Triad Wireless has been fortunate enough to have some tremendous growth in the last years. Some of it is geographic, some of it is our competitors not investing in their infrastructure, some of it is great staff, and some of it is manufacturers bringing out better and better equipment. But the most important part of it is being a good neighbor. People don’t buy from companies, they buy from the people working for company. People trust their friends a lot more than they trust sales or even engineering people.
I’ve lost projects where I’ve flat out told the customer their technical staff are incompetent and that’s the reason things aren’t working right. Management then asks the incompetent technical staff if they are incompetent and the staff tells them no, surprise! Now I’m the one the customer doesn’t trust, even if I’m right. It also says a lot about incompetent management and my inability to identify them. You would think after 30 years in this business I’d know better. But they still fool me once in a while when I don’t do my homework and stick my neck out trying to do the right thing (note to self, find out if manager is married to IT Director’s sister first before dissing the network).
None of us run perfect networks. Between Acts of God, hardware and firmware bugs and updates, woodpeckers (yes, they love the lights in the back of Nanostations, the entire creepy-crawly insect kingdom whom I’m convinced are now working together), power plants, good old boys who run out of targets to shoot at, battery backups that don’t, power companies with no power, and a hundred other reasons, some customers are going to experience some downtime. How they handle it determines whether they start a viral Facebook thread telling everyone you aren’t competent enough to change the batteries in your flashlight, let alone deliver high-speed internet, or if they back you up publicly when stuff happens outside your control. It’s also the difference if they understand when you are really trying new things that will ultimately benefit them but things go sideways during the process. If you want to get to that level, you need to make sure that your customers know you are giving it the old college try to give them the best possible service.
The reality is that most of them really don’t know what you do, how hard it is sometimes, the years it takes to master the nuances of RF, the continuing education, how capital intensive it is, and where you are striving to improve things. You need to make yourself available to reach out to people when they have issues. You also need to let them know when things aren’t going the way they think they should, you are there for them and they can reach you. Basically, you need to try and educate your customers without wasting their time and watching them roll their eyes in the back of their heads.
If you aren’t living on Facebook by now, you are missing a huge opportunity. Even though I’m not a fan of Facebook’s political shenanigans, I’m a big fan about keeping in touch with our customers and it makes it easier (however, I’m also pretty close to pulling the trigger on a phone app to streamline things further). Facebook is a double-edge sword though, especially if you have a customer who isn’t happy. You have to stay on top of it and make sure you respond to their concerns quickly. We try to emphasize that a call to our office should always be their first move but sometimes…
Facebook is also a great way to let customers know the work you are doing to improve their service quality and speed. Some of them are techies who just like to hear what’s happening as much as you love to tell it, others are gamers looking for a little more edge. Some people want to know so they can brag to their neighbor how much better your service is at their house than the what they have. Your job is to give them that ammunition and as an engineer, my ego is more than willing to accommodate that.
Since all of our networks are in a constant state of upgrade or migration (if you aren’t planning on upgrading every single day, you are going to get run over), we like to hold Facebook events. For example, no speed cap weekend. Fastest speed posted gets a prize weekend now that we got our new backhauls (had to stop for a while because growth rates were eating up backhaul faster than we could get it in). A couple weeks later when the next backhaul gets here, we will do it again, and again, and so on. Customers who are normally capped at 10-25Mbps fall off their chairs when they see 80, 90Mbps or more (we have areas where we can hit 500Mbps but those aren’t the areas we hold these events) and they are more than happy to post that for you. Want to put the fear of God into your competitors? Let them see what you can really do when you are ready or by giving them a taste of what’s coming.
There are several other ideas you can use to be the new neighbor. If it’s a more rural area or a smaller community, make sure you are there with Wifi if they have events. If there is a charity event, see if you can contribute. If they have churches or food banks, donate services. Even if an individual needs help, try and be there. We bought a bunch of cinnamon rolls one time from a woman raising money to buy special glasses for her son. Not only were they great, we donated even more because it was a great cause and I applaud self-motivation over handouts any time.
If it’s a denser area with a lot of customers, scale the event or area to what you can handle. For example, we have tech days where we set up shop and have customers bring in their laptops or computers which cost nothing more than a few hours of our time. We clean them up and make sure that have good virus/malware/internet protection. That doesn’t cost a lot and not only helps your network look better by making the computer faster by getting rid of a bunch of garbage on their computer that makes it look like your network is slow. It might also protect the network by catching computers that have been compromised (we have caught a lot of viruses and overseas scam artists ripping people off).
Being a good neighbor doesn’t stop at residential customers. Businesses, agents, and anyone else you provide service to need to be more than your business colleagues. For example, when an agent calls you and says he has a customer with rushed need, see if you can help them out versus just throwing them in the rest of the queue. Try to explain to them that they can’t ask for that service every time but you will step up when they need you. Also go out of your way to reciprocate with them. Possibly use their services like they use yours or refer business to them. A rising tide raises all boats and the more connections you have, the harder it is to sever them. Business customers will also be more communicative if they have needs you aren’t meeting instead of just hammering you on Yelp or Facebook.
Most of what I’ve said is simply common sense or a personal moral decision. But getting caught up in our own technology driven day-to-day issues and ignoring the people connection is not good business or good for the soul. Do what you can when you can and the rewards for that will be far more satisfying than gaining a few customers, you will gain a positive reputation, goodwill, new friends, and the feeling that through your company, you can improve someone else’s life and your own and that’s pretty much why we are all here. And your company will benefit too…