TelcoVision, Day 1

The first day of the TelcoVision Conference & Expo included a lot of focus on the need to anticipate consumers’ future demands, and the importance of engaging community anchor institutions.  Collaboration was also a recurring theme, as the traditional revenue streams upon which rural carriers have traditionally relied are now less dependable.

The first keynote panel, “Today’s Consumers: Big Expectations, Digital and Connected” began with remarks from Brian Thomason, GM Blue Valley Tele Communications.  He spoke about how BVTC’s service to schools and health care providers, among others, make a real difference to their customers and community.  These efforts led NTCA to recognize BVTC as a Smart Rural Community earlier this year.  Part of BVTC’s approach is to keep itself informed about the future, and not just the current, needs of anchor institutions.  To maintain its position as a technology leader, the company educates its customer base about what technology can do.

Steve McKay, CEO of Entone addressed the challenges of embracing OTT, and the new opportunities of the connected home.  He noted that with retransmission consent making the business case for linear video more challenging, carriers need to find more viable products and services that better suit consumers’ needs.  Once a customers obtains a service from an over the top provider, the carrier loses some of the relationship with the consumer, and along with that, some of the company’s ability to anticipate consumer needs.  He emphasized the importance of maintaining good relations especially with anchor institutions.

Lori Vergin, President Mpower Consulting, discussed strategic marketing plans. Transitioning from traditional telephone service to IP-based services can be tough, as consumers have high demands.  She noted that surveys, focus groups, advisory counsels etc. can enhance carriers’ deep roots in the community.  She said that carriers must become more sales-focused organizations, and reach out and understand customers’ needs.  She also stressed the importance of touching base after a sale to ensure satisfaction.  She noted that carriers sometimes need to make changes to earn business; one can no longer assume that the customer will choose a local provider.

The second keynote panel, “Success Factors for Today’s Service Providers,” featured Kevin McGuire of Enhanced Telecommunications Corp., who made four key points:  (1) Carriers cannot necessarily do things the same way; (2) it is important to have the right people in place for the right job; (3) carriers should focus on sales and marketing, not on technology, to provide solutions to customers instead of acting as order-takers; and (4) carriers’ culture need to change to reflect the increasing importance of the unregulated environment.

Vince Tyson of Plateau Communications noted that as traditional support declines, it is important for carriers to measure performance benchmarks in order to determine how to improve.  Scale can also help, by working more with other independents to reduce costs, while not outsourcing a carriers’ core competencies.  Tyson also stated that carriers can leverage their fiber by entering the managed information technology (IT) market, noting that localism can give small carriers a competitive advantage.

Fraser Pajak of QuEST Forum declared that quality is no accident.  He stated that if you lead with quality, you go faster, and faster is more efficient.  He explained that the TL 9000 standard, based on ISO 9000, requires participants to report their performance data (such as outages, on time deliveries, etc.) every month in order to earn certification.  He also noted that these sorts of benchmarks demonstrate that carriers provide very high quality services.  One result of this is that collaboration by high-quality carriers can provide even greater value to consumers.

Dee Herman of Herman & Whiteaker observed that carriers have a lot of challenges, but are exhibiting outside the box thinking in order to overcome them.  The approach is going to be different for many carriers because they face so many different circumstances. He noted that it goes beyond things like IT services and computer repair; other examples include local news through broadband, as many newspapers in smaller towns are gone or have reduced schedules.  Carriers now provide services that are supplied by others in larger communities.

In the following days, attendees will hear more about outreach to consumers, collaboration, and other efforts can aid them as the market transitions from traditional voice service to a vast array of transformative IP-based services increasingly demanded by customers.

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