CityFibre: service problems are inevitable; failing your customers is not

Source: CityFibre

Jo Hetherington

Jo Hetherington

Source: CityFibre

The real mettle of a business is often exposed when something goes wrong for the customer. It could be a courier package containing vital documents that goes missing en route, or the busy parent waiting in all day for the heating engineer who never arrives. And it’s often the way the business reacts to a crisis that defines how the customer sees them. Service recovery processes designed to fix failures fast may not sound exciting, but ensuring they are in place along the chain, from frontline CX staff to wholesale partners, can be the difference between a good lasting impression, and a bad one.

Having worked in multiple retail sectors, I’ve seen how customer-facing organisations need to focus on getting critical ‘moments of truth’ right to protect and develop their brand reputation.

More often than not, customers remember how they feel when they interact with a company, rather than recalling the exact words used in marketing communications or conversations. These feelings determine whether or not they’ve had a good experience and they last in their memory, making every interaction important.

This is well understood in other industry sectors where competition is fierce, including car rental, financial services, and travel, but not so much in telecoms.

When you’re a wholesale provider, it’s also far too easy to use your distance from the end user as an excuse to do less or walk away from a problem. At CityFibre, we take the opposite approach. Rather than saying “not our job”, we ask “how can we work together to deliver a better outcome?”.

We’re determined to change conventional opinions of what can be done in our sector — and, in turn, how our industry is perceived. This means pushing the boundaries, thinking differently, and being the network operator that works with our internet service provider partners, rather than leaving them to pick up the slack, do our apologising — and take the hit to their customer experience metrics.

Caring about the end-to-end customer experience is the only way to ensure every journey to full fibre (and life after install) is as smooth and positive for people as possible.

Collaborate effectively to start the customer journey on the right foot

A common pain point across our different ISP partners is cancelled fibre installations. One big factor is that people naturally fear what installing fibre to their property might entail.

Again, as a wholesaler, we could easily assume it’s not our problem, but caring about it has helped us find ways to alleviate the issue, including developing FAQs, providing a video of the installation process, and offering reassurance that the customer will have the chance to agree everything before any work begins on the day.

We’ve not stopped there though. We’re now working with individual ISPs to design a bespoke conversational artificial intelligence engagement tool. It’s an ambitious project designed to give end customers immediate, high-quality answers to queries, and put minds at rest.

The potential for AI-enabled service tools like this is incredibly exciting, but it’s important to develop such tools carefully and appreciate that not all customers like the idea of an online chat functionality, however smart and human-like it might be.

Some people prefer to communicate via email, a phone call, or even a physical letter. Again, we work closely with our ISP partners to make sure we have the capability to transact in whatever blend of comms channels their customers prefer, with digital as our mutual preference. We also make sure we align with any vulnerable customer policies that ISPs have in place.

TalkTalk is partnering with CityFibre on its full-fibre rollout. The companies have implemented processes intended to ensure that customers switching to full fibre are aware of the steps involved in the process, and able to manage their own installation process, which the communications provider has identified as an important step to ensuring fewer missed appointments. Becki Smith, General Manager for Future Fibre at TalkTalk, particularly highlighted the collaborative nature of the relationship between the service provider and its infrastructure partner, based on a shared commitment to positive customer experience.

Full Fibre Heroes stepping up in moments of truth

Ideal service delivery can be scuppered for many reasons. And that’s true in every industry, not just ours.

Consider the couple who’ve booked a holiday abroad, only to find the hotel has suffered a burst waterpipe. They’re standing in the foyer, suitcases in hand, no room to go to, worried and upset. This is a critical moment of truth for the travel company. Upgrade the couple to an even better hotel nearby with a bottle of champagne waiting on arrival and the situation is completely turned around.

Service recovery of this sort can turn anger into advocacy, but it isn’t as simple as it may appear on the surface. You need to plan for what might go wrong — even though it may never happen — and ensure staff are empowered to swing into action without delay.

CityFibre is laser-focused on this. A critical moment of truth for us is when an unexpected technical difficulty means it is no longer possible to complete a fibre installation that day. All the customer’s fears are on the verge of coming true and the pressure is now on.

Like the travel company, we can either say “sorry, these things happen” and just postpone to another day. Or, we can prove ourselves in that moment by stepping up, recovering rapidly, and proving we care.

We now have in place a specially trained team of customer field engineers to minimise the impact of this exact scenario. We call them our Full Fibre Heroes and their job is to sort out connectivity problems quickly, limit the time customers must wait to be connected, and bring all the learning back so we can do better in future.

Improving customer service for our partners and their customers means optimising every moment of truth — from purchase to installation and beyond — and never settling for ‘good enough’. When it comes to achieving this, our challenger mindset not only sets us free from old industry ways, it makes us hungry to learn from elsewhere and motivates us to continually raise the bar.

Founded in 2011, CityFibre is the UK’s largest open access, fibre-only operator. Once rollout is complete, it aims to have reached around a third of all UK premises — encompassing homes, businesses, public sector and 5G/Ethernet enablement. CityFibre is also participating in the government’s Project Gigabit to serve hard-to-reach communities. As a wholesale player, it has built an AI-ready national network to interconnect directly with its ISP retail partners and its own local fibre exchanges, which feature new-generation micro-edge data centre capability. In the words of its Group CTO David Tomalin, “this puts our network in a different league from those reliant on hub and spoke architecture and the singlefibre-served exchange buildings of old”. Retail and rollout partners include Calix, Ciena, Giganet, IDnet, Nokia, STL, Toob, TalkTalk, Three, Vodafone, and Zen. Backed by Antin, Goldman Sachs, Interogo, and Mubadala, CityFibre’s £4bn (€4.6bn) investment programme is expected to unlock more than £38bn in UK economic growth within 15 years.