Posted on Wednesday 22 June 2011 byUlster Business
Harry Girvan and Robin Brown at Connect's Belfast offices
Connect Telecom has grown rapidly in the past five years to become a leading player in the Northern Ireland telecoms market. Ulster Business caught up with its management team for an insight into their approach to business
Anyone who has spent any time in and around the border region will be familiar with the "You are now roaming" text message telling them they have moved on to a Republic of Ireland network - whether they've actually crossed the border or not.
For most people, it is a minor hassle that maybe costs a few extra pounds on their bill if they make a call or send texts.
But for the increasing number of companies that are doing business on an all-island basis, regular roaming between networks can soon add up to a major cost.
It is with that in mind that Belfast-based Connect Telecom has moved to champion a full all-island mobile tariff.
Founded five years ago and based in a modern new office on the Lisburn Road, Connect offers complete telecoms solutions across mobiles, systems, data services and landlines. Its all-island package offers unlimited calls from a company's office to company mobile phones and from mobiles back to the office, with bundled minutes including calls within the Republic and to and from ROI and the UK.
"If you take businesses in the border areas like Newry, Londonderry, Armagh, anyone who is on the border can easily cross over to a Southern network. That can cost them anything up to 40-50p a minute. With our package it doesn't matter what network you roam on to, it comes out of your UK bundle," explains Managing Director Harry Girvan.
With businesses here having to look further afield for work following the recession, Connect saw there was a need for an all-island tariff that meant it didn't matter what network a mobile roamed on to.
"We had one customer who, before they joined us, were spending €800 for two phones because they were on the border. They had gone to Dundalk and bought Sim cards for use in the South. We were able to put them on a new tariff that came in at about £200. For a small company that's a big saving," adds Robin Brown, the company's Sales Director.
Robin and Harry, who between them have 17 years of experience in the Telecoms field and with fellow director Matthew Brown make up the senior management team, say their company is trying to take a fresh and dynamic approach to the industry.
The strategy is obviously paying off, with the company picking up significant levels of new business in the past year and recording growth throughout the recession.
Connect has adopted a back-to-basics approach to customer service that the two executives believe makes it stand out from the other players in the industry.
"In Northern Ireland people are sick and tired of a mobile phone company coming in and promising the earth, and then not seeing them for two years. They send the bills but if the client has any problems they have to phone the network," says Harry.
"If you look at what our competitors are doing, the person who signs the business generally isn't the person who manages the account. Any account management after signing up, if there is any, is usually over the phone," he adds.
"What we do is try to add a bit of integrity to it. The person who signs the business is also the person who manages the account. One month after signing, when the customer gets their first bill, we are out there in front of them to do a face-to-face review. If that person has promised the earth they are the person that has to sit there a month later and face them if they haven't delivered."
The number of clients an account manager has is capped, meaning they never get swamped and even if they are unavailable, Connect has dedicated in-house people to provide backup. Account managers usually review service with customers on a quarterly basis.
"We tailor the service to the customer," says Robin. "A customer with three phones might not necessarily want to see us every three months, but somebody who has 400 phones, we'll probably need to see them every couple of months."
Part of the success of Connect Telecom has come from its ability to sign partnership agreements that enable it to provide innovative products.
It is partnering with BT for mobile and fixed line telephony business - enabling it to offer the all-island tariff - and has the exclusive rights to provide the services of another global brand, vehicle tracking experts TomTom Business, on the island of Ireland.
Connect joined forces with commercial fleet experts Fleet Simplicity to launch TomTom business in NI and far from simply being about knowing where your fleet of vehicles are, the Connect team say clients are realising huge savings on fuel, wages and order management by using the service.
At a time when fuel costs are at record highs, customers with a fleet of vehicles are able to put in a system that monitors fuel usage in vehicles. Harry notes that Connect was able to save one customer with 400 vehicles 18% on his fuel bill just through monitoring engine idling, because it found some vehicles were idling up to two hours a day with every hour of idling burning £5 of fuel.
The vehicle tracking system also links with a driver's TomTom satnav, so that when the driver logs on in the morning it begins to log his hours. Currently most driver timesheets are rounded up to an hour, but TomTom's service logs it to the minute. If someone with 20 vehicles has timesheets that are out half an hour and they are paying £10 an hour, that's about £2,000 a month saving.
This month saw Tomtom release their Opti-drive and Active Driver Feedback update which focuses on Driver Safety and Vehicle efficiency by monitoring Speeding, Driver behaviour, Excessive idling and Fuel usage. TomTom believes in empowering the driver by feeding this information back in live time to the driver via their TomTom satnav.
"There's nobody who has the complete solution we have - mobiles, TomTom, telephone systems and landlines," says Robin.
"But to get those partnerships there were hoops to jump through and it wasn't a one off, it is reviewed on a regular basis. Our customer satisfaction has to be up to scratch and I think our retention of customers shows we have achieved that."
Customer retention is an impressive 98% and many of Connect's team have been there from the start. That stability, and the trust the company has earned, means that many customers are now happy to sign up for long term contracts of up to five years to make sure they continue on good tariffs.
Despite the exclusive deals, the Connect executives stress they give impartial advice and deal with all the major networks. A recent report recently showed that in the UK people are overspending on their mobile phone bills by £5bn because they are on the wrong tariff. But if a customer finds their needs have changed even those in long-term deals have flexibility in their tariffs.
"We are building a loyal and committed customer base, so it's in our interests to deliver on our commitments to your business," says Robin. "Your business can change a lot in a couple of years so we tailor the tariff as business changes."
To address increasing convergence and the rapid evolution of smart phones and tablet devices, Connect allows customer to refresh their kit every two years.
With around 30 firms trying to do mobile phones and maybe five key players in a competitive Northern Ireland market, the Connect team believes their unique package of services will stand them in good stead for the future.
"We are the fastest growing telecoms company in Northern Ireland in the last 12 months by far, both in terms of revenue and customer acquisition and we want to continue growing," says Harry.
"It is important we keep our feet on the ground and don't get complacent. The main thing is that we continue to practise what we preach, because certainly in Northern Ireland, the second you slip up, the second you don't do what you said you were going to do, it spreads like wild fire."
For more information go to www.connect-tele.co.uk