By Simon Woodhead
Getting back into the saddle and seeing this industry with fresh eyes, I realise nearly everything we’ve done over the last 26 years has been wrong. We’ve been too honest, too transparent and too fair, and people apparently don’t want that.
We’ve always tried to be as open as possible and keep things simple. If we increase a rate people see it in the analysis in their portal, or hear about it on our Community Slack, or maybe even just see it in a very clear rate sheet!
By contrast, others send random plain text emails to update rates, have opaque CDRs in prehistoric formats accessible by dial-up (I exaggerate but it isn’t far off), or refuse to provide CDRs at all because they’re already providing an unintelligible bill through the random number generator. No analysis, no explanation, no transparency. Just a big bill.
Now of course, things aren’t truly hidden with them. The surcharge per minute on incoming calls is perfectly clear in note 38 of tab 26 on one of 78 different rate sheets, most of which may not be relevant or may be, who knows! Or you’ve found the one rate that applies but don’t know about the other 7! Or you’ve got a special rate unique to you but should of course have known that it’d reset if you didn’t ask for it again when they updated rates – it is obvious in those CDRs you can’t see. Or they have hidden another surcharge per minute deep in an annex to T&Cs for any call that doesn’t fit a profile they make up; that one doesn’t even need to go in CDRs, it can just be debited.
We also completely missed a trick to pillage our entire customer base with origin surcharges. That scam would have been worth millions, especially from those unsuspecting customers who are sending traffic not compliant with Ofcom’s long-standing rules. We should have ignored those rules like everyone else and lobbied the Regulator for a wheeze we could make so complicated nobody would actually be able to check what we were charging, but we’d have multiplied our margins several fold. Instead, we filtered that traffic out long ago when the original rules came in, and absorbed both the customer frustration of doing so, loss of revenue and the subsequent pain of surcharges. So so stupid of us.
I realise now that the clarity and honesty we’ve tried to provide was completely misplaced and we’d be a £1bn operator if we’d just followed the herd and done business in the cesspit. We could roll out the red carpet and employ dozens of people to schmooze and tell customers and prospects only what they want to hear. We could have embraced the fake – the rate sheets and T&Cs would have our back.
There seems to be a barrage of utterly naive (but so complacent and aggressive!) procurement at the moment, that has no appreciation for the complexity of voice or the morality of other players. It is very frustrating and sad. They think this is a commodity industry where they can play whack-a-mole with any price that sticks up, safe in the knowledge that some shiny suit will tell them how special they are and they’re making it go away just for them, knowing all along they’re paying 6 times that in sub-clause D of note 10, of sheet 37 which they’ll never read or understand, even if they get access to it. Maybe the shiny suit isn’t entirely full of contempt, perhaps he doesn’t even know it is there so he can charm to the max and go fully long on the mega special unrepeatable and reality defying price he’s giving them.
Of course, we have backbone and we want to sleep at night! We trade on trust and transparency, and our decency and authenticity is really important to us. Being clear about what we’re going to charge, have charged, and accountable when people don’t like it is the right thing to do and, fear not, we will continue doing it.
Reality is we have about the best economics in the business. I don’t mean to sound like Trump there but we access Ofcom-capped rates across so many more networks than most, are in things like the Secret Club 5 years ahead of others, yet are lean and technology-first so have lower overheads than others. We treasure mutually respectful long-term relationships (and our first ever customer is still with us!) with give and take to make the numbers work for both.
Therefore when someone offers you a [component of a] rate we refuse to match because it is uneconomic, you’d be well advised to take note. Just look how many mouths they’re feeding apparently out of a rate we won’t match, despite having demonstrably lower input costs! Our customers are generally intelligent enough to see this but sadly there’s far too many being ripped off by others, even though they’ll never know and instead convince themselves they have a rate so good that Simwood couldn’t match it. Sadly, we can’t fix stupid, but we can feel sorry for them and do all we can to ensure none of this affects the end-user, who is ultimately the one who’ll get shafted.