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A whole-of-industry response to improve customer experience

Last week, the Minister for Communications convened the second CEO Roundtable, which brings internet providers, Government, regulators and nbn together to discuss the progress of the rollout and ways to ensure the best experience for everyone.

Back row: (L-R): Rod Sims (Chairman, ACCC); Nerida O'Loughlin (Chair, ACMA); Bill Morrow (CEO, nbn); Andy Penn (CEO, Telstra); Geoff Horth (Group CEO, Vocus); Craig Levy (COO, TPG); John Stanton (CEO, Communications Alliance)
Front row: (L-R): James Cameron (Acting Deputy Chair, ACMA); Dr Heather Smith (Secretary of the Department of Communications and the Arts); Hon. Mitch Fifield (Minister for Communications); Allan Lew (CEO, Optus); Judi Jones (Ombudsman, TIO)

There is no question among the participants of last week's CEO Roundtable that, while the new broadband network rolls out at a record pace, continually improving consumer experience is vital to our success. 

This requires a coordinated response across industry, government and even the end users.   

As the industry transforms, we must keep in mind that more than 90% of all homes nationally will be impacted by the rollout of the nbn broadband access network.

"The team building the nbn™ access

network has, in the past 11 weeks,

done what the

Postmaster general took 20 years to


Whether it's new cabling on the premises or a new modem in the home, we will need to coordinate some form of change with almost every household. Furthermore, the 150 or so internet providers must transform their systems, create new processes and train thousands of people to help manage end users through this massive 'churn event'.

It’s inevitable that this significant industry transformation brings with it disruption and challenges. 

The challenge of pace

One of the challenges is the unprecedented timeframe to compete this transformation.

For context, think of the infrastructure projects in the past century that have made Australia what it is today: the electricity grid, water and sewer systems, and the telephone network. These were done gradually over many decades, but even then they were not without incident or complaint.  

In 1950, the postmaster general announced that the total number of telephone connections had reached 1,030,000 across the country. This was up from 662,000 twenty years before. It is fairly easy to search newspapers of the time to find numerous complaints about crossed lines, long waiting lists, connection delays, and the time taken to repair faults. 

The team building the nbn access network has, in the past 11 weeks, done what the Postmaster general took 20 years to achieve.

While it is hard to compare rollouts from different eras, it is useful to look at these timeframes in terms of the consumer issues the rollout generates. 

As the pace of the nbn™ access network rollout increases, so too will the number of people who are impacted by the transformation.

While the industry players all wish to ensure a positive experience, the number of complaints that previous projects saw trickle through over the decades now come through in a matter of weeks, simply due to the rollout volumes we are achieving. We see this reflected in the media, and through our call centre. 

It also explains why the boards light up when radio stations do talkback about the nbn™ access network.  

While those with problems remain in the minority, the total number of people having an unsatisfactory experience is unacceptable. 

Let me be clear, we are working hard to fix these issues in order to give everyone a better experience, but it will take time.

Focus on user experience

At the CEO roundtable, I reiterated that nbn is working hard to improve the end-user experience wherever we can control it, and provide as much support as possible to the internet providers where they own the customer relationship and experience. 

Each month, nbn surveys many thousands of connected end users to gauge their satisfaction with the end-to-end process from placing an order with their retailer and connecting with the nbn access network, through to using the network and receiving service in the instance the network should fail.

nbn has initiatives underway to further improve our role in this process, as do the internet providers – some are in isolation, some in collaboration. 

We know, for example, that a satisfactory experience when ‘getting connected’ is influenced by the time to complete an order, kept appointments, and the quality of support along the way.

"Many people are not aware that there

are plans based on higher wholesale

speed tiers available on

the nbn access network, and

retailers tend to assign customers to

the cheaper plans that limit speeds,

which may not be much better than

their previous ADSL or other


Our program to reduce the backlog of time-consuming complex orders has delivered a 23 per cent reduction since it kicked off.

We have also partnered with RSPs to collaborate on process improvements that will change the way an end-user appointment is managed. For the RSPs who have elected to work with us, we are already seeing substantial improvements. 

When it comes to ‘using' the services over broadband networks, a satisfactory experience is heavily influenced by the observed download speed and whether this is what was expected with the product purchased.

This is particularly important at the time of day when most users are downloading videos: 'peak time'.

Many people are not aware that there are plans based on higher wholesale speed tiers available on the nbn access network, and retailers tend to assign customers to the cheaper plans that limit speeds, which may not be much better than their previous ADSL or other connection.

This is understandable as retailers fight to maintain market share, but it doesn’t align with what people want and expect of the nbn access network. We are helping people with what they should ask their retailers. 

We also know that a number of non-network elements can have a large impact on experience.

These include: in-home wiring, the type of modem/router and where it is positioned in the home. Simply using a better quality modem/router also has a huge impact on the experience online.

We are working with retailers and regulators to see what can be done to diagnose and remedy these issues so people can quickly get a very significant bump in performance. 

The time it takes to fix issues is also an important part of the experience and nbn is building tools that will help end users and RSPs to diagnose issues, identify where they exist in the various networks and potentially fix them without needing a technician.

Even if the industry gets these three interactions with the end user right all the time, there is still an issue of whether the community is properly informed.

This relates to the understanding in the market around what is nbn’s role as the wholesaler.

In a recent survey we conducted, 20 per cent of respondents said they thought they should call Telstra to sort any network issue (even when their service provider wasn’t Telstra), 14% said they should call nbn and not their own retailer.

Something as simple as knowing who to talk to is vital for avoiding frustration and getting results. 

Perhaps the most interesting element of the surveys we do, however, is the variation in satisfaction by retailer.

If the underlying technology or network issues were solely, or even largely to blame, you would expect dissatisfaction to be distributed evenly across the retailers.

This is not the case.

We see significant variation in satisfaction between the best and worst performing retailers. This underscores that the way retailers manage their networks, their customers and their CVC allocations is pivotal in the overall experience people have.  

We know every one of the CEOs at the roundtable want an excellent experience for all of their customers and some are ahead of others in making this happen.

The road ahead

Essentially, nbn is undertaking two major tasks.

We are building the network as quickly and as cost-effectively as possible, as the government has instructed us to do.

At the same time, we are monitoring end-user experience issues and working with all parties to put in place the programs and processes to fix the issues as we approach completion in a couple of years.

What separates the nbn™ access network from earlier infrastructure projects, and from what other countries are doing, is that the network is for all Australians, wherever they live, and it is being constructed in record time.

No one ever said it would be simple, but the work we are undertaking with industry and government is already showing positive results and we are confident this will continue as we endeavour to make tomorrow better than yesterday for all Australians.

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