How To's, Strategy

Addressing Demand 4: Track your assets and analyze your customers’ data!

This month the Utility LINE blog series has been addressing questions related to the exploding demand for broadband in America (and worldwide). On March 3, we identified a few of the leading causes of bandwidth demand growth, and on the 10th we gave some strategies for responding strategically. Last week we talked about information you might want to get from your customers early on in order to address their issues proactively and improve home management services.

Today I want to bring this all together by urging you not only to gather (voluntarily provided!) data on your customers’ home internet use, but also to track your own assets efficiently – and use both sets of data to run analyses that can increase your organization’s ability to respond to problems on the horizon and improve services.

Track your infrastructure

First, track your infrastructure. There are linear asset management software packages on the market, but if your organization is not ready to invest in one yet, put a map on the wall with all your pipes, fiber cables, hubs, etc. color-coded. Or, to get more detail, purchase a map book and mark it up. You can use different color highlighters to indicate fiber cables with different strand counts.

Alternatively, use Google Earth or ESRI’s ArcEarth – two free tools – to map your assets. Especially if your field staff use tablets, these programs can make accessing the same data easier.

Then divide the map and assets into service areas and asset types, and put these in an Excel or Google spreadsheet. (Functionality is similar, but Google docs can easily be shared with everyone who will be editing and using the data.) Each time there’s an event – a break, an outage, a surge, etc. – record it in the proper cell in the spreadsheet. This can be tedious, but keeping clear records now can help you down the line by enabling you to identify patterns (for instance, are most bad events in the same area? If so, infrastructure in that area may need repairs).

This might all be as simple as identifying common types of problems, and having columns in the spreadsheet for each. To give a simplistic example:

Even before you invest in system upgrades, just tracking your assets and making sure you keep an updated computer database can help improve your customers’ experience and satisfaction with your service. And later on, when you upgrade your infrastructure, your customers will be more tolerant of temporary service interruptions or other snafus.

Use the data to run analyses

Last month we discussed in this blog the importance of data. Now we’re retreading the theme, but with a specific purpose: Identifying trends in service requests, service cuts, and slow downs – and predicting the next events.

First, put all of the data you’ve gathered on your customers into your spreadsheet, and associate each customer with a geographic region – a service area, neighborhood, whatever is most useful to your organization.

Columns 1-4: Customer’s name, address, date service began, and service area

Columns 4-8: Where router is in house, how many devices are in the house, # of computers, # of tablets/smartphones, # of smart appliances

Columns 9-XX: Problems of different types – e.g. slow down, service outage, router failure, etc. – that you can identify. Values in each cell should be a count (1, 2, 3,…,X)

You can also record dates of events easily by creating  a new row for each customer-event. Say, Customer 1 has a service outage on January 1, 2017, and then a sudden slow down on March 4 of that year. You’d have two rows now for that customer. Of course, there is software that can enable you to record much more data more easily than Excel or Access, so don’t limit yourself unless you have to!

Once you have the data in a usable computer database, and households you service associated with a region of your service area, you can begin to understand where things are working, and where they’re breaking: Are the service problems’ causes and locations random or are they concentrated and due to a few factors. The form may indicate that you’re okay overall, while the latter may mean that your infrastructure or routers require updating, repair or replacement.

In short, differentiate your organization from the big, regional private monopolies (Comcast, ahem!) by leveraging your data to respond proactively to your customers’ needs and desires. Even if you have a monopoly right now, with the way things are going politically in American broadband, you can’t assume that you’ll have it forever. And when competition comes, you’ll want both a deep reserve of customer loyalty, and the ability to respond quickly to your competitors’ challenges. Gathering and using data intelligently certainly won’t enable you to address all of the challenges ahead, but it’s a good start.

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