Social media and crowdsourcing has helped Internode become one of the best ISPs when it comes to customer service, according to the company’s managing director, Simon Hackett.
The South Australia-based ISP regularly tops the Roy Morgan ISP customer poll and it publicises this fact. In the last poll, which surveyed more than 6000 local Internet users, Internode recorded a 93 per cent customer satisfaction rate followed closely by iiNet with 90 per cent.
In the 2010 Australian Broadband Survey conducted by independent ISP community website, Whirlpool.net.au, 70 per cent of respondents rated Internode as providing excellent customer service.
If you’ve got it, flaunt it and that is even more important in an industry notorious for delivering poor customer service for umpteen years.
“Internally, we have very high standards and we think we have a lot further to go,” Internode managing director, Simon Hackett, said. “So it’s frightening to see we are doing the best out of everybody and it makes you wonder about the spectrum of [customer service] quality level [in the industry].”
He was speaking as a panellist at the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) Our Broadband Future conference in Sydney.
Being smaller compared to gargantuan competitors such as Telstra and Optus has proved an advantage when it comes to customer service for Internode. The ISP has the luxury of integrating its call centre within the same building as the rest of the company.
Typically, telco call centres are either located off-site or off-shore.
If an Internode call centre staff is dealing with a customer problem, he or she has the ability to enquire with other staff within the same building, making it easier to remedy certain issues, according to Hackett. Call centre staff can literally pop into another department’s office and ask about particular customer issues, he said.
But for Internode, the most important part of providing great customer service is creating a public feedback loop.
Hackett said he has been involved in some form of ‘social media’ for about a decade although the term was only coined recently.
He has been an active participant of Whirlpool.net.au's online forum for the better part of 10 years. Last week, Hackett hit 30,000 posts on the forum, interacting with customers and participating in general discussions about the industry.
Many ISPs have begun to follow suit, assigning representatives to monitor and respond to customer enquiries on the forum.
“Using a modern phrase I didn’t know a few years back, we ‘crowdsourced’ with our customers to ask what’s wrong with the service and actively engaging with the public in the process of rapidly fixing the problem,” Hackett said.
For those unfamiliar with crowdsourcing, the term describes the process of asking a large number of people for help with a task through an open call.
“We’d get feedback again in the crowd source way to get it right,” he said. “That tight and public feedback loop means we wind up with a service to fix our customers like a glove and they actually don’t call as often [since the service] is more …likely to suit their needs.”
That’s not to say Internode can please all customers.
In the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) complaints report in May, the number of customer complaints against Internode was up 16.7 per cent, from 84 to 98.
That’s still relatively low, but an increase nonetheless.
Hackett justified a continuous rise in TIO complaints with the rising number of subscribers.
“One hobby of mine is making sure if we’re going to be an industry accused of various sorts of crimes against complaint rates that we are using a measurement methodology which is reasonable in doing so,” he said. “I often see statistics that say Telstra or Optus has x number of complaints in total in the absolute sense per quarter, that’s more than last quarter.
“Guess what, [they’ve] signed up more customers last quarter so of course there’s more complaints because there are more customers.”
Hackett is in favour of complaint statistics reported on a per capita basis, that is, complaints per thousand users. This can be easily worked out by correlating complaint statistics with Australian Bureau of Statistics information, he said.
“It’s insane to me the TIO’s very public reports don’t do that; they list complaints in absolute terms,” Hackett said. “… Once you do that, suddenly the magnitude of the problem changes.
“Those big bad guys are not actually that bad and some of the little guys are awful.”
The ACCAN Our Broadband Future conference closes today.
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