To Everything There Is a Season (Churn, Churn, Churn)

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A Time to Gain, A Time to Lose —

Our Column from May, 2020 was our most popular to date. (See “Forget the Bad Apples: What’s the Best Measurement of Field Technician Productivity” at https://www.isemag.com/2020/05/telecom-network-maintenance-technicians-challenges/) The main subject matter of that column was the efforts to measure productivity for field technicians. The amount of feedback was good, but the diversity of the feedback was the most encouraging aspect; it caused me to broaden the scope of my investigation.

If activity measurements are near worthless, and productivity measurements have limited value in evaluating actual subscriber service, what Key Performance Indicator (KPI) does matter? I believe customer retention (or churn reduction) is the key KPI. Todd Kuty, Director of Customer Engagement at IQGEO, makes a case for how this can be achieved. (See the sidebar, “The Fulcrum of Customer Service.”) He shares how one of my previous clients, TELUS, achieved less than 1% churn rate for their wireless service by utilizing the right KPI.

A Time to Every Purpose

Some departments are completely focused on the stockholders and appropriately so. However, the entire Operations group should be accountable primarily to the individual subscribers that pay our paychecks. If we do not protect them, who else will?

How many jobs-a-day a technician averages may or may not give an indication of the end-user experience in their area. So, productivity tracking and analysis has limited value. Subscriber surveys are good tools for measuring user experience, but there are gaps. People have been surveyed to death.

In the 2020s, it is easy to change service providers. Unhappy subscribers don’t bother to complain because “You can’t speak to a human being anyway.” They just disappear.

A Time to Build Up, A Time to Break Down: Churn Tracking

Predicting the impact on churn caused by any new system or procedure is difficult. There are too many variables to achieve anything more than hand-grenade accuracy until the end stages of deployment. Any new system or application can perform exactly as designed and might even save the 18 minutes per job promised. Still, that may or may not mean the subscriber service is good enough to keep the subscribers.

The type of service, local competition, the physical network, and geographic location, all impact Churn Rate. For example, DSL Internet service over buried air core 26-gauge twisted copper has a higher Churn Rate than FTTP Internet service. The FTTP network is generally newer and more reliable.

Churn Rate is arguably the only KPI that really matters. All the other data sets provide insight into how and why customer service is improving or not.

Churn Reduction is the holy grail for the industry. Sadly, Churn Reduction predictions have been wildly overstated. One VP of Operations said, “If all the churn reduction we were promised actually happened, we would never lose another customer.”

Have the vendors been purposely misrepresenting their products? I would argue that’s not the case.

The time-tested Churn Reduction prediction calculations assume 100% adoption of the system at all levels. Normally, the assumption is also made that the records are pristine. Furthermore, the operational efficiency features must fit the operational environment perfectly. This combination is incredibly difficult to achieve, and why Churn Reduction estimates are rarely accurate.

It’s Not Too Late

What is a good Churn Rate? The simple answer is: lower this month than last month. I have seen Churn Rates as high as 18% in IPTV over DSL. In an industry where subscriber acquisition and turn-up are the most expensive aspects of our business, that level is unsustainable. That is one main reason why the IPTV deployments over copper came to a screeching halt in 2017.

To achieve a consistently good Churn Rate, you must do almost everything at least very well:
1. The network must be well designed with all environments considered.
2. The network must be well maintained.
3. The network must be adaptable to changing conditions.
4. Database accuracy must be high.

5. Pertinent data must be available to the boots on the ground.
6. The end users must be open to change.
7. The end users must like the system user interface.
8. The end users must trust the system data and evaluations.

Considering the brief and over-simplified list above, the ability of TELUS to achieve <1% Churn Rate is quite impressive.

By Todd Kuty, Director of Customer Engagement at IQGEO

I’ve read your article “Forget the Bad Apples” in the May 2020 ISE magazine. I wanted to reach out to you to talk about some options that I see as potential answers to your questions. Scalability, productivity, and knowledge transfer problems increase as workloads increase and the workforce does not.

Most Operations people agree about the need to make key information for troubleshooting and network maintenance readily accessible and centrally located. The critical nature of repairing outages demand this. The disagreement begins when the subject turns to the best way to do this.

In Operations, your network is the fulcrum of customer service. From the regional data centers to the jack in the spare bedroom, the design, construction, and current condition of the network, directly determine the productivity of the field technicians. The key is to assure that the “boots on the ground” have the information they need, and that it is presented in a way that fits their approved procedures and mindset.

We bring in data and telemetry from a host of disparate systems. It is displayed in a complete single pane of glass troubleshooting environment on a platform that is built for mobility and works in any OS environment. In most of our applications, the field technicians and back office support see exactly the same data and in the same format. This promotes clear and efficient collaboration.

Empowering the technician to be more efficient and less reliant on support can only be beneficial in addressing a number of these problems that come from pushing the limits in operations. Although there is no easy button for accountability in the field, providing meaningful and empowering operational data in one application definitely provides the framework for far more productive teams. One of our major customers has achieved a reduction in Churn Rate for their wireless service, and closing the data gap between the field and office makes a major contribution to this impressive KPI.

Sure, I might be a bit partial since TELUS was my customer from 2000 to 2012. I helped design and implement their DSL/Copper remote test system. During that time, I noted the company’s sharp focus on creating a digital, customer-centric business. Their culture also plays a key role in choosing the right technologies, and their ultimate success.

Maybe more importantly, they spend their money wisely. This allows them to build new applications and systems on top of successful older systems. Too many $100M+ systems have been turned off across our industry due to operational disappointment or usage levels not justifying the maintenance costs.

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Next Month’s Column
I was invited to interview Faisal Vishram, Senior Technology Architect, CTO Office at TELUS, to learn how this level of performance was achieved. Improving through change is difficult. That said, maintaining that level of performance over time is even more difficult. I look forward to learning and sharing their story in the November issue.

 

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About Author

Vernon May is a recognized expert in OSP and ISP Operations. As the Chief Technologist and founder of VMS, Vernon is focused on new technology introduction, from Marketing and Sales to Design Enhancement to Training to Product Approval. Along with writing a quarterly column for ISE magazine, he also hosts seminars available throughout the country. If you have questions comments or column ideas, please contact Vernon at vernon@vmaysolutions.com. For more information, please visit http://vmaysolutions.com.

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