Saturday, April 30. 2011
Whether it's a week day, a weekend day or a public holiday makes little difference to my personal 'working week' but obviously it does for sensible people. With three 'working days' in the week less was accomplished than usual and the working days were effectively mostly taken up with discussing mobile plans and finishing off the mobile broadband discussions of the previous week. Not a great deal of progress has been made with the possible exception of 'tidying up' a different future approach to the presentation of these services and beginning the much larger task of re-vamping the current web site and back end order forms and user facilities.
The major decision we made was to advise the current customers using mobile services on the Exetel Vodafone services to move to an Exetel Optus mobile service before July 1st 2011. Many of our current Vodafone customers have already done so but some 3,000 current customers, mainly very low monthly usage customers, have not seen any benefit in doing so. So we created a series of plans starting from $9.00 a month plans with free activation for our remaining Vodafone users that, as far as we can see, is the lowest post paid plan on the market with far more 'included minutes and data' than is available from any other supplier. The plan is only available to our remaining Vodafone customers and the free activation is only available up to May 31st. It would be uneconomic to offer these new 'V' plans to anyone other than current Vodafone/Exetel customers (it's a really, really good deal) and just how similar approaches could be used more widely was not apparent by the time we ended the Friday meeting.
The two best aspects of the truncated week were that we had another very good month for corporate sales and the two outbound sales teams in Sri Lanka continue to make significant progress in generating large scale sales leads they find for their North Sydney based 'buddies' and are making more small business themselves directly or from leads passed to them by the North Sydney sales people. While this 'concept' is far from unique most people I have spoken to about it said it would never work using Sri Lankan personnel - it's a little premature to say they were wrong but I think they will have to eat their words in the not too distant future. A third 'pleasing' aspect of the week was that the fit out of the new floor was completed except for some 'cosmetics' and we will begin to move the corporate sales people from their current location to the floor below by the end of next week - all continuing to be well.
So, the rain continues to stream down for yet another day putting an end to our initial plans for today and therefore tomorrow. I sometimes wonder how it's only over the past few years I have heard of La Nina and El Nino? It didn't seem to rain this much in the 1960s through to the end of the 1990s.
Copyright © Exetel Pty Ltd 2011
Friday, April 29. 2011
.....apparently it's not just Exetel that believes it is "totally unfit for purpose" and should be closed down.
My, personal, views on the incompetent, thuggish and unprincipled nature of the day to day operations of that rogue organsation, the TIO, have been expressed more than once publicly since it was first set up to save Telstra Retail the expense of actually fixing its residential provisioning and support services. From 'day one' it has been shambolic and basically dishonest in every single aspect of operation. Our solution was to commence legal proceedings against the TIO to demonstrate that it was totally useless in meeting any sort of sensible objectives and completely incompetent in its employment selection, training, management and all other ongoing operations to the point that it was entirely counter productive and should be shut down.
I remember when Exetel made it known it was going to embark on that action some stupid, snide and just plain pig ignorant 'commentators' sneered at Exetel saying we only commenced such actions because we had very bad provisioning and support operations and that must be generating huge amounts of TIO complaints which we deserved. Such morons never bothered to look at the lying statistics published by the TIO itself which, in the event they were even vaguely believable, showed that Exetel had, at that time and subsequently, a very low (and falling) number of "level one" TIO complaints and an almost non-existent number of "level two" complaints - the lowest of all TIO afflicted companies irrespective of size.
So, we didn't commence the law suit against the TIO because we were suffering financially from their unlawful actions (we have already spent twice as much on legal costs than we have been charged by the TIO since it started) but out of outrage that such an organisation is allowed to operate and simply do what it likes without any recourse for the genuine organisations that are damaged by its criminal activities. The action we have taken should have been taken by Telstra which is infinitely more knowledgeable than we are at using legal processes to obtain results they deem in their best interests.
Our law suit against the TIO plods on with the discovery process ending today and our compliance with the TIO's legal team's demands for us to produce reams of documentation that was already in their possession, or should have been if they had record keeping standards above the level of the proverbial Dodgy Bros - Used Cars For The Discerning Buyer. So I was amused to read the letter sent to Stupid Stephen's department from a UTS research unit:
which doesn't merely 'mirror' Exetel's views of the operation of the TIO but goes much further into stating the levels of incompetence, brute arrogance and sheer stupidity of so many employees of that misbegotten organisation. If the TIO were a commercial organisation and the UTS study was even 10% correct then the directors and principal officers and employees of the TIO would be destined for serious prison time. If there is any justice in this country, a doubtful proposition, then that is what should happen along with the immediate closing down of such a disgracefully operated entity.
