Distancing? It’s today’s best option for customer care

Distancing? It’s today’s best option for customer care

Broadband consumption is soaring. Usage limits are being waived. And subscribers are using Wi-Fi connected devices for a host of business, educational and entertainment purposes.

If ever there was a perfect storm for new thinking around customer care needs, this is it.  With entire populations self-quarantined because of COVID-19, broadband has emerged as a lifeline for housebound consumers, who are straining operators’ systems and subscribers’ own in-home networks as never before. Nielsen projects a 61% increase in TV viewing; our own OpenVault data shows actual usage up across the board, and by more than 40% during 9-to-5 business hours.

The challenge for operators is this: The more subscribers demand from their broadband services – and the more subscribers who do the demanding – the greater the possibility that network congestion will lead to customer support calls and on-site technical support. Costly in the best of times, truck rolls meant to resolve issues now may put technical personnel at risk, while social distancing protocols may prevent them from accessing customers’ homes.

While operators have had an economic incentive in the past to prioritize remote customer support, the reality of the coronavirus pandemic is amplifying the need for such an approach. Using distance diagnostic and remote care tools that provide enhanced visibility into network conditions, customer care teams can take a greater role in resolving challenges remotely, instead of issuing trouble tickets that result in dispatch orders. For example:

  • Areas impacted by node congestion can be identified so that customer support can communicate the issue to subscribers and initiate corrective action.
  • Excessive usage by a single subscriber can be addressed promptly to reduce the impact on service availability to other consumers.
  • Overburdening or poor configuration of consumers’ own in-home Wi-Fi networks can be pinpointed, enabling customer support to work directly with the subscriber on remedies.

What are the long-term implications for the industry? First, it is entirely probable that the usage patterns formed today will accelerate increases in broadband growth.  And second, distance diagnostics and remote care will continue to enable support teams to improve customer experiences in less time – and at far less cost – than truck rolls and on-site visits.  

In recent months, these blogs have talked about how the trend toward “Broadband First” strategies is prompting changes in engineering needs, business models and more for service providers. In that environment, it’s entirely probable that remote customer care strategies that can safeguard field personnel and subscribers today will continue to deliver value for the broadband industry and consumers even after the crisis has receded.

Ensure that ‘Broadband First’ is ready for ‘Prime Time’

Ensure that ‘Broadband First’ is ready for ‘Prime Time’

Traditional television viewing is giving way to streaming, but “Prime Time” is still prime time.

For cable operators contemplating shifts to “Broadband First” strategies that emphasize video streaming over traditional pay-TV packages, that’s a reality that can’t be ignored.  Even though streaming unlocks the ability to view content when and where users want, the simple truth is that life – work, school, personal commitments – means that most viewing takes place within narrowly defined windows of time.  In fact, OpenVault data shows that prime time data consumption is growing at a rate that is 5% faster than data consumption during non-prime time hours.

In a Broadband First environment, the engineering challenge for operators is to make sure that their networks are capable of satisfactorily handling the traffic increases that occur when “cord cutting” subscribers shift from traditional pay-TV packages to streamed video.  The greater challenge for operators is to ensure that subscriber experiences are satisfactory during peak viewing periods when the demand for network resources is greatest.

The facts don’t lie. Average broadband usage grew 27% while median usage was up 32% between the end of 2018 and the end of 2019. The distinction is important: Faster median growth means that more subscribers are consuming more data, compounding the impact on operators’ infrastructures. 

