Customer survey uncovers identity crisis

Although the Federal Telecommunications Service is serving up more than long-haul
communications these days, it seems few federal users know the extent of FTS' services
beyond networking.

"FTS, to a lot of people, tends to focus on long-distance telephone service,"
FTS commissioner Robert J. Woods said. "We're looking at whether we need to change
the name of the larger service."

When the service surveyed government customers recently, users gave high marks to
networking services. But they wanted more than just the low prices FTS has labored to
deliver for its long-haul FTS 2000 contracts.

Users wanted "things like courtesy--hygiene issues," Woods said. "Once
you do something well, people take it as a given. If you think you can keep your customers
by price alone, that's wrong."

The survey, conducted for the General Services Administration by Booz, Allen &
Hamilton Inc. of McLean, Va., revealed that many FTS users are unaware of the full range
of the GSA program's services. These findings prompted an outreach effort dubbed Customer
Focus Week, and FTS officials even began mulling over the possibility of a name change.

For years, FTS' sole offering was FTS 2000, the mandatory, governmentwide long-haul
communications contracts that expires in 1998. Now FTS is expanding it to incorporate
local telephone service and has added niche contracts for services such as video and
wireless technology.

These contracts, along with offerings from GSA's IT Service that was integrated into
FTS last year, have broadened the program's scope. But most of the contracts are not
mandatory--after 1998, FTS no longer will have a captive user base, Woods said.

"We've sprung a lot of products on the market in a short time," he said.
"To have some confusion among customers is not surprising."

Woods said he thinks FTS must do more marketing.

"We need to be better focused ... to have better connections with our
customers," he said. "We're in a business. My measures are profitability,
revenue and market share."

The first indication that FTS might have an image problem was that after 2,000 surveys
were mailed out, 196 network services customers responded, but only 33 information
technology services customers did.

Although more than 84 percent of those responding said they were satisfied with the
quality of services and products and more than 70 percent with prices, nearly half said
they do not view FTS as a one-stop source for networking and IT needs.

"These results imply that FTS roles and capabilities need to be better
communicated to customers," the survey report concluded.

Nearly 84 percent of those responding said they would continue using FTS network
services in the future, but only 53 percent said they would continue using IT services.

"This indicates that network services customers may be largely unaware of the
information technology services," the report said.

The Customer Focus Week, which ran from July 30 through Aug. 6, had two goals, GSA
spokesman Bill Bearden said. First, FTS wanted to let customers know what it offers. Then,
it wanted to find out what customers expect.

Woods said his own goal was to have every FTS employee, "beginning with my office
and reaching to every support office in every region, visit or talk with at least one
customer to let them know we appreciate their business and are committed to meeting their
information technology and networking needs."

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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