nTelos: Fighting through the recession

Waynesboro-based telecommunications company cuts costs, looks to future

Story by Chris Graham
freepress2@ntelos.net

It might have seemed that the telecommunications industry was the one industry that was going to be immune to the recession. Mobile phones and the Internet are part and parcel to our daily lives and business lives, after all.

The news in November that nTelos was cutting 37 positions from its local workforce came as a bit of a surprise to those with that way of thinking. Turns out telecoms aren’t any more recession-proof than the rest of us have been.

“Certainly you’re seeing people cutting back on the amount of money they’re spending on their communications services. They may be reducing the number of lines they have. They may be looking at wireline replacement with wireless service. All communications companies are seeing this,” said Mike Minnis, the director of marketing and public relations at nTelos, which is headquartered in Waynesboro.

As with the rest of the industry, nTtelos had been in a period of sustained growth as the wireless sector grew into market-saturation status, but with more than 90 percent of Americans now owning at least one wireless communications device, “the industry has matured, and as you change from a growth industry to a mature industry, you have to run your business a little differently,” Minnis said.

This transformation is part of a longer-term trend of the repositioning of the telecommunications industry, according to Jeff Kagan, a telecom-industry analyst and publisher of the Jeff Kagan Report and Comment, which tracks developments in the industry.

“This is something we’ve been seeing for the past five to ten years, and it takes a while to see where it’s going to go,” Kagan said. “We’re still in the middle of this period of change. It’s going to take some time to see where this ends up.”

nTelos, which traces its corporate roots back to the old CFW local-telephone company, has responded by focusing internally on managing its bottom-line costs, which translates into pressure on workforce costs first and foremost. But this work is done with care and attention to the service-delivery expectations of customers.

“A point of emphasis for us was that we didn’t want to reduce our workforce for any of our customer-facing positions. Our foundation is built on providing a good local service at levels that the big guys really cannot provide. As a matter of fact, we continue to hire people in the customer-facing positions, whether it’s customer care or the sales organization. It’s managing expenses in the back-end operations and the support operations,” Minnis said.

“That’s what we were built on. Being the local company providing the latest technology for telecommunications in our areas and providing it with a level of service that bigger companies can’t match and delivering the best possible value, with the value being based on service, not just on price,” Minnis said.

To that end, efforts to keep up with the Joneses in the telecommunications industry in terms of technology are ongoing. nTelos offers a wireless 3G network on par with its strongest regional competitor, Verizon.

“What people seem to be interested in is smart devices, smart phones, and those devices, and the applications that they’re able to run, require greater data speeds for the customer experience. We have the network to support all of that, and we have the devices to support all of that,” Minnis said.

Telecoms have to be able to keep up just to continue doing business, really.

“Wireless is constantly transforming itself,” Kagan said. “Every three to five to seven years, it’s a different industry. The change now began with the introduction of the iPhone three years ago. Now you’re seeing everybody offering smart phones, and not just phone companies. You’re seeing music companies, computer companies and others getting into this business. And you’re seeing more and more consumers today buying these smart phones, and that’s changing the nature of the wireless business.”

One thing that is not changing – the continued strong demand for what the telecom industry has to offer.

“The appetite for communications won’t be diminished in the near future,” Minnis said. “For us, it’s a matter of staying up with the technology, meeting the demands that consumers have, and making sure that they’re getting the products and services that they want at an affordable rate that also allows the company to make money and stay in business.

“It’s an important balance,” Minnis said. “Expense control in a mature industry is one of those key elements. Having well-trained employees – people want great products, but they also want great service. That’s one area where we think we have a big advantage.”

  

 
augusta free press

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