By Joy King, VP of GTM Strategy,
Optiva • July 24, 2023
Joy leads Optiva’s GTM strategy. She has three decades of software industry experience. Previously, she led Product & GTM Strategy, including Product Management & Marketing, for Vertica, a high-performance unified analytics platform leveraged by the telecom industry. Before Vertica, Joy led telecom industry marketing for HP and HPE for over a decade. Her experience has created a passion for what’s possible, and she’s determined to make it happen.
I often say, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” This is especially true when it involves spending a lot of money, something I don’t enjoy. Does anyone? But recently, I realized that there are two flaws in this statement. First, it is missing a word — YET. Second, whether something is “broken” is frequently a matter of opinion.
In December 2022, the first of several airline meltdowns began. Southwest Airlines was forced to cancel more than half of its flights. It initially blamed this on a severe winter storm. But a few days later, 87% of all canceled flights in the US were from Southwest alone. It forced the airline to acknowledge that there was more than weather to blame.
Despite years of escalations from various employees, Southwest still relied on a scheduling system that has barely changed since the 1990s. I think we can all agree that technology (and customer expectations) have changed a lot over the last three decades. Yes, you read that correctly — a leading American airline has been relying on technology that is 30 years old!
As a result of this widely publicized disaster, even Southwest’s CEO was forced to acknowledge the internal problems. “We’ve talked an awful lot about modernizing the operation and the need to do that,” CEO Bob Jordan told employees in a memo. So why didn’t they? Well, “If it ain’t broke YET, don’t fix it” was clearly the cost-saving mindset at the executive level.
The Definition of Customer Experience Is Defined by the Customer
But the airline industry is not the only example of this thinking. Over a year ago, after moving into my new home, I started receiving monthly bills from my mobile carrier, which is also my internet and TV streaming platform provider. Each month, I received three separate bills, all set up as autopay on the same bank account.
I wondered why this was necessary and called customer service to determine how to consolidate this into one bill, especially because the services were all delivered to the same person at the same address using the same bank account. After battling the bot for a while, I finally connected with a human customer service agent. They told me their systems could not support this billing request. It was explained that mobile, internet and streaming services were billed separately because they were different parts of the company. They pointed out, however, that all bills were correct, so I shouldn’t be concerned. This was a clear example of how my definition of “broke” differed greatly from my carrier’s position.
Don’t Wait Until It’s Too Late for Telecom
The consequences of ignoring “yet” and “broke” are real. The Southwest Airlines flight cancellations during last year’s holiday season cost the airline $800 million and have led to an investigation by the US Department of Transportation. And in the telecom industry, a successful and positive customer experience in a wholly digital world is defined by the customer, not the operator. The industry cannot deny the ongoing costs from the “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality as revenue stays flat, margins decline and new market entrants and hyperscalers seize growth and innovation opportunities.
I think I’ll stop using this phrase. But I won’t stop thinking — and writing — about how to invest in the future, not just keep counting the costs from the past. Stay tuned for more.
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VP of GTM Strategy, Optiva
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