Lucent's users feeling left out in the cold

Lucent Technologies' acquisition binge of telco and ISP products, culminating in its recent takeover of carrier-equipment powerhouse Ascend, has some enterprise network users complaining.

Network World (US) has confirmed that, in mid-November, five Lucent corporate customers met with top executives to present a series of complaints about the company's contracting, provisioning and customer support for enterprises.

The complaints allege that Lucent has failed to adequately staff its main Technical Support Centre in Denver and does not even use some of its own call center technologies to route complex questions to the most qualified technicians.

Users also complain that Lucent is trying to corral customers into contracts for expensive professional services even when they haven't asked for them.

Senior Lucent officials acknowledge many of the problems and say they are working aggressively to fix them. As part of the process, former Data Networking Systems President Bill O'Shea -- until recently Lucent's point man on acquisitions and corporate strategy -- has been reassigned to serve fulltime as head of Lucent's Business Communications Systems (BCS), its main enterprise-network unit.

Lucent users are encouraged by the firm's efforts but say the jury is still out. Lucent's focus has been "diffused" by its carrier-related acquisitions, says Patric Brayden, president of the International Definity Users Group (IDUG), which set up the meeting between Lucent and its customers.

Speaking about users, Brayden says, "We have to fight for our share of attention and research dollars."

Answering the calls

None of the user-group members contacted by Network World said that they are dropping their Lucent Definity PBXs and related installations because of problems. Several of the members went out of their way to praise the equipment's stability and usefulness.

But the complaints come at a sensitive time.

Lucent has committed to building a full line of carrier products while only making spot acquisitions in the enterprise data field. And Lucent must keep its PBX user base happy, because company officials claim they can sell their Gigabit Ethernet and other high-end data gear to their voice-equipment base despite the lack of a mature data sales channel.

Before the user complaints rolled in, the number of calls answered in the Denver support center within 20 seconds -- a basic measure of call center efficiency -- had dropped as low as 49 percent. The average is now up to 82 percent, and a new center is being opened in Jacksonville, Florida.

Lucent officials attribute their problems to growing pains. Corporate sales have been increasing, though mostly in sales of PBXs, call center and voice messaging systems rather than the data gear Lucent has been trumpeting. Call volumes into the Denver center have grown 25 percent to 30 percent over the past year, according to Steve Triplett, vice president of Lucent's Technical Services Organisation.

"When you're bringing on a lot of new people, you have some skills issues," he concedes.

"It's just like any other help desk. They need to ramp up in staffing and skills," says Renee Seay, senior manager of IT customer services at Advanced Micro Devices and one of the Lucent customers who met with company officials.

But what has especially rankled some customers is that almost a year ago, Lucent introduced advanced software called CentreVu Advocate to route calls to the best-qualified agent.

And only now is it in the process of installing it in its own Denver center.

Without the company's latest call center routing in place to deal with complex issues, Lucent customers have experienced "some delays in getting a human being who can do something about customer problems," says Lucent customer Laura Banks, senior communications analyst at TeleService Resources in Austin, Texas.

Contract shock

That's partly why some users have become annoyed when Lucent pushes call- center configuration and installation services under its NetCare brand of professional services.

The IDUG's Brayden, who is network services manager at Group Health Cooperative in Seattle, was presented a contract by Lucent, which covered the installation of advanced call load-balancing software for $US45,000 But the contract included an additional $22,000 fee for each of Group Health's two call centres, doubling the total.

"And it happened without anyone from NetCare calling to say, 'What kind of staff do you have? Do you use complex routing?' That was a bit alarming to me," Brayden says.

He was able to knock off the charges but says other users don't think they can. "They assume it's not negotiable and then they find out it's optional."

Complex applications do require more customisation, says Karen Hamar Bittman, general manager of Lucent's professional services channel management.

"It's up to the sales force to communicate why those components are necessary," Bittman says. In Group Health's case, "unfortunately that conversation did not happen."

Lucent customers have also complained that different system components are arriving at different locations or addressed to different people. "If all of the products came to the same person, it was cause for jubilation," Brayden says.

But he praises one Lucent executive who's dug into this problem: "He's had executives tour the country and participate in grunt-level exercises in provisioning and installation."

The man who is now largely responsible for the improvements is O'Shea.

O'Shea could not be reached for comment.

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