The Quest for Network Quality

The word ‘quality’ is often used in the telecoms industry. However, it is an elusive concept and somewhat difficult to define. Is it purely subjective or something that can be objectively measured and followed-up with figures and KPIs? The fact is, when it comes to the network and services, ‘quality’ is a broad and somewhat intangible concept, without a single commonly accepted definition. And while, for most leaders, network quality is a given – with SLAs acting as a key safety net – it does not define or capture all the qualities that matter to decision makers. 

These are the stand-out findings of our latest research entitled “The Quest for Network Quality in 2022” which was conducted with over 700 C-Level IT Leaders in large enterprises across four of the world’s largest markets. The research was run to gain insights into how enterprise leaders view the quality of their network providers, and the services that they offer. In fact, so subjective and intangible is the subject of ‘quality’, that over 50% of business leaders admitted that their decision-making process for choosing a network provider is based on emotional response or ‘gut feel’. Decision-makers in the US are particularly driven by emotion, with 46% attributing over half of their decision-making processes to it. 

Other key areas highlighted by the research results include:

Top teams

Unsurprisingly, overall network performance is the area of most importance for business leaders with over two-thirds (67%) claiming to have replaced their provider due to poor quality. When it comes to the responses from the different markets, US decision-makers again stand out as the most likely to change provider over quality issues (72%), followed by Germany (68%). However, a surprisingly high proportion of respondents (68%) admitted to making the change due to a poor relationship with their account manager, with less than a third choosing to just change the representative. US (77%) and German (69%) leaders are particularly prone to pulling the trigger in this way, along with 62% of UK and 59% of French decision-makers. The findings strongly suggest that network providers must get the appointment of their account managers right, as they can make or break the customer-vendor relationship regardless of how an operator might be meeting its SLA obligations.

Communication is key

Interestingly, while business leaders rank trustworthiness, professionalism, and experience as the top reasons for selecting a network operator, 64% of respondents said that communication is by far the prime practical quality required (versus network speed that garnered just 36% of the vote). In addition to this, a resounding 84% of decision-makers believed it should always be possible to speak with a customer services person without using chatbots or automated phone lines. In the US, 90% of leaders were adamant about this. 62% of US respondents were also markedly ahead of their UK, French, and German counterparts when it comes to insisting that the first contact is with someone who is technically qualified to solve their problem.

Negative impacts

Leaders were asked which experiences would have the most negative impact on their perception of quality with their current operator. Over a third (34%) cite repeated network failings, followed closely by dishonesty at 27%. Looking at individual countries, the US stood out with 31% of leaders saying that they are most adversely affected by not being able to speak to someone. Based on the experience of dealing with different network operators, leaders were asked what they see as the most consistent quality failure across the industry. The primary one cited, with 18% of the vote, is lack of transparency, followed by poor security (16%). While the US and UK refer to a lack of transparency, leaders in France and Germany prioritize unresponsiveness and poor security.

The challenge for network buyers is that a true evaluation of network service quality goes beyond a simple comparison of performance KPIs, and business leaders need to make an assessment of less tangible attributes that contribute to a compelling customer experience.

Here are a number of practical recommendations to assist in this process.

1. Trust your instincts — Network buyers should use their own instincts and insights throughout the buying cycle. In our report, we found that they trust their own research more than any other source. Previous experience of a particular vendor or, failing that, reliable recommendations from a third party and even try-before-you buy opportunities are beneficial.

2. Level up — The majority of business leaders in the survey regard service level agreements (SLAs) as a useful mechanism for securing network quality once they have onboarded a provider. Most believe that a watertight SLA guarantees a great operator experience and the majority of respondents follow-up on SLAs on a weekly basis. Network buyers should therefore ensure that they secure a strong SLA from the outset.

3. Choose your allies — Trustworthiness and transparency are an overwhelming priority for most respondents when they define network provider quality. On the flip side, repeated network failings, followed by dishonesty, have the most negative impact on the perception of operator quality. Network buyers should take extra steps to source network providers with a track record of trustworthiness and transparency, including a thorough and critical review of sales pitches and vendor references/case studies during the procurement process itself.

4. Keep it personal — The vast majority of network buyers want to speak to an expert on first contact, and most will replace their provider if they have a poor relationship with an account manager. Strong personal relationships with network providers should therefore be prioritized. Survey respondents felt that overall service quality is improved if there is a local network provider representative. The importance of securing a network supplier with a local, in-country sales representative or operational interface should therefore not be underestimated.

5. Stand and deliver — When assessing a provider’s quality, business leaders prioritize network performance above all else. From a quality point of view, a provider’s service implementation and delivery team is considered the most important touchpoint. It is generally agreed that “Quality is remembered long after price is forgotten”, and nearly all are prepared to pay a premium for a provider that delivers a high-quality network experience. It is more costly to manage poor quality in the long run particular attention should be paid to a prospective provider’s implementation and delivery team.

Overall, there is a great deal more to quality than just SLAs, and all factors can have major implications for network buyers. Ultimately, subjectively, or objectively, it comes down to network providers delivering quality – in its broadest sense.

Andy Everest

Andy is Vice President, Procurement & Service Delivery at Arelion. He has ultimate responsibility for purchasing and supplier management, alongside running a Service Delivery unit. Andy has worked in the telecommunications industry for nearly twenty-two years and has worked for Global Crossing, NTT Communications, and euNetworks. Arelion has been his home for the last 8+ years. Andy holds a BA degree in German and a Master of Arts in Management.

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