If only the rest of the world could live up to the telco five-nines standard

The world relies on telecommunications providers for so much of our modern lifestyle. Yet the telco industry consistently fails to impress customers. Telcos interminably underperform on NPS (Net Promoter Score) metrics, such as the benchmark report from customergauge.com:


Yet against this backdrop, the telco industry has always held itself to incredibly high engineering standards – our beloved “Five-Nines” availability metric. That’s 99.999% uptime for the uninitiated, (and let’s not forget that leftover 0.001% for planned or unplanned outages. In terms of time, that’s about 5.26 minutes a year, or approximately 25.9 seconds a month, or if you prefer, a miniscule 6.05 seconds a week!).

Let’s compare that with some of the other industries above. Can they live up to the same standards as telco?

Let’s start at the top. Healthcare? Hmm? We don’t even need to raise an argument here do we? Has anyone NOT had to wait endlessly in a doctor’s waiting room or emergency ward of a hospital? Have no doctors ever been sued for malpractice?

Utilities? Have you ever experienced a blackout? Nope? Never thought to buy candles or have torches around the house in case the power fails? No, didn’t think so!

Transportation? If we had five-nines uptime here, we’d expect the 7:15am train to always be there at exactly 7:15am. In our universe, however, the 7:15am train probably just takes a detour through Neverland each morning. Or let’s consider traffic lights. At five-nines reliability, the green light would always be green right when you approach. We would never be stuck at a traffic light or in a traffic jam. Ah, what bliss that would be!

We could keep stepping down the list above, but the answer (cough! excuse!!) will be a recurring, “global supply chain issues caused by COVID.”

Other critical infrastructures, we love you, but you’re more like us mere mortals than the telco five-nines benchmark – you’re unpredictable, sometimes late, but always trying. Here’s to your cruisy life of customer expectation at two or three nines (or maybe even less)!

So then, if telco really does meet a higher standard than the all other industries, why does it consistently get such a low NPS score and endless customer complaints? It’s clearly not the engineering (and I’ll quietly claim a win for all the OSSes out there that help to coordinate these amazing uptimes), so there must be something else at play.

To quote the same article from customergauge.com above:

“In 2021, there were over 300 million wireless carrier subscribers in the U.S. With an industry churn rate of 22 percent, that gives us 95 million frustrated customers taking their interests—and wallet—to another provider.

Today, one of the largest risks to telecommunications companies is an inability to understand customer values.”

Rather than just jumping on our “five-nines” high-horse, which is clearly an engineer’s perspective, perhaps we (and our OSSes) could shift focus to what’s upsetting customers. Improved customer experience concepts could include:

  • Understanding customer values with an outward-facing strategy (rather than the inward-facing strategy often employed by operations teams in telcos – and their OSS)
  • Attention to customer service (which means a removal of strategies that try to move conversations with real agents and redirect them to cheaper tech-based customer handling – IVR, chatbots, call-volume-reduction, online-only, etc)
  • Simplification and friction-reduction strategies
  • Personalised and omni-channel services
  • Customer loyalty programs that actually warrant loyalty
  • Transparency and trust
  • Improved customer communications and notifications
  • Investing in people
  • The best customer service is no customer service

To borrow from an Oliver Wyman report on next-level customer experience in telco, to consider the following elements from the customer experience equation:


It’s just another example of us having to take our “technology blinkers” off and looking at more human factors.

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