AT&T CEO Challenges Industry To Improve Customer Experience

The telecom market is fraught with billing and provisioning problems and a customer experience that vastly needs improvement, he said.

"The top priority for us today, and I think ultimately for the whole telecom industry, is customers' experience," Dorman said. "At the residential level--and, more important, at the business level--the customer experience has been lacking. For the past four years, most [carrier] dollars have gone into infrastructure deployments and not the customer experience."

Although efforts have been made across the industry to improve the customer experience through new billing systems, provisioning methods and service offerings, many of those initiatives have backfired, Dorman said. "The industry has tried to improve billing and provisioning, but the [result has been a] proliferation of systems so that, instead of fewer databases and billing systems, we've actually created more as an industry, only exacerbating the problem," he said.

Ultimately, carriers need to simplify their networks to address customer dissatisfaction, and AT&T intends to do just that by consolidating its system into a single global MPLS (Multi Protocol Label Switching)-enabled IP network with multi-service edge architecture supporting legacy protocols such as frame relay and ATM, Dorman said.

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The transition should be complete by the end of 2005, with all customer voice and data traffic running over a single network, he said, adding that AT&T also plans to have only one billing system in place by 2004.

This year, the carrier plans to spend $500 million to introduce new self-provisioning tools and refine its customer agreement process so that clients can buy all of AT&T's services under a single agreement.

"This may seem like a pretty simple thing, but when we serve an enterprise spending $200 million a year across a set of product families with different service-level agreements, we end up being engaged in a very long, tedious process of negotiation," Dorman said. Using a single customer agreement should cut the negotiation cycle time in half, he said.

"Delivering a simplified and integrated environment for customers, so it's easier for them to do business with us, is going to be just as important as having great technology deployed," the CEO said.

In addition, AT&T plans to implement Web-based tools to give customers the ability to self-provision IP VPN services. That would trim the ordering process to hours from days, or even weeks, he said.