisfaction. It may not be rocket science, but what businesses want is speed and reliability.

When things go wrong

Nearly half have not switched or probably won’t switch provider. However the analysis over time shows that there is always about a quarter of customers who are planning to switch. Having service problems and then experiencing poor customer service is the main reason cited. What is interesting though is the actual trigger reason for most was the perception of a better deal elsewhere. Of those who had planned to move, 16% stated they were persuaded to stay by their current provider.

Keep communicating

One of the key take-outs from the research was on in-life communication. By far the biggest source for customers on communication services was their provider website. Close to 40% said that was where they went to for information on the services they used. This beat provider newsletters at 16% and general web searches at 13%. So good information and tools on the provider website could definitely help in addressing issues on speed and reliability, as well as promoting other products and services.

What can we learn from the research?

Addressing speed and reliability concerns in-life with customers is number one. The study showed that ‘remote-rural’ SMEs (more than ten miles from a medium-sized town) felt particularly affected.

Secondly, those customers that felt they did not have access to all they wanted in communications, cited fibre broadband as their possible key enabler. Once these challenges are overcome, there is still much more the provider can do to build share of wallet. Examples from the report show that roughly a third feel they can’t confidently identify the most relevant new services for their business. Another third were worried on security breaches which was even more pronounced with the more remote SMEs.

Although satisfaction has not greatly moved in the previous four years, I believe that the next period will start to show transformation. Fibre broadband will address the demands for greater speed and – crucially – reliability. Once local cabinets have been enabled for fibre, then business customers will see real improvements in productivity and new ways of working.

References

*Ofcom ‘SME experiences of the communication services’, JIGSAW research

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