In July 1990, Mathew Dickerson sold the first mobile phone in Dubbo, NSW, just as the mobile network went live across the town.
The device was an NEC P3. The block looking mobile phone with the antenna sticking up was one of the top selling phones in market during that period.
At the time, the customer purchased the NEC P3 outright for around $6,000, a mobile network service plan was sold on top of that at a price point of roughly $50 per month.
But unlike today, that did not include calls to and from the device, which were also an additional charge. On average, the customer paid $150 per month to utilise such a mobile service.
Given that the cost of the device was paid upfront, the customer would’ve held onto the same phone for a number of years.
Fast forward 27 years however, it’s evident just how far mobile phone plans and devices have come in the market.
And due to the rate of change in technology and affordability, customers are changing or upgrading their device every 12–24 months, and it’s usually bundled in with a lucrative plan. There’s now a plethora of mobile phone payment options and service plans to satisfy exactly what a customer needs.
But even as the technology and service offerings continue to evolve and change, there are some things that remain stoic.
Drawing on 27 years of experience running a business, Dickerson stands by the importance of making sure you know everything that your business is dealing with, delivering on services while remaining relevant to the customer.
Dickerson started Axxis in 1989 — formerly Axxis Technology — when he was 21 years old, while selling Telstra products since 1990. The computer and network services side of the business was sold in 2010 to industry stalwart, Peter Kazacos.
“Knowledge is power and knowledge is sales,” Dickerson said. “If you know every scenario, plan, every different offer from Telstra, how you can combine offers, how you can squeeze the most out of Telstra for your customers, then you’ll win that game.
“It’s no good if Telstra is putting all these new plans out into the market, and your staff don’t know about it,so they’re not offering it to clients. The knowledge you have will beat the competition every single day because people will know that they’re coming in to get the best deal, or the best advice.”
Knowledge is power
When Dickerson was running his computer shop in early 1990s, the population of Dubbo was about 40,000, and there were 37 computer stores, but the numbers have dwindled since then.
“In a business with one computer shop for about 1,000 people, you had to have more than your fair share of the market in order to stay competitive,” he recalled. “How did we stay better than the competition? We made sure that our customer service was not just good or great, but brilliant.
“We made sure we delivered on what we said to people, and treated everyone in the same way that they wanted to be treated when they walked in the store.”
Making sure that you were delivering on your service level agreements and being innovative, are all elements that are just as vitally important back then as they are today, whether you’re competing with a computer shop down the road or online.
“The challenges haven’t changed — people do talk about online, but that’s not really a challenge, it’s a competitor,” Dickerson explained. “What you’ve got to do is make sure that you’re delivering something that’s better than a competitor.”
Throughout the years, Dickerson has also parted his knowledge to many businesses as a consultant and after constantly being drawn upon for advice, he released a book in 2009 — Small Business Rules.
Dickerson also developed SLAM (service level agreement model), which has been widely adopted by thousands of businesses that were shifting towards a managed services model.
“With my consulting work, the first thing I do is spend an hour in the business, see how people work and handle situations, and the customer service is typically terrible,” Dickerson said.
“You have to really focus hard on that customer service environment. It’s not just about smiling and saying hello — it’s about putting yourself in your customer shoes — with every customer that walks through the door.
“You’ve really got to see how you’re going to treat those people and how you’re going to treat them differently.”
For about five years, Dickerson took some time away from the hands-on daily running of his business, when he was the Mayor of Dubbo.
During this time, he recognised the complexity of selling a mobile phone service and addressed the issue through initiating a simpler process to help customers understand the various options and discount structures available.