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12 Months at PlusNet and a very fond farewell…

12 Months at PlusNet and a very fond farewell…

12 Months at PlusNet and a very fond farewell…

September 2006, my first day at PlusNet. I woke at 7am with great excitement and intrigue for my time ahead. I had only moved the 300 miles to Sheffield just two days previous and, nervous as I was, I couldn’t wait to find out just what PlusNet was like from the inside. As a regular forum contributor, moderator and PlusNet UserGroup Member – I already had a decent relationship with some PlusNet staffers. But, in a way, this made me even more nervous; wondering whether or not I would live up to their expectations and be any good at the job! My personal feeling is that I settled in fairly quickly. I found it ironic that I was able to attain maximum results in training assessments without even reading the material! Naturally, there was a lot I still had to learn, though - using and navigating Workplace, for example. It was a really strange feeling to sit down in the Customer Support Centre with my Comms colleagues and view the forums from the other side of the fence; new colleagues who I had previously pestered on the Portal Forums and from within PUG. The first couple of weeks I spent simply getting to grips with the way PlusNet works and operates. My induction calendar involved meeting and greeting various members of PlusNet staff including Development Managers, Project Managers, Business Analysts, CSC Managers, the Marketing and Products Team and the Team of Directors. I was based at Internet House in Victoria Quays with the rest of the Customer Support Centre, and also where Marketing and the Online Support Team resided. At this point, half the company were based on the other side of town at Technology Building. The last year for me sure has had its fair share of ups and downs, but at PlusNet we always stand together, strong, as a team, throughout the hardest times. I think the Webmail Incident in May is probably the most significant event of the last 12 months. It was a very unfortunate event that we massively regret; but what really made me feel proud to be a PlusNetter is seeing the dedication, passion and commitment by the entire business to getting it resolved and mitigating the impact for customers. Yes – it pissed us all off – but we didn’t let our feelings get in the way and just motored on – rebuilding and delivering a completely new Webmail platform in just 4 days! For me, another significant event was the acquisition of our business by BT Retail. It was not too long after I started that we received the first approach from an “un-named party”. At that point I remember Lee Strafford (then-CEO) telling us of the three ‘destiny’ options that we needed to be aware of. These weren’t just applicable to us, but to any medium sized business like ours. 1) Carry on as a plc with the responsibility of reporting to the shareholders and the stock market; 2) Get bought well, by a company who wants to invest in us, grow the business, utilise our culture and agile development capabilities; 3) Get bought badly, by a company who simply wants to acquire customer numbers and whom would integrate our customer base into themselves. Its number 1, or number 2, that we were aiming for and this motivated us to drive the business in the right direction. So when we first heard of the report, many staff were quite anxious as to what the outcome could be – and whether this would mean bought well or bought badly. Some time later, November last year I think, I remember coming in one morning, bright and early, to be told by Pete Jackson (our online support manager) that it had been confirmed the offer was from BT – and that the PlusNet board were recommending it. We quickly announced this on our forums and the homepage was updated with details of the recommended offer. It was actually rather exciting – in a weird way! More exciting though, was coming in at 6:30am on the morning the deal was confirmed and completed. We needed to ensure that we were around when the news broke and when BT announced to the London Stock Exchange that the acquisition was complete. As soon as that happened, we announced as such on the Website and we prepared to announce our “Plans for 2007” – as supported by BT. That day the whole company had a ‘stand-up’ Q & A session with folks from BT Retail and Lee. I believe that the acquisition has meant good news for customers and for PlusNet. With BT investment we can afford to be ahead of our game with investment in the platform and in our Customer Support Centre. To quote what Neil Laycock (CEO) said just yesterday : “Since the takeover, BT have invested and supported PlusNet, resulting in a significantly improved service - evidenced by our winning of the Uswitch awards and back in the top 5 of Epitiro speed results.” Our culture within PlusNet has only changed for the better since the deal and PlusNet are still PlusNet – which is a good thing! I believe that, with the webmail incident aside, we have never been in a better position to deliver value and a solid range of products and services to our customers. If I look back at what has been delivered over the last 12 months, I’m so proud