Before the truck rolls….

By Simen K. Frostad, Chairman

Published in Broadcast Bridge, April 2016

Consumers today have a reasonably clear choice between cost and quality. Most of the things that people spend money on are available in a cheap form, or in a more expensive version. You can choose the cheapest possible wine, power tool, or car insurance and if spending as little as you can is your priority in life, you will be happy with your purchase. You may wince at the rasping tannins in your glass, your circular saw blade may be blunt after thirty minutes, and your insurers may fight you tooth and nail rather than pay up when you need them to – but that’s all part of the choice you made.

A lot of people are prepared to fly on an airline that provides very poor customer service if they think they are getting a bargain ticket by doing so. For others, a pleasant travel experience is part of the holiday, and worth paying a bit more for. But basically, if you have the choice between the two, you have little cause to complain if you buy cheap and get cheap. What hurts is when you pay for a good service and don’t get it.

Some industries – like the automobile industry – have learned over decades that it’s not enough to make a product that looks great but doesn’t work very well. Manufacturers now put a great deal of effort into building quality and reliability into the vehicles they sell, because they found out the hard way that customers will only buy a dud from them once. But it wasn’t always this way, as anyone old enough to remember the 1970s knows.

And in some less well-established industries, this lesson is still being learned. Where a technology is new, and the market created by it is dynamic and immature, it’s much easier for providers to gain sales in the short term with a rough and ready product, because at the time of the purchase decision, customers don’t yet have enough information to evaluate the quality of the whole ownership experience. Digital media services is one such industry.

So digital media service providers may be gaining market share by selling the obvious attractions of their product – number of channels, exclusive premium content – but losing a proportion of their customers when the service turns out to be plagued with reliability problems. Once those customers are gone, it’s much harder to win them back. Brand loyalty, as the automobile and hotel industries have shown, can be the foundation of a successful business, because the majority of people prefer a trouble-free experience even if it is superficially slightly less attractive. (Although the investment industry proves that there’s also a minority that will always go for the more seductive and risky option).

The fact is that it’s much easier to provide a sleek, glossy-looking product than a reliable one. It’s much simpler to paint the trains in a new livery than to make them run on time. Service quality is hard to deliver, and it’s expensive; and this is a particular conundrum in a new industry, where a reputation for quality has not yet emerged and therefore can’t be a key factor in the consumer’s purchase decision.

For digital service providers, therefore, the name of the game is to achieve a good balance between service quality and the investment needed to deliver it. Too much investment reduces profitability and price-competitiveness, while too little damages the brand and loses market share.  The provider that strikes the best balance – giving customers a noticeably superior service at a good price – is the one whose market share will continue to grow.

It’s not a straightforward matter to guarantee quality in digital media services. The complicated hybrid of technologies involved in the delivery chain takes a lot of looking after, and because an OTT service arrives in a noisy environment on the home network, there’s plenty of extra scope for problems to arise.

To establish a competitive balance between service quality and the cost of achieving it, wise providers do all they can to invest in purpose-designed monitoring and analysis technology, knowing that this investment is cheap when compared with the alternative – the truck roll.

The truck roll is really the worst way to address service quality. Apart from the very high cost of getting an engineer out to the customer premises, there is the inevitability that the engineer only visits a customer with a problem after a good deal of time has already elapsed, and meanwhile the customer has had to put up with a faulty service, or none at all. Added to this, if the problem is intermittent, an engineer cannot always be sure of seeing it during a short visit. And, if relying on the truck roll is a major part of the provider’s QA strategy, as the subscriber base grows, wait times will increase as the gearing between service engineers and customers comes under increasing pressure.

So providers need to do all they can to make the truck roll unnecessary. This means taking a more proactive approach by using technology that remotely delivers all the information that an engineer could obtain by a site visit. As part of an integrated end-to-end monitoring system, Bridge Technologies’ miniaturized microVB and its microAnalytics technology is an always-on ‘virtual engineer’ at the customer premises, providing round-the-clock visibility into every aspect of performance, early warning of problems or strains and stresses in the home network, and the ability to resolve errors remotely. It’s used by media companies to spot and fix problems before the customer is inconvenienced, or to resolve actual problems in a fraction of the time it would take to do with a truck roll. It’s a much more efficient and economical route to high service quality, and if, after all the analysis provided by the technology a truck roll is finally necessary, the service provider will already know exactly what action is required, and which replacement parts the engineer will need to take.

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