Calling all long-time customers!

By Simon Woodhead

I’ve just picked up the phone to a long-time customer (let’s call him Frank) as the tone of a support ticket suggested he was somewhat grumpy with us, having historically been a big fan. I’m pleased to say he is again having cleared up some misunderstandings fuelled by some vicious gossip he’d heard. The misunderstandings were clearly our failure to communicate certain things and lead to a feeling we’d left him behind and were trying to squeeze him out. That is so far from our intent and deeply upsetting so, with Frank’s agreement, I wanted to share the key areas of concern and deal with them!

We can’t have any more channels

Frank believed that he wasn’t allowed any more channels unless he upgraded to Virtual Interconnect, and so every customer he took on caused him concern and lead to him bouncing off channel limits. This got sufficiently desperate for him to compromise on all the things he loved about us (like quality and fraud controls), and open an account elsewhere in order to keep growing.

We’ve been pretty honest in this blog about how we cannot give away expensive capacity and see it sit idle until a competitor’s next outage. That doesn’t in any way mean that capacity is restricted to customers on higher package tiers, just that we need a business case and to know that they’ll be used. If you are on a production package (i.e. not non-production Developer accounts) and you need more capacity, just ask us! Sorry if we’ve suggested otherwise and do please read our blog post about competitors framing this differently.

Channel limits have changed altogether in recent weeks as we now relax channel limits where we can – we want you to pass as much traffic as possible and do not want to stand in the way. Frank shouldn’t have had any issues recently with or without increasing his limit.

Using trunks, one inbound customer can use all my channels

To be fair to Frank, he’d raised this as a feature request some months ago and it makes far more sense in the light of the above than in isolation. Inbound channel limits on trunks are actually there now, i.e. they are available in the API and work on calls, but are not yet in the portal, which is why we haven’t announced them. They will be in the portal ASAP. Outbound limits and fraud controls have always been there of course.

That is a feature for “Premium Customers”

This is perhaps the saddest comment as we love all customers, well those who treat us with respect and pay their bills! Yes, market distortion by Ofcom and our own evolution have required us to adjust how and what we charge for (more on this shortly) but we value all our customers, especially loyal ones that have been our foundation for many many years. Developer customers have some restrictions, as you’ll hopefully expect, but other than the commercials varying across our packages (trading call charges for capacity charges as you scale) there is no notion of customer classes, certainly not old customers being an underclass!

With the new packages we’ve tried to face primary competitors with each one to cater for customers at different stages in their growth; so it isn’t a case of one being better or worse, although it is true we want customers to grow and migrate up through them.

Startup is almost identical to our previous main plan but addresses some realities such as how Ofcom have distorted the wholesale market, driving down our prices while allowing BT to increase our costs, and doing nothing to reduce retail prices to consumers. Things like waiving the minimum calls charge were corrected with this as they just don’t make commercial sense for customers that are not committing to us. We’re quite happy to discuss waiving that on Startup for customers that can and will commit however.

You now have a £100 minimum spend

This isn’t an issue for Frank but contributed to his feelings. We set this to a) discourage your customers trying to open wholesale accounts and b) so we could simplify number billing and make it more accessible. Competitors at this tier charge £100 minimum just for numbering; we charge £100 minimum for the account as a whole and that can be made up of numbers, termination, porting etc. Whereas trial and young customers were previously forced to pay our lower £40 per month numbering charge, they now have a £5 per month Developer option which is limited appropriately for its intended use.

You put your Belgium rates up massively

… and then dropped them down again. Frank thought we were profiteering and faced a choice of either terminating through another carrier more cheaply (at lower quality and without fraud controls), or passing on hugely increased costs to his customers. We manage rates and codes very differently to others and this was symptomatic of that, and how our anchor carrier for international traffic handles fraud! Dealing with those in turn;

  • Others have teams of people cutting and pasting rates to output a CSV to you. These rates should then (check they do) be applied on calls you pass. They are slow to reflect market changes in either direction, and mistakes can happen. By contrast, we have far far more breakouts for each country, giving granular pricing rather than blended, and have to manage this automatically. For each country we have an anchor carrier whose codes and prices we track. This means our prices move down as well as up, respond immediately to market changes, and can be completely automated. The same system that generates the rate file, bills you; we’re not cutting and pasting or throwing CSVs about the place!
  • One of our anchor carriers has odd behaviour to fraud losses. These tend to result from unknown/new mobile or non-geographic codes at penal rates. Their response is to increase the price for the country as a whole or the breakout the loss occurred in, and then add a special breakout for it later. When that is there and the codes have changed, the price adjusts down again. Given our automation we follow this, and of course are incurring those higher costs too. It isn’t perfect but feels a small price to pay occasionally for the operational benefits through automation.

Frank was happy with this – he wasn’t so much worried about the cost in isolation but what he thought it indicated! Our pricing model is fixed for each service level and adjusts up and down with our costs (which include currency movements of course). There is no finger in the air pricing!

I heard you use <insert> billing system

Anybody passing us off as a customer of their billing system is fibbing. Because our billing is tied into our business logic (see above) and our unique fraud controls, it is completely home-grown over the years and is now a bit of a beast. I did our development in the early years which was taken over by Ross and now our Mauritius team of Jean-Michel and Thomas are coding full-time. We’re arguably more of a software company than any of our competitors and this makes us agile!

£3.5m towards mobile costs

Frank had been told (by somebody we’ve never heard of) that Simwood Mobile had been a “complete failure” and we had to force people to the new packages to pay for it. The suggestion was 700 accounts (inaccurate figure) paying £5k each, would contribute £3.5m towards it. This is utter utter crap and sadly symptomatic of where we find ourselves now generally, with competitors making up lies rather than innovating and looking after their own customers.

Mobile didn’t cost anywhere near that amount, but it is fair to say it isn’t yet finished – I said so months ago – given the absence of porting and roaming, and we’ve also made a number of commercial and technical changes based on your feedback. Commercially, we launched in May 2015, by which time the majority of the costs were sunk and fully paid for. There are operational costs to keeping it going but they are not material. What we have built is technically unique but has been really challenging and taken far longer than we’d have liked, not least because we do not have an effectively regulated transparent marketplace. A lot of customers are using mobile but until we’ve sorted porting and roaming such that every customer can make full use of it, we don’t expect it to be profitable. However, in no way do we need to subsidise it by extorting customers and anyone claiming so just doesn’t understand our business. You only need to look at our doubling of headcount with key hires, key customer wins, and commitment to investment elsewhere to see how things really are!

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That covers the main points of concern Frank had and I’m so sorry to all old customers who may share some of his feelings. I hope we’ve explained and allayed those concerns now. Whilst we go out of our way to be transparent and open on this blog, we’ve obviously missed some points of issue. If there are other concerns, frustrations or rumours you would like dealing with here then please let the team or I know! I can’t be as one-to-one with every customer as 20 years ago when we started, but our values haven’t changed.

I should also say that whilst Frank ended our call a fan again, the vast majority of the feedback we get is really positive. That is really nice and welcome but do please give us the hard truths as well; we’d much sooner that than you resorting to the desperate measure of opening an account elsewhere like Frank did!