Know your customers

commentary Most people would agree knowing your customers well is crucial to operating any business. That's why Telecom New Zealand's comments yesterday to your writer that "increasingly, the needs of small businesses and consumer customers are really one and the same" came as a shock.

commentary Most people would agree knowing your customers well is crucial to operating any business.

Renai LeMay, ZDNet Australia
That's why Telecom New Zealand's comments yesterday to your writer that "increasingly, the needs of small businesses and consumer customers are really one and the same" came as a shock.

The words were uttered by spokesperson Phillip King in the wake of Telecom's announcement it would jettison the CEO of its subsidiary, AAPT, and restructure the business along customer lines.

While King's comments are probably not representative of the research AAPT has done into its customer base, AAPT will nonetheless go forth in two divisions -- consumer/small business and large enterprise.

In some ways, putting consumers and small businesses in the same basket makes sense for major telcos.

There are large numbers of each type of customer, and in some cases they need similar services -- for example DSL broadband.

However that's where the similarity ends.

"Businesses and consumers are two different groups," Shara Evans told your writer following King's comments. "I'd be very upset if people started to treat my business as a residential customer."

The telecommunications analyst is an industry veteran and chief executive of her own firm, Market Clarity.

"I don't know of any residential customers, for instance, that have requirements for PABX-type functionality," she continued.

"A small to medium enterprise goes up to an organisation that has up to 200 staff."

"Next to the likes of Westpac, 200 sounds very, very tiny, but 200 people is a lot of people, and you're not going to be buying residential phone services to cater for, let's say 200 people split over two buildings."

"They're just completely different product sets," Evans said, pointing out that even for DSL services, businesses would be more likely to need a service with symmetrical upload and download speeds, as opposed to the asymmetric services commonly sold to consumers.

But while it's important to know your customers intimately, it can also be dangerous to go too far the other way.

"I do not want my telco, or any other business provider to know any more about me than what services I use from them and when I use them," wrote one disgruntled reader this week in response to a ZDNet Australia article on how much telcos know about their customers.

"There are already enough advertising channels to ram new products down my throat -- I don't need to be asked if I'd like to 'super size' my McTelstra meal everytime I call to ask a question about billing," the reader continued.

Keeping these two extremes in mind, it's clear that the best path to tread is -- as generally in life -- straight down the middle.

The key for telcos is to know who exactly their customers are, and to use that information sensibly, without trying to upsell services customers simply aren't interested in.

What do you think about your own telco? Do they know your needs well, or are they trying to ram new products down your throat? Send your thoughts to renai.lemay@zdnet.com.au.

For more views from the trenches of Australian telecommunications, visit my new blog:
Full Duplex
http://www.zdnet.com.au/blogs/fullduplex

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