Key Ways To Improve Your VoIP Strategy
The last decade saw a splurge of Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) businesses mushrooming around the world. There were initial challenges on how to get VoIP — which lets people make calls via the internet — to work, so service providers and their respective call control partners worked to integrate and stabilise the technology.
From what I’ve seen, a majority of providers have since adopted Session Initiation Protocol (SIP)-based VoIP services. SIP provides capabilities to incorporate day-to-day enterprise features for user needs. Over time, I’ve seen that VoIP has become more omnipresent, and I believe it will eventually replace all traditional forms of phone services. (I’ve been in the telecom carrier segment my entire working life, and have been immersed in building VoIP networks for most of it.)
A Background of VoIP Networks
The telephone network can be broadly broken down into three main segments: The core network infrastructure, the network that ties the core to the customer, and the customer premise network. The core network forms the infrastructure maintained by the service providers, which is now called the cloud infrastructure. The network that ties the core to the customer is the internet. (This network provides easy and cheap access for all service providers to the customer networks.) The last segment, the customer network, involves user-hosted wide area network (WAN) gears and the local area networks (LAN). As VoIP technology matured, the focus was on keeping the core stable, and heading off challenges with the internet and customer networks.
But now, with the core network stabilized and ISPs providing better reliability, the focus on customer satisfaction now concentrates on the maintenance of WAN/LAN networks. For VoIP providers to capitalize on this, I think they need to focus on grooming their engineers to serve customers.
A Focus on Operational Effectiveness
Operational effectiveness is about building a fine-tuned process that effectively utilises all of your resources. Based on this principle, operational effectiveness in the VoIP carrier industry focuses on controlling the challenges in the core network.
The first step service providers took was to measure and monitor the core network. Operational managers embraced the idea of change control standards for VoIP, and ensured that engineers followed the process closely. Any changes to the network were thoroughly tested, and any major change involved a beta release to friendly customers. All steps were implemented in a controlled change management process, which resulted in minimal impact to existing customers.
In order to ensure complete reliability, engineers designed highly available core networks that were geographically redundant. This tactical approach — of embracing operational effectiveness at the core network — has helped service providers weed out inefficiencies and ensure stability. Massive outages or customer disruptions due to system issues at the core have dropped.
But while focusing on operational effectiveness has helped VoIP companies achieve customer satisfaction, it’s also resulted in rivals meeting the same standards, and everyone running the same race at the same pace.
A New Strategy for Differentiation
Now that the core network is stabilised, management executives are looking for strategies to ensure their firms stay ahead. This means doing things differently in order to stand out, even if everyone has the same group of suppliers and vendors providing solutions at the core (which is true of most VoIP providers). So in my view, a better strategy entails doing the same things slightly differently, just based on your own company’s strengths and weaknesses.
The only factor that varies from customer to customer for VoIP business is the customers Local Area Network (LAN). Every customer has their own LAN networks designed by their IT engineers or by a third-party support firm. A VoIP packet needs to navigate through these LANs, and the majority of the time, the issues lie within the customer’s LAN.
Although service providers have worked with network monitoring vendors to provide deep packet inspection, the skill set required to apply real-time solutions requires human intelligence. An engineer needs to have a complete understanding of how the packet navigates through the LAN with tags and priorities.
In other words, having a team of engineers that understands the inter-workings and complexity of the VoIP system — and is able to assist customers in resolving their issues on the first call — can go a long way toward customer satisfaction. However, this approach can be costly, since it involves assigning highly skilled, technical people to work directly with customers.
Creating a Team of Engineers
Firms can replicate this strategy by deploying engineers at the field level. However, building a team of engineers to work on every LAN issue requires commitment from both managers and senior leaders. It also requires a hands-on technical leader to build a team that will work directly with every customer.
When doing this ourselves, we learned that building such a team is time-consuming and requires assistance from different groups within the organisation. The knowledge of VoIP system design needs to flow from the core engineering team all the way to the field engineers and the first-level customer support engineers. For us, the engineers who maintain the core infrastructure work hand-in-hand with the field and customer support engineers to ensure monitoring tools are deployed at customer networks. What also helped was building a culture of learning throughout the organisation: Our engineers now work to gain a deep-level understanding of customer networks in order to help customers achieve efficient VoIP services. Although we’ve found that this approach is not easy, and sometimes feels costly, it’s helped us retain customers year after year.
Incorporating monitoring tools and having engineers review the information you collect ensures that troubleshooting is based on factual data rather than anecdotal evidence. And overall, building a team of engineers who learn and pursue every customer challenge in the VoIP world can go a long way toward retaining customers year after year and differentiating yourself from the competition.
POST WRITTEN BY
Vilas Uchil is the Director of Network Engineering at BullsEye Telecom.