There is a long time to go before the Exetel law suit against the TIO is brought to conclusion but it is good to know that independent research supports all of the allegations Exetel is making in its claims against the TIO and the inevitable conclusion that the TIO constantly acts against the regulations of its own constitution and should be closed down and the principal officers themselves brought before the courts.
Never forget that it's Stupid Stephen's department that is also bringing you the 'NBN2'.....possibly you see the irony in that.....a department that gives you the TIO is now going to give you the 'NBN2'. Just how truly dumb is the Australian electorate and just how dishonest and incompetent are the people they elect?
Copyright © Exetel Pty Ltd 2011
Thursday, April 28. 2011
We spent the best part of four hours yesterday before 'adjourning' our meeting aimed at improving our mobile broadband offerings. We couldn't answer the question as to why people who sign up for our mobile broadband offerings opt 5:1 for the premium (much more expensive) services over the 'standard' services which are, as far as we can see, the lowest cost on the market. The only possible explanation was that we offer a zero contract on the premium plans and 12 months on the 'standard plans'. Personally, I can't see this being the real issue as mobile broadband is not location dependent which is the big drawback for 'renters' on ADSL plans.
In reviewing how other suppliers 'present' information on mobile broadband it was clear that only Telstra claimed their service was a) fast and b) widely available with no claims made by other carriers and their resellers. What was equally evident, including Telstra, was the desire to 'hide' the true costs of the service as much as is legally possible in the main 'displays' of the pricing of the plans. Our conclusions were that Exetel had the best 'standard' plan pricing and, based on the publicly available information, the shortest (by the proverbial country mile) support and provisioning 'queues' and more skilled support/provisioning personnel at the end of those short queues.
So what is our problem? Not enough people know about our mobile broadband services is the only conclusion we reached before calling an early end to the day's deliberations. We had one idea to promote greater awareness which is something that might work in the not too distant future but needs more thinking through before we attempt to execute it. It basically involves sending a sim with 5 GB of data allowance to 50 telecommunication journalists with our claim that the Exetel version of the Optus mobile broadband service doesn't only deliver faster downloads and greater reliability than the Optus mobile broadband service itself (and better than the Optus resellers such as Virgin, Internode, iinet and, particularly, Dodo) but it runs as fast as Telstra's mobile broadband service in every area but one in which it has been tested.
We obviously need to 'do more marketing' as several readers of this blog suggested when I asked for ideas but Exetel has no money for advertising and we need better ways of communicating with potential customers and real proof of our 'better than Optus' claims - it is of very limited value making such claims ourselves. We will try again today to finish the re-vamp of the mobile broadband parts of the web site and then put in place a much more rigorous, and continuing, marketing program for mobile broadband. Any ideas would be warmly welcomed.
Copyright © Exetel Pty Ltd 2011
Wednesday, April 27. 2011
.....but in France they appear to be excessive.
I read this earlier this morning:
and the comments on employees committing suicide were disturbing because you don't usually associate the WSJ with garbage journalism. So that in itself caused me to consider the problems being faced by so many companies in this industry in a different light.
However, it was the comment that:
""In Paris alone, mobile data traffic is increasing 5% per week," Mr.
that really caught my eye. Firstly the growth in mobile data seems to have increased quite a lot since I last saw an EU country report and,assuming that quoted figure is representative of similar growth in other ERU countries. The second thing was the comments about how difficult the EU telecommunication markets are in terms of declining land line revenues and more intrusive regulation. Now France Telecom is no giant comms company (if you do the revenue conversions its less than three times the size of Telstra in a country with about three times the number of people) but, as they claim, they are the third largest telco in the EU with investments in smaller telcos throughout Africa and Eastern Europe.
Tuesday, April 26. 2011
.....at least it does in this particular part of Sydney on this extended Easter 'break'. It's beginning to remind me of Easter's past when you could be pretty sure that the rain would begin before dawn on Good Friday and continue until you got home late on Easter Monday when it would magically cease and the sun would shine brightly as you drove to work the next day.
I have made no progress in thinking up some brilliant, and different, way of offering mobile broadband or anything else for that matter. I spent some time looking at other provider's web sites but my particular 'brain' finds it almost impossible to work out what is actually being offered let alone how well what is being offered will be delivered. I am no wiser now than I was before I wasted the almost three hours I spent on the exercise. Similarly I could make no more sense out of the current mobile telephone offerings which, after 15 or so years seem to have evolved/devolved into a being offered using a language and symbolism that is incomprehensible to me. All I got was a headache.