Many of these cord-cutters are shedding the pay-TV set-top box but not their TV viewing habits. OpenVault research has shown that in peak hours bandwidth needs can significantly exceed the norm – by as much as 80% on average. Networks must be engineered and policies designed to ensure that traffic demand can be accommodated, including bandwidth to handle prime time and future growth that is certain to follow: 

  • Table stakes for Broadband First is ensuring that the network infrastructure can support the increased data load, now and in the future.  While early cord cutters recognized that they might sacrifice some video quality and reliability, ensuing generations will have higher expectations as operators themselves promote the concept of high definition streaming.
  • In Broadband First environments, visibility into network performance is more critical than ever. Real-time network health and accurate forecasts of network growth are essential to optimizing customer experiences and reducing operational costs of customer care calls and truck rolls.
  • With power user data consumption – defined as those subscribers consuming more than 1 TB of data per month – up 81% year-over-year, operators should surgically implement solutions and policies that ensure that all customers’ service quality levels align with their broadband packages. This includes alerting subscribers to excessive use in real time, enabling them to enact real-time changes to service level agreements to accommodate increased speed and consumption, and triggering solutions when service level abuse continues.

Although it’s not an engineering technique, another reliable method of managing subscriber experiences is Usage Based Billing (UBB).  UBB subscribers consume data at a rate that is more than 5% lower than that of subscribers on Flat Rate Billing (FRB) plans. UBB subscribers also are 12% less likely than FRB customers to exceed the 1 TB threshold and 38% less likely than FRB subscribers to be “super users” consuming more than 2 TB of data. An additional benefit: A recent case study has shown that an operator who shifted to UBB from FRB realized a near-term ARPU increase of nearly 14%.

In the coming year, OpenVault anticipates that “Broadband First” approaches will continue to gain traction across the industry. As operators weigh the shift, it is essential that they make sure that their networks and policies are – literally and figuratively – “ready for Prime Time.”

Are you ready for ‘Broadband First?’

Hindsight is 20-20, so as we look back now it would be easy to say that we foresaw exactly how the pay-TV landscape would change when we hung out the OpenVault shingle a decade ago. But we have to admit, the enormity and speed of the video transformation kind of took us by surprise.

From our perch as a provider of tools for managing broadband networks, we’ve had a bird’s-eye view of how the video subscription declines that began with a trickle in 2010 have turned into a torrent. We’ve seen total U.S. pay-TV subscribers plunge by 17% in the past six years alone. The smart folks at MoffettNathanson say another 40% is at risk to cut the cord over the next five years. 

With Netflix, Amazon and others upending viewing paradigms and Disney, Apple and new entrants flexing their streaming muscles, the impact on cable and telecom infrastructures has been monumental.  As the number of subscribers who have terminated their traditional video subscriptions has climbed toward 20 million, operators have lost monthly recurring set-top box rental and video package revenue. At the same time, cord cutters’ skyrocketing broadband consumption – now well past the 500 GB/month mark – increasingly is taxing operators’ networks and customer support systems.

It was only a matter of time before the broadband tail would wag the cable dog.  Over the past year, Comcast and Charter have introduced video streaming packages that are shifting emphasis from traditional pay-TV to broadband services.  Even more important in our view are “Broadband First” strategies that have been pioneered by operators such as Cable One; under its “Sparklight” brand, Cable One grew broadband-only subscribers to 70% of its customer base last year, fueling record ARPU and margins

With Cable One mindful of acquisition opportunities and other operators eyeing their success, we’d like to offer a couple of thoughts:  First, 2020 will be the year when the Broadband First footprint gains significant new traction in North America – and perhaps beyond.  And second, operators need to be mindful of how the transition to Broadband First will impact all aspects of their businesses, including – but not limited to – network engineering and operators, sales and marketing, and customer support. 

Over the next several months, we’ll be using the insights we’ve gleaned from a decade of supporting cable and telecom networks to help the industry roadmap the shift to Broadband First strategies.  We’ll discuss what operators can do to increase visibility into the network and the home device ecosystem, the importance of educating consumers on the need to align broadband packages with usage needs, and the value of arming customer support teams with information that will increase retention rates at inflection points in the subscriber relationship.

While no one could foresee exactly how things would play out a decade ago, we have a clear vision today of what’s over the horizon and are arming the industry with the technology solutions and data analytics expertise needed for success. Stay tuned to this space in the months ahead to learn more about how Broadband First can drive cable and telecom into the future.

