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What’s the value of partner relationships in the age of self-service and automated provisioning?

To the next person who tells you self-service and automation is bad, ask them when they last used an ATM cash machine (and when they next plan to hang around their local bank branch until it opens so that they can queue up to see a cashier).  We live in an app-driven, self-service society where ease-of-use trumps all, especially when the effect of removing human beings from the equation can result in lower prices for the customer.  It is also no surprise that this paradigm shift has occurred in step with the emergence of so-called Millennials – people who have ‘grown up digital’ to such an extent that, for some, human interaction is potentially no longer second nature!

All that being said, the old adage still rings true: people buy from people.  And so often when they buy sophisticated technology services, they are buying skills and relationships at least as much as bits and bytes.

Telco short-termism is bad news for partners

Many a telco CFO’s eyes have lit up at the prospect of firing NOC engineers, account managers and customer service reps in exchange for an one-off investment in a robot to do their jobs.

From a partner perspective, when automation is wielded in such a brazenly short-term way it represents yet another tool to be beaten with.  Many telcos remain stubbornly difficult to do business with unless the partner is landing millions of pounds of orders per month, and self-service is seen as a good way to shut them up.  As Marie Antoinette might have said, “Let Them Eat Automation!”

The best telco service providers – including Luminet – are motivated to increase self-service and automation capabilities to meet demand and address the preferences for information access that people have grown accustomed to in their personal and business lives.  But it would be a lie to suggest there wasn’t also a profit motive involved.  For us, that means making partners more profitable so that our own business increases.  It’s a longer-term view based on mutual benefit.

Crucially this means investing in self-service and automation at the same time as maintaining and even bolstering on-the-ground partner-facing skills and resources.

Easy-to-do-business-with principles should be dynamic

Partners that have experienced the automated Luminet channel portal immediately understand the commercial advantages of having extra insight that helps them close deals and increase value to the customer, while also accessing revenues faster than ever before.  But that doesn’t denigrate the value of face-to-face partner relationships.  If anything, it makes those relationships more valuable and less admin-laden and process-oriented.

Nick Dutfield is sales director at Fusion Voice & Data, a Luminet partner that specialises in serving the connectivity needs of SMEs relocating into and within central London.  Nick is extremely positive about the channel portal, but values his relationship with Luminet’s John Balfour-Lynn at least as much: “John and his team are phenomenal. Time and time again they rise to the challenge of a very tight deadline and we’ve won a lot of business because of how fast we respond.”

Like many partners who want to grow and become more profitable, Nick wants to speed-up the processes typically associated with planning and ordering connectivity, so he can focus on meeting and acquiring more customers: “The visibility and automation of the Luminet portal is very impressive and its importance to us will only grow as we scale the business and bring on additional salespeople to leverage the intuitive, easy-to-learn self-service capabilities.  But the human relationships are vital too, of course. Whether it’s using the portal or picking up the phone, we feel confident Luminet is committed to help us be the fastest and most responsive we can be.”

You can read a full case study about Fusion’s experience as a Luminet partner here .

It’s amazing to think that opinions still differ as to whether self-service and automation are a good thing.  Often the same person will contradict themselves within five minutes; first lamenting how impersonal it is to have to do things for yourself, and then – miraculously – championing the improvement in speed and efficiency that this brings about!

Partners should be wary of telcos bearing gifts of self-service and automation, unless these go hand-in-hand with an earnest commitment to maintain a real relationship.  Self-service and automation are a mark of progress and a pathway to profitability, but partners must carry on demanding that human foundation of value to help grow their businesses.

Fusion Voice & Data