NBN Co is “working flat out” to resolve support tickets for new connections that have languished in its systems for a month or more.
The network builder today admitted that its expansion of customer service had not kept pace with the rollout, causing frustration levels to climb in recent months.
One source of frustration is a backlog of support tickets lodged by retail service providers (RSPs) or construction partners when they encounter problems in the field.
NBN Co said it is focused on resolving what it calls “aged tickets” - cases that have been open at least four weeks and where there is no resolution in sight.
“Aged tickets happen when something out of the ordinary occurs that means we cannot connect the premises to the NBN access network,” chief network engineering officer Peter Ryan said in a blog post.
“It can be something as crazy as an unclaimed car being left for months right on the exact spot where we need to conduct some civil works”, Ryan said, though the company did not provide other examples of problems being encountered.
NBN Co has been contacted for detail on how many aged tickets were being targeted for resolution as part of this exercise.
Ryan said once the queue was cleared, NBN Co would do what it could to ensure the list of delayed cases did not grow once again.
“We’re turning our attention to making sure that these aged tickets don’t appear in the first place by working with our delivery partners and internet providers to ensure we’re all properly aligned in the activations process and know exactly what is going on with each premises,” Ryan said.
NBN Co maintains, however, that “the vast majority” of connections are made “without issue”.
But Ryan today admitted that NBN Co often didn’t have the resources to deal with difficult customer connections in a timely manner.
The good, the bad of MTM
Ryan effectively blamed this on a double-edged sword effect of the multi-technology mix (MTM) strategy instituted by the Coalition government.
The MTM approach has seen the company connect a lot of premises very quickly: two million in the past 17 months, and one million alone in the past six months.
“When fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) was our only fixed-broadband option (along with our fixed wireless and satellite services) it took nearly five years to reach our first one million activations in May 2016,” Ryan said.
“Now with the introduction of the multi technology mix we’ve added another two million customers in under 18 months."
But the speed of the rollout has caused problems in other parts of the NBN organisation, with MTM essentially to blame.
“In some respects the speed of the build is one of the key reasons behind some of the challenges we’re facing in terms of customer experience,” Ryan said.
“When NBN Co was activating around 3000-4000 premises per week across the country - which was pretty much the case until mid-2016 when our FTTN activations really kicked in - activation issues could be easily managed.
“Fast forward to now and we’re regularly activating more than 40,000 premises every week, which means we’re pretty much activating a city the size of Canberra every single month.
“This huge increase naturally puts pressure on the customer service experience.”
Ryan said NBN Co wanted to put a stop to customers being caught in a vacuum of information between NBN Co and its RSPs.
The company has been working with the top 15 RSPs on its network over the past few months to get them all on the same page in the activation process.
However, those discussions also have a wider purpose: to reduce industry discontent at the NBN pricing model, which is causing margin pressure for RSPs.
'Right the first time'
In addition to resolving outstanding tickets, NBN Co is also set to target improvements in the number of connections it makes correctly first time around.
Communications Minister Mitch Fifield told a CEDA event last Friday that "NBN Co is working hard to shift the dial on connections completed ‘right the first time' from just below 90 percent to up to 95 percent this financial year".
Fifield also said he had "convened a meeting with all the telco CEOs, retailers and NBN Co" early last week "to get an update from them" on how they were working through customer experience concerns.
"The particular focus right now is issues of handballing complaints, lead times for connections and rescheduling appointments," Fifield said.