A New Decade for Broadband, A New Milestone for OV

A New Decade for Broadband, A New Milestone for OV

As we welcome a new decade and look forward to exciting work ahead, the OpenVault team is also celebrating our 10th Anniversary this year, feeling extremely grateful and reflecting on a company and industry that have experienced tremendous growth and innovation. 

Flashback to 2010: the New Orleans Saints defeated the Indianapolis Colts in the Super Bowl; San Francisco Giants beat the Texas Rangers in the World Series; “Avatar” was best motion picture; “Modern Family” was the most popular television show and OpenVault opened its doors in Wayne, New Jersey with a staff of two and a dream.

In industry news, 2010 was the first year that pay television saw quarterly subscriber declines. It was also the year of the tablet, with Apple’s iPad selling more than 3 million units in the first quarter and e-books outselling hardcover books. Somehow we all survived on average connection speeds of 3.87 megabits per second. 

YouTube made history in 2012 with the first video to hit one billion views with Psy’s ‘Gangnam Style’. In 2013, Netflix introduced its own original programming and introduced the art of streaming wars. By the middle of the decade, the average U.S. home received 189 television channels and the mass acceptance of digital television greatly enhanced Smart TVs’ permeation into U.S. homes.  Soon American households would increasingly rely on the Internet for viewing purposes, and streaming services such as Amazon VideoHuluiTunesNetflix, YouTube, Disney+ and AppleTV+ would fuel cord cutting behaviors, a phenomenon that continues today.

As the industry evolved significantly and faced unprecedented growth over the past decade, so has OpenVault. What started as a two-man operation in 2010 has grown exponentially.  With a worldwide team, today OpenVault is a leading provider of technology solutions and industry analytics for broadband operators across four continents, tracking data consumption levels for millions of subscribers and saving operators time and costs while increasing revenue and subscriber satisfaction. 

From the introduction and evolutionary enhancements of our core data analytics engine, we’ve developed and deployed an extensive suite of broadband-centric and cloud-based solutions with increasingly powerful business outcomes for our customers. Highlights have included:

 

  • Growth from a handful of broadband customers to over 150 operators in North and South America, Europe and Asia
  • Improving annual revenue of our customers by 100s of millions of dollars and doing so for more operators than any other broadband-focused software vendor in the world 
  • Ongoing rollout of, and enhancements to, multiple solution modules: revenue manager, customer care portal, policy manager and the award winning ACS WiFi Insider which significantly increases visibility into the connected devices on in-home WiFi networks for improved customer care and reduced opex
  • The introduction of our quarterly OpenVault Broadband Inustry data advisory (OVBI)
  • Hundreds of speaking opportunities at global and regional conferences

 

Toward the close of this decade, OpenVault opened new corporate headquarters in Hoboken, New Jersey, a technology-forward community that has deep roots and easy access to NYC. At our new home, we recognized the need to give back to the communities in which we work in and travel through, in order to make a positive impact to the areas that host us as we conduct our business.  Thus, OV Cares was born to encourage our colleagues, customers and friends to donate their unused, travel-sized personal hygiene items to our collections at industry trade shows to benefit organizations dedicated to helping the homeless population in Hoboken and the cities we visit. Today, OV Cares is an extension of the OpenVault culture that values collaboration with our colleagues and customers to improve and innovate the world around all of us. Since its inception, OV Cares has helped nonprofit organizations serve nearly 5,000 individuals in need. 

As we celebrate a decade of dedication and hard work that has resulted in achieving – and often exceeding – our goals, OV founder and CEO Mark Trudeau shares his thoughts on what sets OpenVault apart, defines our corporate culture, drives our decision-making processes and reflects the products we design, the brand we create and the service we deliver:

“OV IS INVESTED”

As a solution provider, OpenVault delivers exceptional products.  However, to be invested is much more meaningful.  At OpenVault, we always remain invested in each solution, transaction and customer.  We truly value our relationships with our partners and customers and celebrate each other’s success.  It’s simple: Our customers’ success is our success.

