Comms Business Magazine talks to Brian Lodge, Managing Director and one of the three founders of Exeter based reseller South West Communications Group about successes and challenges
Comms Business Magazine (CBM): What have been the most significant events in the history of the company since it was formed in 1983?
Brian Lodge (BL): The best decision we made was to form our own finance company in the early years of our company. This meant that we could finance the deals we were selling ourselves and began our ethos of having a recurring revenue model. Apart from the huge benefits this provided the company it meant that our transition from CPE to cloud based deployment was much easier to manage.
Secondly, we decided – also at an early stage in the company history, to obtain approval to maintain the systems we sold and then never accepting a deal without having a five-year contract in place. This has resulted in having a huge and loyal customer base.
Thirdly, in 1998 we decided to build new premises from scratch that would be capable of housing our own data centre. Again, this enabled a change in direction for Swcomms towards hosted telephony with our first customer going live on an Alcatel solution in 2004. Today we have many large customers hosted there. Recently we have built a new front end to the Data Centre so we can show customers what the cloud looks like and how it works. This helps many customers make their first steps to the cloud – they can feel more secure having seen it.
Lastly, when Toshiba pulled the plug on the UK we decided not to replace it with another traditional PBX and instead took on the Gamma Horizon hosted telephone solution. Today Horizon represents 60% of our business!
CBM: You recently announced a partnership with TalkTalk Business for hosted telephony. Why TalkTalk?
BL: In changing our direction from being a CPE supplier to cloud based services supplier we had to turn around a big ship that was steeped in traditional PBX systems. We wanted to ‘engage’ staff with our plans and take them on the change in direction towards the cloud and an ethos of customer service excellence.
We have a company slogan of ‘30 by 20’ which means we want to achieve a turnover of £30million by 2020. Communication with staff was key so we launched a weekly in house magazine to keep everyone informed of what we were doing. We implemented personal development plans for staff and apprenticeship schemes for new and existing staff. Everyone is benefitting from this shift of focus. Cloud applications mean that we can give our users one bill and one monthly cost, all on our finance. It makes a serious difference to the company having a recurring stream contributing 65% of our overall turnover.
We try to contain our product range as often today the only differentiator is the service level you supply. Having a great customer service excellence ethos here means this becomes a USP for us.
So, to answer your question, Horizon works very well for us but we wanted a solution with different features that we could use to target larger enterprise.
CBM: How are users reacting to the switch from ISDN to IP based connectivity?
BL: I have to have a moan here and say that carrier delivery is holding us back. We can’t deliver to the customer until the circuit is installed so we are at the mercy of their ability to supply. This often creates negativity and frustration. On the positive side the user cost savings are dramatic with SIP connectivity and bundled minutes giving users a simple to understand fixed monthly cost. It rarely fails to stack up for a user. Our suppliers include Gamma, KCOM, TalkTalk Business, BT and to an extent Virgin.
CBM: In what way(s) have you embraced a ‘customer first’ business strategy?
BL: We have a flat, hands on management structure that does not look kindly on customer complaints. Instead of working in silos we created a department agnostic team to handle CX which has really worked well. We now go beyond fast responses and go to the next level by over delivering service. This sets us aside from competition; customer retention is vital and we want that monthly revenue forever.
CBM: What are the most significant challenges or opportunities your company faces right now?
BL: A shift to mobile is on the cusp of hitting the channel in the face. We therefore need to make sure we are engaged at the mobile level sufficiently. For example, Wi-Fi, microwave, network supplied phone system features on the handset etc. We have all these components now but need make sure we are in bed with great carriers. The market is getting to where we thought it might be 20 years ago.