So it seems to me that trying to modify what we do now is not going to work and that if we are going to do anything we have to go back to the beginning in terms developing a reason to be in the current residential markets at all. Easy enough to say and maybe, after getting rid of the accumulation of 'old thinking', not so hard to do. When we created Exetel we had some very clear cut approaches to the markets we sought to enter and those approaches worked for us. Although we did change our directions when it became apparent that Telstra Retail was massively changing the residential ADSL market 'conditions' more than two years ago we realised that would not be enough unless we planned to 'exit' the residential markets completely.
Making such a change to a seven year old company appears to be drastic but it may be the only real option in terms of residential markets. Some free thinking person made a suggestion a while ago that we should create a 'new' company that addressed the current residential markets in the ways a new entrant (which Exetel once was) is free to do and an ability we have lost over the years. It has an appeal for all the most obvious reasons while having less of the disadvantages that a true start up would have (very small infrastructure, brand new support people, no supplier relationships/buying 'power', etc). It would need some serious thinking about but maybe there are versions of such a concept that could be sensibly put in place. We have tried our best to help a few other companies develop their own entry into ADSL and other markets with limited success to date. I think I need to better understand why they are not developing as quickly as they had planned to do before taking the idea of a 'new' Exetel more seriously than considering it a logical extension of what we have been doing for the past fifteen years or so.
So still no real progress other than to eliminate whatever we are now doing or have done in the past as possible future paths in offering residential services. Then again perhaps all we need to do is to make more people aware that we already offer the best provisioned infrastructure, the best customer support and some of the very lowest 'real' prices in today residential marketplaces?
Copyright © Exetel Pty Ltd 2011
Monday, April 25. 2011
....is not something that I find as easy to understand as I once did.
Is there any reason for there to be 8 billion human beings alive at any one time on planet Earth? Is there any reason for any human beings at all to exist on this planet? Clearly such questions are way beyond my limited intellect's ability to even begin to consider.......but in simplistic terms, once you dismiss the nonsenses of various religious explanations for humanity's existence, it's very difficult to see how humanity, as a species, has been of any use at all to the planet. It's obviously pretty easy to find reasons why humanity has only been a set of major geometrically growing negative influences on the planet. Nothing any of us can do about being born human so any time spent examining that situation is a waste.
Considering what the company you have a major influence over should do over the coming months which, if those months are successful enough, will turn into a year and then perhaps, again depending on the relative success of ensuing months, more years is another much more concrete set of problems - both immediate and ongoing. It's quite difficult to plan for a company of Exetel's size to remain financially viable month after month over the past almost 90 consecutive months. It's infinitely harder to plan to remain viable and to actually deliver something of value to your current and future customers over the coming months. If there is some adjective that goes beyond 'infinitely,'then it would apply to the level of difficulty that would describe how hard it would be to deliver uniquely different services to any sector of any marketplace.
Perhaps it was possible to do such things in the early days of 2004 but so many things have changed since then that I have to seriously question whether it's possible to do today. As I, and others, begin to put together the basics on which the FY2012 financial and operating plans will be built I, at least, am finding it difficult to retain a belief that what we should spend so much of our time trying to provide services of better real value to our residential customers.....or at least more value than they could get from another provider of the same/similar services. I therefore have to question whether the very large amounts of effort should continue to be put into those services which seem, at least to me, as increasingly "me tooish" where in past years we were able to believe we did some things very differently.
Despite now having a much better infrastructure (for all services) and a far better set of support services (for all services) than we have ever had at any past time we can't seem to make the progress we have managed to do in each of the past seven financial years. While it would be easy enough to 'blame' the various changes that have taken place over the past few years that have made the Australian telecommunications business harder in virtually every respect, the simple fact is that Exetel's growth has continued to slow which can only be seen as the services and pricing we are able to offer has become less appealing than it once was. That's an inevitability for any business and one that is dealt with by any company making constant changes to the ways it presents its products to its current marketplaces or by changing its products and marketplaces over time.
While we have recognised those simple facts of business life and for the past almost two and a half years have been changing Exetel to meet them it is time to reflect on just why we could remain running a viable and useful to its customers business in to the future. These are not easy questions to answer and the more I attempt to think through the issues the less clearly I see a 'path' through them. If the current rain continues then there will be more time on this miserable 'long week end' to find at least a starting point.
Copyright © Exetel Pty Ltd 2011
Sunday, April 24. 2011
not necessarily as beneficial as it is sometimes suggested.
From 'day one' of Exetel's existence when its three founders all worked from home before it ever had its own office Exetel has always recognised that employees working from home could be beneficial and sometimes was the only way that some people could work. This is hardly novel as it has been a 'reported on' practice since at least the very early 1990s. Today Steve works from his home in Perth 75% of the time and Annette has continued to work from home 95% of the time, Due to my excessive working hours I work form the office for around 30 hours a week but work from home for another 30 to 40 hours each week now - in the past it has been much more.Several other people who do work for Exetel work entirely from home (except for Christmas parties and other celebrations.
