DSL Providers: Grow Up Already

DSL providers - grow up already!

DSL services are well past infancy, yet too many bratty providers are getting by with half-hearted efforts. The perception of "DSL Hell" that pervades the industry is a fair assessment of the situation.

We at TeleChoice Inc. experience the frustration of having DSL ordered and installed every day. Even Danny Briere, our DSL expert, is unable to get a hookup in his Connecticut neighborhood. If DSL providers want to continue to expand their business, they'll have to make some serious changes. Below is a list of suggestions for them.

1. Stop dropping orders. We know you are ramping to X,000 installs a day, but at least get some systems working that can track customer orders. One of our (very patient) research analysts called to check on his DSL order (10 weeks after putting it in) and was nonchalantly informed that the order must have gotten lost. When you do screw up, at least make an effort to make it up to the customer.

2. It's 24-7, not 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. EST. Okay, so most of you have some network operations center people that are 24-7, but guess what? The engineers that know everything (such as how to configure DSLAMs or routers) knock off at 5:00 p.m. How about some service for your West Coast customers?

3. Call for zero tolerance. Remember the good old days when no outages were acceptable? And if customers called to say their service was down they got prompt attention? Well, it wasn't that long ago. We're tired of service going down and then having to wait an hour on the phone to hear that the router in Los Angeles just crashed, and you don't know when it will be back up. Come on, you've all been doing this data thing a while. This is just sloppy.

4. Follow through. When a customer has to double-check your work that they were upgraded at the DSLAM and at the router, that's too much. It's fraudulent when the technicians working the upgrade don't understand how the technology works. If the equipment is configured correctly, Internet bottlenecks aren't nearly as severe with 6M bit/sec service.

5. Test service upgrades. We often wonder: Why fix what isn't broken? And if you are going to fix it, don't make it any worse. Some recent service upgrades to PPPOE from a bridged Ethernet over ATM configuration leaves one of our vice presidents with service down on the weekends and out once or twice a week. "Flaky" is a pretty apt description. We know that DSL is at the scale that no other high-speed data service has reached, but there needs to be some testing to be sure that these upgrades scale as well.

6. Provide robust service-level agreements and uphold them. We are strong proponents of high-speed access, but it is hard to pitch all the possibilities when service delivery and customer service is so poor. To take advantage of the ASP developments, DSL providers must support a platinum level, robust package. "Best effort" isn't going to cut it, not even in the consumer world, as media rich applications are used by early adopters.

Start thinking of DSL as a valuable service that you provide, not just some cheap cable competitor. By treating customers with class, starting second shifts for higher-level tech support, training customer service reps and staffing support centers to answer calls within a few minutes and with real answers, you could make the grade in DSL.

Briere is CEO and Gage is Vice President of TeleChoice, a market strategy consultancy for the telecommunications industry. They can be reached at bleedingedge@telechoice.com.

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