In a quick summary can you please tell me about BT Local Business?
BT Local Business was created in 2002 and it is now 40 partners of BT (or franchises really) who only work for BT. All of our people are trained at BT and they have access to all the BT systems and essentially form the sales arm for all BT business. Before this, BT had some real issues with customer satisfaction with national call centres not really offering the local knowledge or personal interaction that could be offered by a local team. To offer a better service they decided that they were going to start BT Local Business which started with 80 centres originally and later, adjusted down to 40 slightly bigger ones. This has done remarkably well for BT and now our customers know their local company’s phone number and they get through to the same people whenever they need to. I've been doing this since 2003 and there are 33 of us in the team. We have nine people in the field and the rest in the office offering customer advice and services, so it works very well for BT and our customers
Can you tell me a little about your background?
I was working in London and across the country for BT and then I met my wife and moved to Merseyside with BT and then the BT Local Business model started. At the time I was studying SMEs on behalf of BT and that's why I’m so passionate about them. We were trying to understand how they work and how we could better serve them, I had even been to Italy and Belgium to take part in some studies. To a large extent, BT Local Business is an SME and I am proud of that but we have the added advantage of working for and with BT so we’ve got this great brand to promote and get support from. BT have come in for some stick over the years but at the end of the day they never run away from their responsibilities and in fact as the local representatives, we make sure that's the case. If a client has any issues with BT, we’ll help with the resolution and be a champion for the customer.
We’ve come along way since the days when BT was the only provider and the high levels of customer service we can offer are of great benefit to both BT and our clients. Historically, it just wasn't always a good journey or experience for the customer. You may have been a customer based in Liverpool and when you phoned BT, you may have been bounced onto another call centre somewhere else in the country which isn't always great. You know if you speak to somebody in one office you’ll likely want to be able to speak to them again; people want to see people locally. We’ve had the same number now for years and years, my customers can dial that number and always get through to us. Our key account customers all have the direct dial number of the person they usually deal with, so you can build a relationship and develop trust which makes it a much better journey for the customer.
So what are the latest developments for digital and BT?
We have seen the Internet and the cloud take off and this is a great opportunity for us. Customers across the country are looking for fast Internet connections, they need it to be reliable and they want the ability to be more agile with the way they run their business. BT, like many other telecoms networks, responded to the challenge by laying more fibre in the ground which is either going straight into customer’s premises, or extending the reach of the exchange to the green cabinets, effectively moving the exchange closer to the customer and the customer closer to fast Internet
This move towards faster Internet means it’s now easier to utilise cloud based systems for use within the workplace including cloud based telephony, bringing further benefits such as home-based work with quality, reliable cloud-based communications. We are also seeing a massive integration of the mobile network and the fixed line network. BT now owns EE so we have customers who have one main number but, say if they are a team of six with only one office based, and that person is already engaged, somebody out in the field can answer the company phone on their mobile. All the calls can be recorded, they can transfer calls between themselves whether they are in the office or out of the office, it’s a really useful, smart system.
Their mobile phone or smart phone is replacing the phone on the desk and that’s probably one of the greatest things I've seen happen. You can call from your mobile as if you've made the call from the office. You don't need to use your desk phone separately as you can make the call from your mobile whether you are in or out, so there is real integration between the two platforms.
In all my time with BT Local Business, and BT before, this phone/mobile integration is one of the most beneficial advancements for firms. We've just installed a system for a haulage firm with over 40 users. One of their biggest issues is with drivers losing their devices, delays in getting them replaced were causing real issues and now the client has spare SIMs ready to go immediately and can just log onto a portal and activate them, that way there is no down time for the business or the user.
At the moment, BT Onephone is the market leading platform for this integration and I believe it’s the best form of integration for fixed line and mobile networks. BT Onephone was formed as part of a partnership with a firm from Sweden, and when we originally brought this into the country it was solely for big customers with 100+ users but now that's come right down to as few as five users. This has opened it up to the SME market, and it's really helping those smaller companies that need to be flexible and agile, we can respond to them with a flexible system. Personally, I'm really pleased that all of this technology is now available for SMEs rather than just the bigger firms. I love working with smaller businesses and wouldn't want to be in the corporate marketplace. Having studied SMEs a little, I know these technical advantages are a good thing for small firms bringing real benefits.
How do you view your relationship with Wirral Chamber?
We are a member of the Liverpool and Wirral chambers. The partnership we have with Wirral Chamber and the way they integrate their Strategic Partners and allow us to get involved with things, presents us with a fantastic opportunity to network and get our message out to other businesses. That face to face introduction is much more effective than an email or a phone call or a web presence. I think getting out to meet with Wirral business owners and taking our Local Business model to them but with the backing of BT, is the best combination. The closer we work with the Chamber the more we get out of it. It’s a partnership in the literal sense of the word and we both benefit from the relationship, but like everything you have to work at it and get involved and that’s what we intend to do.
What is your territory?
We covered Liverpool and Southport originally and then Wirral, Chester and North Wales area came under us. BT have rewarded us with an extended territory in recognition of the success we have had so far. They say that if they have a good partner out there who is already working well with customers and keeping the customer satisfaction levels high, then they will give them the opportunity to take on those extra areas. So that's how we got Wirral, North Wales and Chester. I can be across in Bangor one-day or Aberystwyth and then in Chester the next. The advisers in the field have their own specific areas so there is only ever generally one person who visits you, giving clients the continuity they want and helping us maintain relationships.