As I have alluded to recently we have recently almost run out of the current space in both North Sydney and Colombo 1 and seriously considered the options of allowing current personnel in both those locations to work from home......for all the wrong reasons as well as some of the right reasons. The wrong reasons were mainly the possible savings that Exetel would achieve by not having to pay big slabs of extra rent plus the relatively large costs of fitting out the new floor space. The right reasons for us were the interpersonal communications that, in our opinion, are essential in a company that employs mainly university graduates in their first full time working role and has constant changes in almost every thing it does.
I read this article earlier this morning:
which apart from providing some updated statistics (strangely unreferenced for this particular on line newspaper) was written about the 'needs' for work from home workers to actually get away from the solitariness and other down sides of working from home. I understand the concepts of work from home people regularly working at the office to address this issue and the concept has been in existence since I first worked for IBM in the late 1960s where sales people were provided with a giant table and a row of phone booths as their communal work space on the basis that they should rarely be in the office (they should be 'on the road' making face to face prospect and customer calls). That failed to produce the expected results - unless the expected results were groups of IBM reps improving their pool playing abilities and having long, alcohol based, lunches.
That particular concept, imposed from some far away place, lasted about nine months before being abandoned. Doubtless, knowing IBM as I did then, it had been seriously considered for a very long time by all sorts of very earnest and highly qualified people and then gone through several layers of scrutiny and approval before being put in place. The fact that it was a miserable failure just goes to show that theory is very difficult to apply to disparate groups of people in different times. My daughter, Catherine, who has worked for IBM for the past five years since she completed her degree tells me that IBM have returned to that type of operation (some 40 years since the idea came and went back in the day). It is even more draconian now with a ratio of seven employees to each desk being made available.
Clearly 'working from home' practices will continue to depend on the individuals involved and the amount of face to face interaction and 'encouragement' aspects of their individual responsibilities. From this article you could tend to lean towards the view that the obvious advantages of an individual working from home are somewhat dissipated by the obvious negatives. Before some jumped up personnel consultant argues the reverse I will remain reminded how much more qualified 'consultants' persuaded the IBM of the day to ensure its sales forces around the world did far less work each day than their Utopian planning had expected and had planned for.
Copyright © Exetel Pty Ltd 2011
Saturday, April 23. 2011
My personal week was dominated by a succession of very long meetings concerned with making adjustments to residential ADSL plans and the many changes that required to the web site and the back end processes. We completed the last of those changes by midday on Thursday and looked at the various ways we could improve our mobile broadband plans in preparation for similarly intense meetings to this week's ADSL review scheduled for next Wednesday. I can't remember any period in my 'career' when I spent so much time in 'meetings'. Undoubtedly a sign of the times....but what sign I am not sure.
Perhaps it's a combination of spending a week doing intense reviews in Colombo plus the brutal traveling times to and from Sri Lanka immediately followed by 4 days of extremely long meetings in North Sydney but I am feeling very jaded even after a do absolutely nothing day yesterday. Perhaps the rain currently falling in Sydney so far this morning hasn't helped. Perhaps its simply the wear and tear becoming more obvious in an aging body and mind. It seems to be more difficult for me to find 'inspiration' in doing the endless tasks that fill each new day and continue in to each succeeding day without diminution. In the past I have always been able to cope with the sheer banality of the vast majority of tasks I have to address each day by finding some purpose (beyond the fact that they have to be done) in spending my, now scarce, time carrying them out. That seems harder to do these days than it should.
So I have begun looking at my options in enlivening my days. It is going to take a long while because, as I am sure most other people who have tried such a process quickly realise - where on Earth do you start? Doubtless I will give up on this process before very long but I will persist for the balance of this weekend to try and find ways of making my days more enjoyable (to me) and more productive/useful (to the people I interact with). The first decision I could make would be to stop spending the first two hours of every waking day 'researching' the communications markets in Australia and elsewhere and writing this blog. When you think about it two hours a day, 365 days a year, is a very significant amount of anyone's life and I have been spending that time for a very long time now.
There are so many other 'commitments' like that which have continued to grow over time that I now realise that there remains very little time for anything else more enjoyable to take place. Most people I know with whom I or they have initiated such a conversation say the same blatantly obvious things - all along the lines of "life is so important why do we waste so much of it?" The short answer is that we "let it happen" to the point that we narrow our choices so much to the point that we have no choices - perhaps (although I have never tried it) like taking heroin or cocaine. Obviously reading or writing aren't as dangerous to your physical or mental health but they are equally addictive and take away 'disposable time'.