 

“OV IS FLEXIBLE”

No matter how big we grow or how many customers we have, OpenVault’s success is due to our ability to adapt our solutions to each customer’s unique needs.  This corporate agility sets us apart from our competitors and is one of our greatest strengths.  Regardless of our success, we must remain flexible in our capacity to provide customized service.

“OV SEEKS INNOVATION AND CREATES CHANGE”

As one of the industry’s leading data experts and solutions provider, we continue to seek innovation in our market and our products.  With our expertise and our technologies, we strive to be the creators of change that is necessary for our customers to succeed.  We continually evolve to provide the most innovative and competitive strategies available.

“OV IS RESPONSIVE”

OpenVault believes in operational excellence. Our customers look to us as experts for answers and unmatched customer service based on our unique experience and extensive knowledge base.  At OpenVault, no request goes unanswered and we strive to respond in a timely fashion.

“OV BUILDS TRUST”

The broadband landscape is a competitive and ever-evolving environment that creates unique challenges for every operator.  The integrity of OpenVault’s people and solutions is key to providing our customers with the best tools available to compete in their marketplace.  The OV Team is a tried and trusted partner and will continue to build business relationships based on the utmost integrity, professional competence and market confidence.

As the new decade unfolds, we will continue to anticipate industry challenges and meet growing  demands with the latest technologies, advanced data and innovative solutions. We express deepest gratitude to our valued customers and colleagues and thank our family and friends for all of their support.  We look forward to an exciting future and can’t wait to share our expertise with the world!

OV’s 20-20 Vision of the 2020 Broadband Future

OV’s 20-20 Vision of the 2020 Broadband Future

The gift-giving season is upon us and new connected devices that are unwrapped will spike broadband usage and set the consumption stage for the year ahead, according to OpenVault’s recent analysis. We can’t be certain what the New Year will bring, but after 10 years at the center of the broadband revolution, we’ve got some ideas of the challenges and opportunities that are ahead for operators, their networks, and ultimately, their bottom lines. So here OV rounds up the most critical broadband trends to prepare for in 2020:

Power Users on the rise – “Power users” who consume 1TB or more of data per month have increased 62% year-over-year, according to the Q3 2019 OVBI report.  OV prediction: By the end of 2020 more than 8% of all broadband subscribers will be 1TB power users and the percentage of subscribers using 2TB or more will exceed 1% for the first time. As more subscribers consume high quality streaming video simultaneously across multiple devices, we expect more operators to implement Usage-Based Billing strategies that can manage power use and ensure that subscribers enjoy satisfactory experiences.

New highs for Cord Cutter consumption: MoffettNathanson predicts that the loss rate for traditional pay-TV, satellite and telco pay-TV services soon will reach 6.2%.  The impact on operator networks is substantial: pay-TV cord cutters’ average broadband usage surpassed half a terabyte in 3Q19, almost double the monthly weighted average subscriber usage. OV prediction: New streaming services such as Disney+ and Apple TV+ combined with higher speed tiers and network upgrades will drive cord cutters’ usage well beyond the 500GB mark; operators will need to leverage customer support resources to ensure that subscribers are sufficiently upgraded to accommodate the anticipated higher usage.

Make way for “Broadband First” – Cord cutting’s significant impact on how content is accessed is prompting some operators to make a strategic shift away from offering traditional video subscriptions. OV prediction: As new “Broadband First” strategies that de-emphasize traditional video subscriptions continue to proliferate, operators will re-examine every area of their businesses. In Broadband First scenarios, operators must determine where the growth is happening, how best to configure networks and bandwidth speeds, and how to optimize marketing campaigns and customer care efforts to better serve the subscriber. They’ll need accurate and holistic visibility into broadband usage before and after the transition to ensure success.

