By: Trent Taylor, VP – Product Development

Based on my previous experience in the strictly for-profit telecom world, there is a major focus on “upselling” customers.  A sales team is always taught to squeeze the highest dollar out of the customer; often there are many sales tactics and small dollar add-ons that are used for accomplishing this goal. For many electric cooperatives joining the broadband space, there is a new emphasis on training frontline employees to better determine the level of Internet service that is mutually beneficial for both the company and the customer.  Instead of thinking of it as upselling customers, we urge clients to think about this as “right-sizing” the customer based on their needs.

Most electric cooperatives have been around their communities for a very long time and are well-respected in the community.  This is reflected in the care that their frontline employees have for their customers, and many employees are often hesitant to sell anything other than the cheapest fiber internet package available.  When you right-size a customer, you are asking the questions to determine what internet package suits this customer best.  The answer is not always going to be the largest/fastest plan available.  It’s also not always going to be the least expensive option. If there is a customer that only uses the internet periodically and only has a couple of devices that are connected to the internet, then the smallest package might be suitable for them.  Customers using streaming methods to receive television programming will more than likely require a more robust internet package than the base service.

How can we make it easier for frontline employees to determine how to “right-size” a customer?  It is really as simple as a conversation. The employee can utilize leading questions such as “how many connected devices are in the home?” and then prompt the customer to think about those items that are not at the forefront of their mind when they think connected devices such as, wireless printers, thermostats, security cameras and smart home automation products.  I know for myself, until I sat down and listed ALL of the connected devices within my home, I was probably about 10 items shy of the actual number. Taking this information into consideration really allows you to understand the customer’s usage and needs and make sure they have the best Internet service for their specific needs.

Electric cooperatives also have the benefit of symmetrical service on the fiber network.  The same upload speed and download speeds are important and relevant when speaking with a customer who uploads videos, games, or other large files.  Most of the traditional ISPs have a much lower upload than download speed, and this is typically due to the restrictions in a non-fiber network. Making sure customers understand this key differentiator is an important part of the right-sizing conversation.

Finally, we should talk about the cost of right-sized Internet.  The majority of Electric Co-ops that provide broadband service to customers start their packages at 100Mb and often offer up to 1Gbps service, and this will likely expand even further once end-user devices can handle that kind of speed.  I have yet to find a competitive market where the new entrant (Co-op broadband provider) was not priced more competitively than the incumbent ISP, especially when you consider the symmetric speeds.  So, even when a customer is “right-sized” to the highest package, they’re typically paying less than the highest speed package provided by the traditional ISP, and with much better network performance and customer service.  And based on my recent experience, I believe customers are willing to pay a few extra dollars a month to get efficient, friendly customer service!

Electric cooperatives providing broadband have quite a few things going for them that set them apart from traditional ISPs.  Frontline employees can use a simple conversation with a few targeted questions to provide the customer with the type of service best suited to their needs.  No customer wants to run into the issue of the buffering “ring of death” while waiting on a favorite show or movie to load.  It’s a win-win for both parties involved – not only do the customers have a great experience, but offering a profitable Internet service allows cooperatives to fund further expansion as they seek to close the digital divide in unserved or underserved communities.