The Sociable Company

I’ve recently started a very interesting project with some lovely people at Express Telephony. I’m working with them to develop a social media strategy for the business. Express Telephony is run by husband and wife team Martin and Karen Adams, who I first met when they contacted me following #twicket, the live village cricket match we streamed at Easter 2011.

My task is to assist them to raise their social media game, and to embed the skills and practices to maintain progress in the business. Express Telephony is a Universal Communications services provider to businesses. They provide telephony, mainly VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) and internet connectivity to companies over a wide area radiating from their base in Hertfordshire across London and the Home Counties and into East Anglia, but they can operate anywhere really and have a few further flung customers. The business is based on personal service. As Martin Adams says, “… a lot of the time it becomes more about meeting a need than making a profit”. I saw this philosophy in action when I spent a day on the road with Martin visiting customers, and witnessed him solving numerous minor problems with care and attention to detail. I’m convinced that this is a key part of what sets the company apart in an industry dominated by a few big players offering standardised services which seem to be backed up by very inadequate customer services, leaving businesses without connection and communications for days, weeks and sometimes months at a time.

Martin and Karen can report a multitude of examples where customers have left them for a seemingly cheaper, standardised service, but have ended up coming back when they realised how poor that standard service is. In the modern world, businesses cannot afford to be cut off from their communications links, and they want someone to act promptly when there is a problem in this respect. And, of course, one of the key issues that Express Telephony faces is that a key part of its business is dependent on others, i.e. the pipes and wires (mainly wires, of the copper variety) that connect its services to the internet, are owned by others whose standards of customer service and attention to detail are often not in the same league.

This is why I am enjoying working with the business so much. I often say that it is pointless trying to graft a social media presence onto an organisation which is not, in itself, inherently social. Where social media works well in business (or in any other field really) is where it provides an outlet and amplification for social exchanges within the business and with external customers and partners. The way Martin and Karen engage with their customers makes it apparent that they really care about their needs, they want to help other businesses grow, and Express Telephony acts, in many senses, as a business development hub. I aim to help them expand that side of their operations, using social media as a tool for engagement.

This assignment has already been an interesting learning curve for me in that the northern home counties are one of the few areas of the country I have never spent much time in. So, I’ve seen some places which are new to me. I’ve been quite surprised at how rural Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire are. And, in an internet and telephony sense that still means poor connections, in most of those places. I have witnessed at first hand how Martin works miracles with multiple lines and bonded cables to eke every last Megabit out of those old copper lines, and he really is something of a miracle worker in that respect. It is another reason why, when customers turn to another provider, they often get a poorer service as those suppliers are unable to make these adjustments.
I’ll be blogging more about my journey with Express Telephony over the coming weeks. In the meantime, you might want to check them out on Twitter @Express_Tel on Facebook and Linkedin

Here is a presentation Martin Adams from Express Telephony did at a BNI event


3 thoughts on “The Sociable Company

  1. Really interesting post John, there are lots of SMEs with the same ethos as Karen and Martin, and this project will highlight the care and dedication they put into their businesses. I know at first hand how much they care about their customers, as many times they have given up their personal life because they put the business first and serve it with total dedication. This is something that is sadly lacking in big business where people only work from 9-5. This is also where social media will win, because big orgs just don’t get IT, as you rightly say, they aren’t social, they exist to make profits. The smaller businesses are the lifeblood of this country, and its such a shame many are rural and at the wrong side of the digital divide.

  2. In response to John’s blog post, I’d like to say a big thank you to John for his kind words. We’ve only just started out on this journey together but already we’ve been hugely encouraged by John’s advice and ideas on how to use social media in our business. Express Telephony is an internet service provider connecting people to the infrastructure that gives them access to the digital world. But we’re also a communications service provider and we provide businesses with the best communication tools they can use once they are connected to the internet. In the last few years we have gone from a world that was ‘connected’ to a world that is now ‘hyperconnected’. Each new connection enables people to become members of a global society where consumers can easily communicate, not only with each other and with large organisations, but with SMEs and local businesses too. Social media may be viewed by some as just another channel of communication, but it is social communication on a huge scale. Small businesses are really at a disadvantage if they’re not using social media but we, like many others, have only been dipping our toe into the water to test it out. It is a great privilege for us to work with John on this project and he is giving us the confidence to jump in with both feet!

  3. In response to the comment made by Chris, I agree that we are probably no different from many other SMEs and the people who run them. Money will never be the sole motivator for most of us in the smaller enterprises. Instead we seek satisfaction from making a difference. We look at giving customers a better service experience and developing lasting relationships with them. As Chris mentions, we have to be flexible with our time and we have to be prepared to go that extra mile, something that larger organisations and industry giants find difficult to do. We appreciate the importance which businesses place on having their data and telephony services running smoothly. Perseverance is needed when trying to resolve any technical issues that may arise, especially when providing an internet service running over an aged and creaking copper network. Unfortunately, carrying out the repair or replacement of the physical network outside of the customer premises is the part that is out of our control but we can keep nagging those who are responsible for this. Regrettably this type of connection is still the only one available to most of us across the UK, and will be for the foreseeable future, unless you are lucky enough to reside in the area where Chris and members of her local community are building their own gigabit Fibre-to-the-Home network. B4RN is an amazing project being built by extraordinary people. Those remaining on the wrong side of the digital divide (including many city-based businesses and households) are understandably envious of the people in B4RN’s rural community who live and work in picturesque hamlets and are now receiving one of the world’s fastest internet connections. Kudos to Chris and the team at B4RN.

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