​Spark aims to cut UFB wait times with new customer service plans

“It’s a bit like if you have a four lane motorway and one lane becomes clogged up - it is going to slow down all the other lanes.”

Credit: Dreamstime

Spark New Zealand is ramping up its customer service teams to deal with greater demand from customers for fibre broadband services over the ultra-fast broadband (UFB) network.

According to the telco, the company will also publish information online about its Customer Service Centre performance, to help customers choose the best way and the best time to contact Spark.

Over the past couple of months, Spark has steadily boosted the number of staff on the front line and it intends to recruit another 100 customer service agents over the next 12 weeks.

Jason Paris, CEO of Spark Home, Mobile and Business, says fibre is a “game changing” technology and New Zealanders’ desire for much faster broadband was growing fast with the launch of services like internet TV.

“The number of customers contacting Spark each month to sign up for a fast fibre broadband service has increased sharply since May and it is great to see the switch to fibre gaining momentum,” he adds.

Paris says the process for a standard fibre installation involves a number of different steps. Unlike copper broadband – where you can plug into an existing network –fibre connections require a Local Fibre Company to first build the fibre infrastructure from the street to the customer’s house.

However, Paris notes the fibre installation process is more complex than anything the industry has previously dealt with and this presents challenges for all broadband providers, Spark included.

The fibre network is owned and operated by four fibre lines companies, who each control the network in different parts of the country and in the vast majority of cases fibre will only have been laid as far as a customer’s street.

As Paris explains, this means before any broadband provider can start providing fibre broadband services, the local fibre lines company must lay a cable to extend fibre from the street and install the necessary technology in the customer’s home.

“The average fibre installation process involves three visits by a technician to the customer’s home,” Paris explains, “and in many cases this means “a lot of to-ing and fro-ing between the broadband provider, the local fibre lines company, the contractor laying the fibre cable and that company’s subcontractors.”

Service support

“This complexity means we’re seeing fibre customers call us between four and 14 times during the course of their fibre installation,” Paris adds.

“This volume of calls has put pressure on our customer service centres across the board, and as a result customers calling with queries about other services have also been caught up in long phone queues.

“It’s a bit like if you have a four lane motorway and one lane becomes clogged up - it is going to slow down all the other lanes.”

In an average month Spark’s main call centres handle around 11,000 hours of work per week.

In August of this year, that jumped 34 percent to 15,000 hours per week with the increase primarily driven by calls about fibre installations.

Paris says Spark is recruiting agents to work across all its customer service teams, while ensuring customers can access help and information over digital channels if that’s what they prefer.

In the past few weeks Spark has increased the size of its Live Chat team, which now operates 24/7 - it has also set up an online Fibre Hub, which provides a one-stop-shop for all the information customers need about their fibre installation.

Around 50 Spark staffers have been pulled off their day jobs to focus on processing fibre orders, Paris adds.

Paris says Spark is now taking steps to be more transparent with customers about its Customer Service Centre performance - this involves putting an online dashboard on its website, which shows call volumes and service metrics such as wait times.

The dashboard will be updated hourly to give customers a near-real time view of how quickly they can get hold of Spark through different channels.

“Our customer service staff do an outstanding job, but they have been under a lot of pressure,” Paris adds. “As a result customers have faced long periods of time on hold and haven’t always been called back in the time we’ve promised.

“We know there will be times when the wait times shown on our online dashboard will not be as good as we’d like them to be.

“But we think customers are entitled to know before they call us what to expect, and we’ll be doing everything we can to make sure things keep improving. Fixing this problem is our number one priority.”

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