Global alignment will increase – European operators are continuing to upgrade their networks, transition to fiber broadband delivery and more widely offer faster broadband speed tiers. While North America has in the past been a precursor for European wireline broadband trends, we’re seeing closer alignment between the two markets at the higher broadband speed tiers. OV prediction: Overall European usage behavior patterns will more closely mirror the North American experience, expediting the need for operators abroad to proactively plan for, and efficiently manage, increasing bandwidth demands and subscribers’ usage.

It’s all about the User Experience – Increasing broadband consumption is driving operators to focus on improving the User Experience. Whether it’s faster speeds, better connectivity or service package configuration, operators are seeing the value of aligning customer needs with the consumption behaviors and device topography in the home. OV prediction: Operators looking for new ways to offer and market customer-centric service – including content specific exclusions, right-sized packages, flexible payment options and improved diagnostics capabilities – will seek increased visibility and application-layer data to help them understand and respond to customers’ specific needs and ensure an optimal user experience.

As we embark on a new year and a new decade, we can make one prediction with absolute certainty: data usage and content consumption will continue to increase significantly throughout the world. Operators need tools – such as those available from OpenVault – to enable proactive, responsive broadband management and to deliver the optimal customer experiences that can generate new revenues.

Using Customer Insights to Capitalize on the Broadband First Wave

Using Customer Insights to Capitalize on the Broadband First Wave

When the tide is surging against traditional cable video service bundles and towards Over-The-Top (OTT) streaming services, what’s an operator to do? Rather than get swept up in an undertow of cord-cutters, operators can instead seize on the opportunities to drive broadband revenues and improve the quality of experience and overall satisfaction of their customers.

While a wave of headlines has been highlighting the entry of new D2C services and the negative impact of cord cutting, the latest edition of the OpenVault Broadband Industry report (OVBI) shows that significant new opportunities await for operators. By helping customers understand the broadband requirements for high quality video streaming, operators can right-size their subscribers to the necessary bandwidth speeds.  These higher speeds, while not only bringing in higher ARPU for the operator, can give subscribers the speeds they need to consume high quality streaming video simultaneously across multiple devices. 

Let’s connect the OVBI data dots: In Q3 of this year, cord cutters chewed through more than half a terabyte of data per month – 520.8 GB – almost double the monthly average usage for subscribers on Usage-Based Billing and Flat-Rate Billing plans.  OVBI also shows that more than two thirds of those cord cutters didn’t upgrade to higher-level packages when they severed their video bundles; moreover, 4% actually downgraded. (Register here for a Monday, November 18 (3 p.m. EST) webinar with more insights.)  

It’s likely that many of these cord cutters now are bumping up against tier limits or creating traffic jams that impact network performance – or both. The result can leave operators awash in negatives: dissatisfied customers, sluggish networks and increased demand on broadband customer support resources at the same time that video and video equipment revenues have vanished.

Arming customer retention teams with facts about cord-cutting usage and an individual customer’s behavior can help operators turn the revenue tide. Do customers know that their usage and their data plans have become misaligned, especially as their streaming video consumption has increased in recent months?  Do they understand how the streaming of video to multiple devices simultaneously can impact experiences? Have they thought about the ability of their current package to support that 4K TV they’re buying for the holidays?   

By using tools such as those available from OpenVault to gain insights into broadband usage and the home ecosystem, operators can improve how the video disconnect call can be wielded to communicate the value of a higher speed package. Ultimately, that can create the foundation for an improved customer experience and can help generate revenue that can help to compensate for lost video CPE revenues. 

There’s no question that the rapid proliferation of D2C services and the availability of new delivery systems has brought an ocean of change to cable operators. By gaining and utilizing insights into broadband usage, they can create packages that help the industry ride the wave of change, rather than swimming against the tide.