Trust and transparency

When it comes to selecting a provider of voice and data connectivity, most corporate buyers base their evaluation on the technical competence and network quality of the contenders. Then they make a final choice based on price. Tony Sharp, Nando’s Technical Services Manager for the UK and Ireland, is something of a veteran of such situations, and he says that there is a third, perhaps still more critical criteria to be considered that is overlooked by many buyers – that of honesty, openness, transparency, call it what you will.

His analysis is that in the heat of a bidding contest, contending suppliers can find it very tempting to make promises that they cannot possibly keep. He’s seen it all before: Their logic is first win the business, then brush off the disappointment when delivery dates slip judging that the customer is now too committed to reverse their decision. “That’s classic short-termism. It undermines trust between the two parties and in the longer run serves neither of them well. It is not the basis for a long-term relationship.”

At a time when the dwindling footfall being suffered by some restaurant chains continues to make national news, Nando’s has the opposite problem: its restaurants are so busy that it is not unusual to see queues of people waiting outside for tables to become available.

Popular food chain Nando’s has chosen Gamma as a key partner in a bold technology move that will improve connectivity and communications UK-wide across a rapidly growing estate of 400 restaurants, and power a new analytics initiative to get closer to its customers. The programme is already paying dividends on the high street.

So why change?

In order to better understand its popularity with the dining public, and to ensure that such remarkably high demand can be maintained and built upon, Nando’s has embarked on a programme to get to know its customers better.

The network originally linking Nando’s head office on the outskirts of London relied on single ADSL2 lines into each of the company’s 402 restaurants across the UK and Ireland. Adequate when it only had to carry management data traffic, it was unable to support the introduction of a number of advances including on-line ordering, gift and loyalty cards and centralised chip and PIN processing. He adds, “Our restaurants were not that dependent on network connectivity. If a connection failed it was no big deal. The site could continue to operate. But with the deployment of the first round of applications, suddenly there was big risk to the operation of the business if the network failed, and risk to customer satisfaction as well.”

Tony and his team invited tenders for a wholesale re-build of the network, including two data connections, (from a mixture of Ethernet with DSL backup, dual-EFM, dual FTTC, FTTC with DSL and dual DSL), plus a backup 4G mobile connection, into each restaurant. It was to be a profound upgrade in connectivity, driven by the desire to introduce customer Wi-Fi, to better support existing management applications while proving plenty of spare bandwidth for future expansion, and to enhance the ability of the network to continue to operate even in the event of multiple failures.

“What really makes Gamma different is its openness, honesty and transparency. This became apparent during our initial talks when Gamma declined to commit to meeting the three month roll-out that we proposed. They pointed out that with our desired baseline speed of 10 Mbps on each wired connection, the challenge of applying for wayleaves and other forms of consent from landowners such as shopping centre operators, it would be virtually impossible to achieve in the timeframe.”

What he didn’t reveal at the time was that they knew all along that the three-month deadline was impossible. It had been a deliberate ploy, presented to all nine contenders, to flush out glib promises.

The Nando’s team travelled to Gamma’s operations centre for a final pre-contract visit. “Gamma invited us just to walk around and talk to staff. We were not chaperoned. I remember sitting down to talk to one of the guys on the service desk. The first thing he did was clear his screen to protect the confidentiality of his customers.

“We were talking, and a call came in. All the other service desk staff were already helping users. The guy politely asked me if I could wait while he took the call. If I had been in his position I’d have felt under pressure to concentrate on his visitor, but he didn’t do that; he took the call and put the existing customer before me. That was one of the stand-out things for me. It spoke volumes about the culture and the working environment at Gamma that the staff were open and comfortable talking with us, but when a customer needed help, then that had to come first.”

Since moving to Gamma we haven’t had a single shop go offline and be unable to trade.

The new network

Every Nando’s restaurant has been dual connected into Gamma’s core MPLS network using a mix of ADSL, fibre to the cabinet or Ethernet, according to local availability and relative speeds. Contracts have also been put in place for 4G Gamma Mobile service at each site. “Gamma has a strong relationship with Openreach, and provides us with what is effectively a one-stop shop, managing the whole process and taking responsibility for end-to-end provision. Gamma’s openness on the timescales and their programmatic approach to what can and cannot be achieved has made the process transparent and predictable.

Gamma’s trademark openness has given Tony Sharp further reason for satisfaction over his choice of partner. Under the agreement between the two companies, Gamma has overall responsibility for managing the network-based next generation firewall that defends the Nando’s MPLS network and routes traffic. This has removed the need for separate firewalls at each restaurant site.

However, Gamma has enabled Nando’s technicians to make selected configuration amendments to the core network firewall. “No other supplier would do this,” he notes.

“They all wanted to retain complete authority and have us submit change control requests for them to action. It is inevitable that as Nando’s grows the firewall rules will need to be changed. With Gamma we can speed up the process by doing it ourselves, yet at the same time have the assurance of knowing that continuity is built into the notably aggressive Service Level Agreements.”

“Of course there have been problems, but we are realistic. These are opportunities for people to give you their best and to resolve them. Gamma’s people have continued to impress us.”

Although some applications using the infrastructure will save Nando’s money, the restaurant chain has its eyes on a different kind of primary Return On Investment, one that is by definition long term: that of knowing more about its customers, and ensuring that they are given the best possible experience every time they engage with the Nando’s brand.

“Where we are with this currently is not where we will be very shortly. Our partnership with Gamma has given us the platform on which we will be doing much more,” he says. Customer Wi-Fi is common in many restaurant chains, but most of them make customer social media, browsing and email share bandwidth with management traffic over a single link. At Nando’s there will be no sharing. With the roll out all but complete across the entire Nando’s estate, customers will get the full bandwidth of one connection while management traffic will use the other.

Only in the event of one connection going down there will there be sharing, and if both trunks should go down then the 4G connection will kick in to allow continuity of business only. “We are all about robustness and the customer experience. When you have 1200 connections, one is going to go down every once in a while. It’s a fact of life. However, since moving to Gamma we haven’t had a single shop go offline and be unable to trade.” he reveals.

“We are all about robustness and the customer experience.” – Tony Sharp, Nando’s Technical Services Manager

Voice communication is still a high priority for Nando’s and one of the reasons the company selected Gamma as its partner was its class-leading capability in this key area.

Customers phone restaurants to both book tables, check opening times and to place takeaway food orders, often having to compete with challenging background noise levels within a busy, bustling restaurant.

Legacy PSTN phone connections to the restaurants meant the likelihood of mis-hearing customer orders or missing the call entirely was an increasing challenge, thus diminishing both customer satisfaction and causing a loss of revenue.

Following an intensive trial at a number of chosen restaurants – with the primary success criteria being voice quality and the reduction of missed calls – Nando’s has contracted to deploy Gamma’s hosted telephony platform, Horizon, to all of its UK mainland restaurants.

In addition to the improved call quality, Nando’s will also receive enriched management information data that can be viewed by each regional managing director with a set number of reports covering productivity, performance and customer experience metrics. Immediate feedback from the trial reported that Nando’s “front of house” staff could hear calls much more clearly, whilst customers enjoyed a higher quality interaction with the staff.

Hosted voice takes away the pain