Having re-read what I have just written my immediate reaction was to delete it. However I lack the energy to re-write something more meaningful so I apologise for wasting the time of anyone who bothered to read it. If I can't do better tomorrow I will stop wasting the time it takes to write these random thoughts and use the time more sensibly.
Copyright © Exetel Pty Ltd 2011
Friday, April 22. 2011
....is something we have failed to achieve from the very start of offering this service.
We have never managed to sell more than 1,000 new wireless services in any month and over the past few months new net adds have dropped to the lowest levels ever. Although we offer some of the lowest price per GB plans available from any carrier or carrier re-seller and, any time a side by test is run, offer faster and more reliable speeds than any other carrier or carrier re-seller we just can't seem to make any progress.
We have allocated three days next week to see what can be done to make this really exceptional service more attractive to more new customers, and our current customers, and need to come up with one or more really 'new' and obviously beneficial 'features' of a wireless service. Strangely, the 'new' resold Optus Layer 3 services, which have lower prices (dollars per GByte) don't sell as well as our 'old' premium plans which have substantially higher prices per GByte. That is very much a mystery to us although the partial explanation is that those plans are bought by commercial organisations who, presumably, can tell the difference between the speeds Exetel deliver over our Layer 2 service and also like the other service features of static IPs and a comprehensive user back end control suite.
Looking at those features, and the customers who buy them, yesterday afternoon and again earlier this morning in preparation for the meetings next week I was wondering how similar approaches could be used for residential customers. Does a fixed IP have any appeal to a residential customer? It is obvious why a fixed IP appeals to a commercial customer but what relevance does it have to a residential user? Does the 'average' residential buyer even understand what advantages a fixed IP provides?...almost certainly not. Is it possible to point out what advantages a fixed IP may have to a residential user? Perhpas a discussion will reveal some advantages of which I am unaware?
Perhaps Exetel's ability to 'bundle' wireless services together with 'joint' usage of data and voice mbs and voice minutes could be used in a 'family' environment where the usage provisions on separate plans could be aggregated? Most business users, that we have, seem to prefer the concept of buying a 'bucket' of data GBs and voice minutes and make them available to all their users thus avoiding the waste that is the basis for all mobile broadband and telephone plan pricing where the carriers base their pricing knowing that their average user will use less than 50% of the 'headline' minute and data allowances? Business users are increasingly taking this approach and more recently schools who supply laptops or iPads to their students are increasingly doing the same. It seems logical that this might appeal to 'families' where 'Dad' ponies up the money for mum and the kid's mobiles.
Along the same lines, perhaps the back end control panel that is an essential element for a business user would appeal to parents? Using these facilities the family 'boss' can see exactly what usage his family members are up to day by day and can also see what that usage is in terms of web sites visited. It would allow the minute by minute checking to ensure the allowances aren't going too fast and would avoid 'bill shock' by enabling the suspension of any family members service if they were using too much.
Perhaps none of those ideas will appeal to anyone but Exetel has to 'think outside the nine dots' and use our unique abilities, Layer 2, highly skilled programmers, ability to innovate very rapidly) to make our services more attractive to more prospective customers than we been able to do to date. If anyone has any ideas they would be very much appreciated.
Copyright © Exetel Pty Ltd 2011
Thursday, April 21. 2011
.....or, more correctly, to the next even more difficult challenge.
We put another long day in to 're-vamping' the residential ADSL plans yesterday and, subject to some re-checking' later this morning will have completed that process by midday today. Early indications are that the new plans are more 'attractive' than those they replace with new applications showing a marked increase over the last two days. Too early to make an definitive assessment but at least the early signs are all positive rather than negative.
We won't have time to address more than the basics of the next service on the list which is mobile broadband but I was again reminded (if anyone ever needs any reminder) of the growing importance of wireless services by the first quarter results reported by AT&T yesterday:
Two elements of the results struck me as particularly interesting. Firstly the ARPU (average revenue per user) of $US63 and the percentage growth in data as a percentage of ARPU. Of course the actual financial results were also very impressive and the trends are also quite amazing. US results have always lead the Australian market by around 18 months so they are a good guide to what will almost certainly happen in this country over the coming 12 - 24 months.
Despite what a lot of nay sayers would have anyone believe the continued, and continued escalating, growth in the use of mobile broadband is adding a further complexity to the provision of residential ADSL services. Depending on what 'statistics' you choose to believe the growth in the number of residences that don't have a telephone line is getting 'steeper' with the current estimate of such households growing to around 15% this year. You have to assume that a large percentage of such residences are using mobile telephone and data services to meet their communication needs. If that actually is the case then it seems inevitable that, as wireless services continue to reduce in price, get faster and become more widely available that the percentage of current users of ADSL and wire line/fibre voice and data services opting for a wireless solution will continue to grow.
