How can cable compete with the telcos in the business services market? On Oct. 18, vendors and operators gathered in Atlanta for the SCTE Hot Topic Symposium on Business Services and examined that very question.
The answer focused on the small-to-medium-sized business (SMB) market segment and on simplicity, reliability and superior customer service. Competitive advantage? "We are at war: cable companies vs. telcos," Ken Fitzpatrick, senior vice president, commercial services, for Time Warner Cable said in his opening remarks. "We’re going to win by taking those business telephone lines."
Fitzgerald characterized cable’s foray into business services as an opportunity to tap a $20 billion market dominated by the likes of Verizon and AT&T. He encouraged cable companies to venture outside of their "comfort levels and find new revenue streams."
Jim McGann, vice president and general manager of Charter Business, echoed Fitzgerald’s assertion that SMBs should be targeted as a valuable revenue stream. McGann defined an SMB as any "company with 50 or less employees, typically 20 or less, with 12 or less telephone lines."
In order to successfully approach those SMBs, McGann suggested cable operators let businesses know "what cable can offer that will save them time." And in order to maintain those SMB customers, cable operators must "do what [they] say [they]’re going to do, from sales to installation, thousands of times a day." Only then, McGann said, will cable establish something he called SCA or sustainable competitive advantage over the telcos. Engineers and marketers Building on McGann’s theme of the importance of promise and delivery, Kevin O’Toole, vice president of commercial services for Comcast, offered a comparison between the objectives and experience inside a cable operator’s engineering department vs. its marketing department on any given day.
According to O’Toole, engineers experience Moore’s Law in action. They are enterprise oriented. Engineers deal in disruptive technologies with an eye on helping shareholders grow equity. In contrast, marketing is customer oriented. Marketing departments deal directly with sales representatives and customers clamoring for reliability, simplicity and innovation. Success is measured by how many times a customer says "yes." "The result," O’Toole said of these opposing objectives, "is conflicts in world view and the pace of technical innovation."
O’Toole emphasized the need for mutual respect on both sides. He added that despite their differences, both engineering and marketing agree that "the world is going IP and B2B is a huge opportunity."
Gary Cronk, vice president of technology strategy for Time Warner Cable, pushed the frame of discourse toward practical customer demands. "Small business customers are still underserved by the telecom companies," Cronk said. "They want the bundle, and they want that bundle to be transparent."
Cronk listed specific items SMBs will look for when choosing a carrier: a simple, readable invoice; flexible pricing, feature and services configuration; self-service portal-management of an account; and order entry; among others.
"The success factor is going to be a better customer experience," Cronk said, emphasizing that it will no longer be acceptable to be reactive, to wait until the customer calls to report a problem. Cable operators must have the diagnostic troubleshooting capability to offer faster solutions for a more discerning business consumer. Leadership and change Wayne Davis, CEO of Vyyo, discussed the importance of leadership during this pivotal time in the cable industry. In his introduction of the keynote address, Davis emphasized the value of leaders with clear vision who can guide the industry toward changes it may otherwise be reluctant to make.
Bill Stemper, president of Comcast Business Services, continued this theme, beginning his keynote address with a humorous anecdote about the human disinclination to sacrifice. In essence, the story illustrated an important point about how the cable industry may collectively say that it wants change, new business and to be seen as serious competition for telcos, and yet at the same time pushes back against taking drastic action in furtherance of that goal.
The opening presenters at this year’s event offered a consistent message: If cable is going to take a bite out of the telco business market share, the industry must embrace more disciplined principles of customer service, deliver with consistency, increase transparency and commit to making painful but necessary technological upgrades that will keep cable in the game for years to come. – Jenn Rinaldi