So who manages your client’s accounts?
We defer everything to BT for the install and the billing is also through BT, meaning our clients are BT customers and will always get a BT engineer maintaining and installing their equipment, while also having a phone number for our local support team. Customers like that because they’ve got someone local overseeing their installation and if they have any issues at any time they know they can speak directly to us and we will be that communication point. This way we can offer the best of both worlds, with the technical know how and world leading products and services of BT and the personal support of a local supplier.
Do we have any issues in the Wirral regarding our digital capacity compared to the rest of the country?
No, absolutely not. The Wirral has a cross-section of areas some being somewhat remote and also larger conurbations like Birkenhead and Ellesmere Port. Liverpool city centre by comparison is just one type of area whereas Wirral is diverse with lots of different types of businesses and no more problematic for capacity issues than anywhere else in the country really.
Remote areas, such as North Wales can be challenging at times. I might have a farmer who suddenly decides to move two miles up the road on the same piece of land and ask us to get his phone working the same day! BT have a great system now whereby when people come to us; even if they're looking at something a little bit remote, straight away we can do a survey from their desk which will give them an idea of what services are already in the area available to them.
With technical developments, we can do many more remote installations than we used to. With the green cabinets being fibre enabled, that effectively brings the exchange closer to the client, increasing availability so more customers are able to get the right products and services at the right price without a lot of upfront costs, which is really great and I'm really passionate about that.
Lease Lines is a good example. They used to be something that only bigger companies had, delivering superfast Internet from the broadband side of the exchange. With lease lines if you're getting 100mb then you get 100mb available for uploading and downloading all the time. These used to cost thousands of pounds a month, the bigger companies would have one and find it essential because of course telephony is also Internet intensive and everything relies on the Internet from phone calls to the way they manage their systems. Smaller customers can now get this technology at an affordable level in many areas, there are so many services available. One of the challenges we have is explaining what's available and that's why the In Business event next week is a good opportunity for us so that we can get in front of people and tell them.
That's mine and BT’s message at the In Business event next week, ‘Speak to us now because there is an awful lot already available’ We have new developments such as the latest thing being rolled out: G Fast. This is new type of Internet connection where they're taking Broadband Internet speeds from 80Mb downloads for businesses to up to 330Mb. That’s a product that I see lots of businesses using as a superfast tool. For businesses that are maybe a bit remote they are introducing a new broadband with a 4G SIM in the router, so if there's any issues with the broadband, it drops over to the 4G SIM as backup. We have 4G on our mobile phones now and in many places, you can now get 40Mb download on your mobile and I can see that is already going up to 60Mb or 70Mb in some areas, so the fact that your broadband router is now backed up by that is so useful, especially for people that are remote and don’t have as good an internet as people in the built up areas. This adds another dimension to the service and that's part of the integration I was talking about before. I think it's one of the great things I've seen since BT bought EE - the integration and the possibilities are phenomenal and when I talk to businesses and ask them “What do you need?” actually a lot of it is already available.
What predictions do you have for the future of Digital?
There will be massive potential as fibre becomes more available and it becomes commonplace to have a pipe going directly into your business. It may be put out of a job in years to come because just like you do with your sky subscription now, you'll be able to go online in the future and order another phone line or other service with the click of a mouse. And you may be in Wirral but ask for a London number and it will just be an online portal where you simply say what you want, and your system will just be upgraded remotely immediately.
They say that 65% of kids in primary school today will have jobs that don't even exist at the moment. That's a really scary fact and exciting, so businesses have got an awful lot of transformation to do and we need to do a lot of educating at school level and at university level about what kind of roles they should get into. Technology is evolving faster and faster and we are finding more and more applications for it. Driverless cars are almost here and McDonald's now have screens which allow you to order remotely which has shaved 2500 jobs in the UK, so everything is transforming and becoming IT based.
I think IP is becoming the new digital and things will simplify as services become more integrated. So much is going to change that once your superfast connection is in, you'll then just say “Okay! life is changing for me so I want something different” and that will probably be one platform, one portal that you operate everything from. I think that businesses need to transform, and I'm thrilled to be working in such a dynamic environment where we can help businesses with that transformation
What are the best and worst aspects of your job?
The best part of my job is getting the right solutions for customers and working with them as they change and grow. My most exciting clients are ones where they have to transform, and we can help them achieve their goals. For me that's the best part personally. Many of us in BT Local Business used to work for BT but now we work for ourselves we understand how important people are to a business and I am pleased and proud to say we've got great people in our business. I have been on the journey from the start as we evolved from BT and it’s reassuring to know you've got people you can rely on working with you. I've got some customers who I've worked with since day one who come to me for advice and they go away and they look at options and then when the time is right they come back and you finish the project.
What about outside of work? What do you do to relax?
I like cycling and I do quite a bit of road cycling in a club where we raise money for charity. This year we're going from Liverpool to Holyhead to Cardiff which is approximately 400 miles to raise money for Alder Hey Children's Hospital. Last year we supported Stand Up to Cancer which is a charity that BT supports but this year we are trying to do it for a local cause. My cycling club is the Southport Sausage and Bacon Club! We go out on Saturday morning and we stop off for a sausage and bacon butty on the way. We know all the best cafes to stop at so we plan one of them into our route and we cycle back with a full tummy! Outside of that my wife Marie and I have 5 kids and a granddaughter so that keeps me pretty busy with a full family life!