Although we recognised this situation several years ago we have not been able to make any real progress in finding a way of growing our residential mobile customer percentage of total residential users. This is the next 'issue' we will need to look at in detail over the next few days. The constraints on making mobile broadband plans more attractive are, if anything, more restrictive than those applying to residential ADSL plans. The 'differentiation' aspects are very limited and even those differentiations that are available are almost impossible to 'show' to prospective users. The scummy practice of deliberately under provisioning wireless service infrastructures - practiced by far more providers/re-sellers infrastructure than any honest person would think is possible - means that companies that do provision contentionless services (like Exetel) have to deal with the additional costs such basic ethical approaches incur.
However, we need to find ways to more rapidly grow our mobile broadband customer base than we have managed to do so far. How that could be done is going to take some considerable amount of 'discussion' and we need to find some sort of 'game breaker' that has eluded us so far. I would have thought the 'standard' plans would have done that for us but they not only didn't do that - they were a miserable failure; with the 'premium' plans out selling 'standard plans three or four to one since the standard plans were introduced. So let's hope the Easter/Anzac Day long break provides the required inspiration.
Copyright © Exetel Pty Ltd 2011
Wednesday, April 20. 2011
........although they are inefficient which is why I stopped using the 'meet till its accomplished' process.
We spent around six plus hours in one continuous (only break for lunch) meeting yesterday to review and upgrade the ADSL residential plans yesterday. Even that length meeting involving 5, sometimes six, people wasn't enough to complete the residential plan review but most of the work was done and the web site and order forms had been updated on the web by around 6 pm yesterday. So, probably the longest meeting ever held in Exetel's existence. Hopefully the changes made will be seen as being beneficial to prospective and current residential ADSL customers. In general terms they are greater value for money and are the lowest prices we have ever offered. Given that Exetel runs an uncontended network and has excellent support there really is not anything more that we can do to improve the residential services we offer.
We will attempt to complete the work today, and correct any errors made, as well as consider how to make the presentation of the information better than it has been in the past. There is very little 'individuality' left in today's residential ADSL markets which, due to the major carrier's influences, have devolved to similar levels of obfuscation to the 'selling' of mobile services. If you don't think that's true then all you have to do is look at any of the top ten residential ISP providers web sites and try and work out exactly what is being offered at what price. I can tell you that four or five people in the meeting yesterday misinterpreted what was being offered each time we visited a competitor's site yesterday and those are people very well versed in 'ISP speak' and what to look for. Perhaps real customers look at those web sites differently?
Once we finish the residential ADSL plan review - hopefully by midday today - we will need to apply the same process to both mobile and wireless broadband services. With the Easter/Anzac Day 'break' removing so many 'working days' from April it's unlikely that we will be able to complete those reviews until early May which coincides with the time allocated to producing the FY2012 financial and operating plans. It seems that time frames in our business are becoming more and more compressed with less and less time available to carry out the daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, semi annual and annual tasks. So one thing we have to do is to simplify our business and business processes to allow enough time to do a day's work in a day.
It is never easy 'transforming' any business, even a business of Exetel's modest size, to primarily address a different set of markets with a different set of products/services using completely different people and methodologies but I am finding the current 'transformation' more difficult to accomplish smoothly than I expected. We have made a great deal of progress, perhaps as much as we planned to do some two years ago, but the efforts required to bring this about have exceeded my most pessimistic expectations. Hopefully we will continue to gain momentum from now on as we reap the rewards of more productivity from the enormous (for a company of our size) financial and time investments we have made to make our 2012 objectives at least possible.
Then again - that's business for you - always much harder than it looks when you plan and often much less rewarding than you hope it will be.
Copyright © Exetel Pty Ltd 2011
Tuesday, April 19. 2011
I am having trouble adjusting to the time shift with my aging body/mind insisting it's 3 am and why on Earth am I trying to make them move and think at this ridiculous hour. For some reason the 5 hour difference between Sri Lanka and Australia is more difficult to overcome than the nine or so hours between the EU and Australia or the 12 to 19 hours between the USA and Australia. So my limbs reluctantly allow me to move slowly from place to place and any 'thinking' I try to do is done even more slowly and perceptions are viewed through some sort of swirling mist.
