Openreach CEO Joe Garner sets out broadband game plan

Joe Garner, the new CEO at Openreach, talks about his plans to make the organisation more open, visible and responsive

Openly acknowledging some of the failings that have led to widespread criticism of Openreach, new CEO Joe Garner has set out his hopes to make the national infrastructure organisation more transparent and responsive in its working practices.

Garner, who started his career at Procter & Gamble, joined Openreach earlier this year after a lengthy stint in retail banking at HSBC and after taking a few months to get his feet under the desk, said that while Openreach got “the majority of things right first time”, there were still too many situations where it got something badly wrong and then proceeded to compound its failure through poor customer service.

“If that happens there is a possibility of leaving the customer in some real distress,” explained Garner. “I believe the whole customer service model has changed. The customer is in much greater control and we need to respond to that. We need to put the customer increasingly in control of the experience.”

Part of this push will involve improved training for Openreach engineers, who visit hundreds of thousands of homes a week but historically were ill-equipped to handle interactions with often annoyed customers.

“I want to advance the organisation so that our people are empowered to fix problems on the spot,” said Garner. “If our customers trust us to deliver and we are appreciated by the communities we serve, I think the results will follow.”

Garner has also begun exploring how to give more information to customers, who are often left waiting weeks for Openreach engineers to get them online.

He showed off new tools that could help make Openreach’s activities more visible, such as live-tracking of frontline engineers using smartphones, although he pointed out that it would be down to the CP (communications provider) contracting with Openreach – whether that be BT, TalkTalk, Sky, Virgin Media or any number of other ISPs – on how to make that data available to their business or residential customers.

In June 2014, Chris Townsend, the new CEO at BDUK, revealed he was aiming to conduct a review of how local authorities throughout the UK were going about making information available to the wider public, with particular reference to the controversial issue of releasing postcode data to give residents and competitors a clearer picture of what areas will be left out of the BDUK scheme.

Addressing this problem, Garner told Computer Weekly that he wanted to do whatever it took to support the government’s objectives for superfast broadband rollout. “But postcode data isn’t enough. I’m not sure it’s the answer,” he said.

However, he added, there are other data streams that can be made more readily available to customers. Currently, users of Openreach’s online postcode checking service see only data about their nearest exchange. Openreach is now planning to extend that capability down to the nearest cabinet, and will be soft launching the feature as a beta service in a limited number of areas imminently.

Garner said he hoped that voluntarily publicising such data before being compelled to do so by Ofcom would serve as a demonstration of the increased visibility into Openreach that he is seeking.

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