ISPs: Technology choice, customer service is as important as price

The burden of increased choice is making the right decision to suit your needs. That much has become apparent with the proliferation of not only service providers but also technologies which enable a fast, reliable and secure internet connection. Making the right choice now requires an appreciation of the technologies which are available and a sound assessment of your use case.

That’s according to Eugene van der Merwe, CEO of Internet Service Provider (ISP) Snowball Effect. He goes a step further and points out that you also want to choose a service provider which is in fact willing and able to deliver the type of service which makes you a happy customer.

“When choosing an ISP, South African consumers are undoubtedly price-sensitive; this is frequently the most important priority,” says van der Merwe.

This is something reinforced by the media constantly harping on about the admittedly high cost of connectivity; however, while it remains a factor, van der Merwe encourages consumers to look beyond price when making a decision. “The Internet has become as important a service for most of us in the home and office as electricity or running water is. As a result, quality and the use-case should also be prime considerations for technology and service provider selection,” van der Merwe says.

In terms of technology, van der Merwe says the primary connections are ADSL, 3G (and its derivatives, such as HSDPA), iBurst, WiMAX and WiFi on the ISM band, used by the Wireless Access Providers’ Association of South Africa, of which Snowball Effect is a member.

“While we deliver on the ISM band, we don’t advocate it where a better use case exists – such as for ADSL for the fixed location user, or 3G for the highly mobile one,” says van der Merwe.

However, he says consumers should look at the implications of the technology to be used, including the cost of ‘CPE’ (customer premise equipment), the ability for the technology to deliver a strong signal indoors and the bandwidth cap.

Van der Merwe explains that WiFi on the ISM (Industrial, Scientific And Medical; these are radio frequencies previously reserved for these markets) band is preferred by WAPA as it is a proven commodity technology which provides for the low-cost extension of connectivity to especially those areas where copper or fibre connectivity is not available.

“When dealing with a good ISP, it should be in a position to assist you to make the right choice – based not on the technology it advocates, but rather on your specific use-case,” van der Merwe stresses.

That leads him to the next essential element for the ISP customer – that of service quality. Many internet consumers only come to realize the importance of service quality only after they have chosen a service provider which does not deliver the required level of service.

In particular, Van der Merwe points to the accessibility and quality of call centre support. “Typically, it is when things go wrong that people interact with their service provider. That means the call centre has to be staffed with appropriately experienced people and it should never be over-busy,” he says – nodding to the fact that there are few experiences more annoying than being placed endlessly on hold.

“Even when downgrading or canceling a contract, the quality of the contact centre experience is critical if the ISP is looking to invest in long term positive perceptions of its ability to deliver sound service,” he adds – pointing out that some organizations appear to use a frustrating cancelation procedure to dissuade customers from exiting.

People absolutely rely on the Internet and are getting more clued up, says van der Merwe. Simultaneously, there are more choices available in the South African market than ever before. “Service providers have to respond by upping their game especially with regards to how they meet the increasingly sophisticated needs of their customers. The days of a two-year contract as a cushy tie-in are over, as are the days of convincing customers to sign up to a given technology without its delivering clear benefits to suit the use case. Customers are increasingly looking to exercise their right to choose and good service providers are delivering that choice.”

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ISPs: Technology choice, customer service is as important as price