We made virtually no progress yesterday in developing better/more attractive ADSL plans with the current road blocks of carrier pricing of ports and back hauls impossible to work around. Similarly Vodafone's 'infinity' mobile plans have set a new basis for people considering changing mobile phone plans and, despite any current negative perceptions about the Vodafone network, appear to be prominent in a significant percentage of buyer's thinking. In terms of finding a simple way of 'competing' with Telstra Retail and TPG the current thinking is that there appears to be no way of doing that without some sort of 'sleight of hand' approach that those companies take to 'marketing'. Maybe we will have to forsake a 'life time' of 'tell it as it actually is' and become 'more flexible' with our 'wording'? I think I'd rather not do that.
So what can be done? Perhaps it's just another reflection of the current confused marketplaces and after two and a half years of intense Telstra Retail 'win back' programs and the follow the leader actions of the companies affected by those programs ADSL services are no longer capable of being differentiated by anything except the parameters currently dominating the majority, if not all of the residential ADSL marketplaces. It certainly makes it very difficult to offer ADSL services that meet a 'real user's' needs and allow the provider to stay in business. However, it's obvious that current conditions will continue to prevail with the only likely change being that they may get tougher rather than the reverse and therefore we will have to make changes to what we currently offer to residential customers.
We have three days to find something sensible, preferably mind blowingly sensible, which after wasting the first of the then four days is a daunting challenge. But all commercial life is simply one 'challenge' after another and, looking back, all of those past 'challenges' seemed equally formidable at the time.....and, mostly, we managed to finds ways of meeting and overcoming each of those past issues - more or less effectively. We just haven't been able, for whatever reasons, to bring enough thinking power to bear on the current issues. It's not an option. We will try a 'new' approach today which I haven't been part of for a very long time - the meeting type where you start with the objectives and grind through to a solution to each one never allowing anyone to leave the room (except for meal breaks) until each answer has been found and the results are actually on the web site. It used to work.
Copyright © Exetel Pty Ltd 2011
Monday, April 18. 2011
....it's a beautiful Sydney Autumn day and it's good to be home. A bonus of the plane arriving late was no queues at immigration or customs and our luggage was on the conveyor by the time we reached the arrivals hall - we were out of the airport less than 15 minutes after the plane reached the terminal which was a new record for an arrival at Sydney airport.....pity about the horrendous traffic.........a 20 minute trip took almost an hour.
For the first time I can remember since I was a child I didn't sleep well on the flight home so am not really prepared for 'return to work' as I type this over a late and light breakfast. I scanned the main business and industry news to see what might be new or different but didn't see anything of any importance. Same with the overnight emails and blog and news feeds. It seems most likely that the first days of the school holidays and the impending public holidays of Easter and Anzac Day are having their usual effects.I realise that Australia only has 10 (or is it now 11?) public holidays each year but the ones we do have seem to be able to punch well above their weight when it comes to reducing the effective number of working days in the months in which they occur.
In the remaining time In April we have a great deal of 'catching up' to do in terms of determining how we address the ongoing marketing depradations of Telstra Retail. Our efforts to date have been somewhat effective but are nowhere near effective enough. However they are encouraging enough for us to believe it may be possible to reduce the churn aways to Telstra Retail to a 'trickle' if we can just find the right combination of plus factors. The 'initiatives' we have tried so far this month have had minimal success and we need to re-examine those failures and 'turn them around' without further delay. The reviews in Colombo pointed out a number of mistakes and that was useful (in a discouraging sort of way). It's way past time to understand whether there is anything we can do or find better uses for the resources and money.
At the same time we need to increase the attractiveness of our wireless broadband, residential VOIP and SMS plans. We have begun to see more of the Siemens VOIP handsets being sold with unit sales gradually rising week on week. However we are not making the progress we had hoped to and we need to do something about that well before the start of the new financial year. VoIP is a very strong product as delivered by Exetel (highly reliable with no voice quality issues) and we should be able to make it available to far more customers than we currently do.
I don't know whether this is going to be possible to achieve in four days (minus the hours already lost today) but that's all the time available so its pretty self defining. Speaking of which - I need to stop talking about time shrinking and get on with doing something positive rather than talking about how difficult it is.
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Sunday, April 17. 2011
Our brief one and a half day r and r ends later today when we head out to the airport to begin the journey home. Meanwhile I am making the most of this last day by having a not so early morning cup of tea while catching up on the world's news sitting at the conveniently located desk in the hotel room looking over the hotel gardens ad then to the main river which is constantly busy with heavy barge and taxi-boat traffic. It is very relaxing having two mornings where you can actually take time out to let your mind wander for an hour or so.
If you are at all interested in the remarkable aspects on life on this planet you could do worse than than take a few minutes of your time to visit these two sites and discover just how incredible the toughness of spirit of other living things humanity shares the planet with:
An incredible near extinct bird who has, with a little help from some male birds along the way, contributed around 25% of the current Osprey population(200) in Scotland. An example of another living creature that has made a massive impact on the well being of her species at the time of its greatest need - infinitely more important than a Gandhi or a Mandella did for theirs.
