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How to interview and manage telecom carrier service representatives

After evaluating telecom carriers, it's time to meet with carrier representatives to discuss your company's telecom services. Preparation could save you money on UC applications.

I'm shopping for telecom services. How do I deal with telecom carrier reps?

Now that you've gone through the steps of evaluating telecom carriers to provide your company's telecom services, you're ready to meet with the carriers' representatives. Here's what comes next:

  • If you've decided to go without an agency, you should have narrowed your choices to five or six telecom carriers, depending on how close you are to a major metropolitan area. Provide them with all the pertinent information they need in order to generate an initial quote -- remember, you've already determined which telecom services you need. They will all ask, but I don't recommend giving out bill copies. You will get back five or six solutions, each designed differently, each tailored to the strengths of that particular carrier.
  • Have all addresses, billing telephone numbers, and so on for each location. It is helpful if you can give the telecom carriers a network architecture map detailing the specific trunks and circuits, where they go, and the like. During the meeting, this process should take, at most, 10 to 20 minutes.
  • Next -- and this is probably the most important step in evaluating telecom carriers -- understand that the telecom account manager makes all the difference between a good and bad experience with your carrier. You need to interview account managers as if you are hiring them, because you are hiring them, for two or three years.

    Here's what you need to know:

    • How long has the account manager been with this telecom carrier?
    • How long has the account manager been in the industry?
    • What is the last day of the month on which you can turn in orders? (You'll use this when negotiating final pricing.)
    • What happens when there's a problem? (Because there is always a problem.)
    • What are the escalation procedures?
    • What promises will the account manager and carrier put in writing in terms of:
      • SLAs, particularly with respect to:
        • Circuit reliability?
        • Response time to repair?
        • Billing discrepancies?
      • Pricing?
      • Customer service issues?
    • What kind of engineering support does the account manager have for your current and future needs? Remember: Account managers are professional services coordinators. Don't expect them to have all the technical answers, but expect them to know where to get those answers.
  • Be open to telecom services suggestions from a good carrier. They can often save you money on unified communications (UC) applications by providing them to you from the cloud, and they may have some thoughts on your WAN design. If, for example, you decided that all 10 sites will have point-to-point circuits, a good carrier rep would at least ask whether you have considered MPLS. Remember, though, that a decision like that might send you back to the drawing board in terms of redesigning a solution. But it may be necessary.
  • Ask for a copy of their contract and read it. You may find all kinds of things in there you don't like, and you may be surprised at how flexible some telecom carriers can be in accommodating contract change requests when negotiating. (You're not negotiating yet. You're preparing for negotiations.)

If this sounds like a lot of work, frankly, it can be. That's why many companies don't do it. As a result, some 90% of organizations pay at least 30% more for telecom services than they have to, and many companies are grossly underserved by both their telecom services and their service providers. With an up-front investment of time or the input of a trusted advisor, however, the payoffs can be, and usually are, enormous.

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