A carrier's carrier
These relationships are as varied as the IXC customers. IXCs are not a monolithic customer segment to be dealt with using a cookie cutter approach. They represent a wide range of needs driven by their marketing strategies, internal resources, capital funding and customer requirements.
LECs must understand their unique requirements and respond appropriately. That means differentiating the packaging, features and pricing components of the product mix for maximum flexibility.
It requires gathering customer input in the initial design phases and then developing products and services based on customer requirements.
LECs must acknowledge that they can't anticipate every possible customer configuration, but they must be able to react quickly to new information gathered during beta testing and throughout the product life cycle. This calls for developing a close working relationship with the customer.
Product development Sonet ring services illustrate the breadth of requirements from one carrier to another. Carriers that market to large customers with complex corporate networks typically want lots of capacity and total control over the ring. Others, especially some of the smaller IXCs that target niche markets, just want less expensive capacity and are happy to share resources.
Bell Atlantic developed two different Sonet offerings-IntelliLight Custom Sonet service and IntelliLight Dual Wire Center service-to address the needs of these two different groups.
In developing its custom Sonet ring service, the company involves customers in the earliest product development discussions to gather valuable information. Bell Atlantic representatives explain the company's capabilities for access provisioning.
The customer is then in a much better position to articulate specific requirements. Because these product offerings are backed by extensive and expensive switching and transmission technologies, it is important to get them right the first time.
In the Sonet example, ordering, maintenance and repair were key issues. Customers had different procedures for handling these, and Bell Atlantic's support processes and systems as well as ordering processes had to be an exact fit.
The company ultimately developed a family of products-and associated operating systems-backed by a full refund service guarantee if the service is out for more than one minute.
Frame relay provides another example of how an LEC can bring the same technological capabilities to the marketplace in different ways, depending on customer requirements.
Some IXCs have marketing strategies that place a high value on their relationship with the end users.
In those cases, the services purchased from the LEC can be transparent to the end user. This transparency requires that the IXC manage the access facility while the LEC offer background support in establishing data network control parameters.
Other IXCs-those focusing on the long-haul portion of their services-want their customers to purchase access services from an LEC.
These carriers look to the access provider to be the market-facing member of their team, taking the orders from the end user, establishing and designing the facility's capacity requirements, monitoring and managing the technical parameters and billing the end user.
Ongoing relationships Maintaining an effective working relationship with customers is just as important after the product development phase.
At Bell Atlantic, for example, carrier customers using switched multimegabit data service are invited to quarterly customer assessment discussions. Participants may include the carrier customer's product manager, Bell Atlantic's product manager and account executive, and personnel from both of the companies' network operations centers.
As a result of these discussions, Bell Atlantic discovered that it needs to get orders into its system more efficiently. The goal is stronger performance in meeting installation dates and getting confirmation data back to customers in a more timely manner.
Today's high-speed data technology holds the promise of supporting cost-effective customer solutions and continued strong sales for some time to come-as long as LECs remember to tailor their applications and product offerings based on the unique requirements of each customer.
Tim Stevens is Director of Advanced Services for Bell Atlantic Carrier Services, Arlington, Va.
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© 2013 Penton Media Inc.
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