Getting back to 'work' tomorrow morning in North Sydney will be a little difficult after having spent a week in the tropics and associating with people to very different attitudes to life than the people with whom I associate in Australia - the benefit of traveling to other countries and involving yourself the the people of those countries as opposed to being a tourist and, not unnaturally, participating in 'tourist activities'. The 'new' Exetel in Columbo is a very different place to the 'old' Exetel in North Sydney and, in some ways, I miss the days when the 'old' Exetel was still 'new'. I obviously can't "turn back time" but I need to do something to reinvigorate the attitudes towards working life and the beliefs that appear to have eroded when I wasn't paying enough attention.
There is so much to do in this, admittedly very difficult, 'phase' of moving a company's emphasis from one set of services and marketplaces to another but, for all the boring reasons I have constantly alluded to over the past three years , we have to do that. I thought it would be exciting and incredibly challenging but that doesn't seem to be the case for some of our people and I don't know why that would be the case. Clearly I don't understand the 'culture' that needs to be generated for that to be the case. When I think back over my commercial life perhaps I am the wrong person to manage an 'established' company - I have always been good at 'building' enterprises but have never had much interest in 'maintaining' them. However a company turning over less than $A60 million a year and with less than 120 employees can hardly be described as established.
Such melancholy thoughts do not fit the lovely morning and beautiful views so I will get away from keyboards and enjoy the last few hours in these beautiful surroundings.
Copyright © Exetel Pty Ltd 2011
Saturday, April 16. 2011
I re-read the minutes of the Sri Lankan operational review earlier this morning to double check that I had advised the various people on the required follow up actions. When we first started transferring services from North Sydney to Colombo almost three years ago we set an objective of answering all residential support, provisioning and sales telephone enquiries within an average of less than 60 seconds. (our goal to answer corporate support queries has remained at "within five rings") For the majority of the last year we achieved those, fairly tough, objectives though the support service answering times have risen to almost 2 minutes due to some ill considered transfer of residential engineers to corporate services. We will correct that by hiring additional engineers for residential services as soon as possible.
We track the performance of the larger companies with which we compete by calling their support and sales number on a regular basis and seldom find that any of them answer their support numbers in less than 20 minutes and many not answering within 30+ minutes with one hour wait times not being uncommon. Exetel publishes 'live' feeds of its residential provisioning, support and sales telephone 'queues' and has done for almost the whole of its existence. Those details are available on the pricing pages of our web site as well as the 'contact Exetel' page. Almost invariably they show either no waiting time or very short wait times. The only other ISP 'brave' enough to publish such statistics (that I know of) is Internode. I was sent this view of Internode's answering statistics a day or so ago:
which isn't much of an advertisement for a company claiming to offer a 'premium' service' (maybe this was just an aberration) but it is consistent with the sort of wait times that many large providers actually deliver to their users.
Of course support or provisioning 'answer times' are only one measure of a 'premium' service with the quality of the advice received once a customer's call is answered of critical importance. That can't be measured by a simple automatically generated statistic as can be done with call answer times. It certainly isn't possible to 'measure' other companies support quality and quite difficult to measure your own let alone demostrate that quality to your own customers or prospective customers. For almost two years now Exetel has published complete personnel lists for every person we employ that, in the case of residential services, show their photograph, tertiary qualifications and time employed by Exetel. This can show the quality of the individuals if not the quality of their ability to handle the specific requirement of their jobs. I know of no other company that is 'brave' enough to do this.
Similarly Exetel, almost from 'day one' of our existence, has published an MRTG report of total IP bandwidth usage over our network to demonstrate to prospective users that the Exetel network is uncontended and therefore runs as fast as anything under our control can make it. An Exetel customer has complete access to every link within our network which will show him/her the exact status of link capacity/usage at any second of any day. I know of no other provider 'brave' enough to provide such information to their users. Looking at the various ADSL complaint forums it seems quite obvious that more than a few larger ISPs under provision their networks - some under provision quite extensively.
It will be interesting to see as the competitive actions of the various providers bite ever more deeply in to profits how the providers who claim to offer 'quality/premium' services re-act.
Apart from simply going out of business as Eftel recently did perhaps that recent 'aberration' in support answer times by Internode is an indication of where cost 'savings' are being made by some self claimed "premium" service providers? How can any company that doesn't provision its support centres adequately claim to offer a 'premium' service? As margins on mobile and ADSL continue to fall what is a "premium" service?
Copyright © Exetel Pty Ltd 2011
PS: A colleague sent me this article which, from the ex-CEO of a major Australian Telco, has some cogency:
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