that I have been able to be a part of it. Our objective for the year is to “Stop Pi**ing Customers Off”. It takes a lot longer to fix a reputation than it does to break it – and we’re painfully aware of that! But we’re all doing everything we can to stop “gaffe prone” being a phrase next to which we sit. In the last year we’ve :- - Introduced a dedicated Business Support Unit in our Customer Support Centre. Average wait time of 23 seconds and 95% of tickets responded to in less than 4 hours. - Introduced geographical support numbers for customers to contact us - Improved our CCGI platform performance – with a full rebuild in planning - Rolled out improvements to our Broadband Phone platform to increase stability - Upscaled and outsourced our Usenet platform for better performance and service for Usenet users - Added bandwidth ahead of requirement instead of too-late - Overhauled our incoming mail platform from delivery to collection to storage - Launched a brand-spanking new online Community for customers and PlusNet to collaborate, provide support and interact - Removed the 5-year commitment on hardware and activation charges and standardised this at just 12 months - Improved the range of hardware included with Broadband Options. Customers can now get a Wireless router free if they signup to Option 2 and stay with us for a year. - Launched a new deal to reward referrers even more when they recommend our service to their friends, family and clients - Won the uSwitch award for Best Overall Provider, Supplier most likely to be recommended and Information quality during signup - Been nominated as a Mac-Friendly ISP by MacWorld magazine - Introduced Direct Debit payment facilities for Metronet customers - Started planning improvements to the marketing communications preferences customers can choose so that you can opt to receive only certain types of email communications from us - Introduced the ability to remove the mx.last record from your hosted domain so that you can have complete control over your email - Introduced a range of Spam management tools including the ability to just delete [-Spam-] detected mail, or move it to a Spam folder and the ability set spam settings individually per domain - Offered a free .uk domain name to all subscription customers, and implemented the ability to switch off email to your virtual domain (username.plus.com) - Rolled out a Webmail platform in just a week and initiated a full security audit and security improvements to our entire platform - Put in place a plan to achieve the highest level of PCI compliance by the end of August - Improved and automated our Data Retention Policy and published it to customers - Launched “Priority Problems on the Portal” so that customers can see our highest priority problems and what we’re doing to resolve them. - Increased the number of graphs available on the Portal so that customers can see exactly how our network and services on our platform are performing - Launched PlusNet Poland, with sales, signup and customer support all in the Polish language. Complete with its own forum - Celebrated our 10th birthday by giving away a brand new VW Golf R32 to a lucky referrer – and having a big party! - Re-launched Customer Support Stats on the Portal at http://csc.plus.net - Held a customer open day in March where 25 customers visited Internet House and got to meet the team here at PlusNet - Launched a new, streamlined, easy to understand customer signup journey - Launched (to Beta) a new speedtester to replace our existing Portal Speedtester – at http://www.mybroadbandspeed.co.uk - Developed a brand new (almost ready) Service Status tool for the Portal - Upgraded PHP across our platform as part of an objective to have every page on the Portal load within 2 seconds - Relocated our entire operation to a brand new location in Sheffield City Centre, with approximately 4 times the space we now benefit from having everyone in the business under one roof! Launching Broadband Your Way was another exciting day for me – simply because of how clearly defined the products are. I remember being sat in the project meetings getting so excited as to how they were shaping up. I don’t believe there are any grey-areas with the Broadband Your Way products and that’s certainly where we wanted them to be. We don’t sell ‘Unlimited Broadband’ because it can’t be sustained and delivered and we don’t offer ‘Free Broadband’, because we know that ‘free’ means low quality and cross-subsidisation amongst customers. Neither of these activities are fair, in my opinion. We know there is a market for educated and discerning customers out there who want a solid product, with unrivalled support quality at a good cost. I firmly believe that if we continue delivering in the way we are now, we do offer the best value for money in the business. I’ve not worked in many other places, being honest, but I think the Comms Team are a fairly unique operation – especially in a business of this size. We own the responsibility of bridging the gap between PlusNet and our customers and promoting community collaboration. We own the communication process with our customers and we represent and champion customer views internally through project meetings and product workshops. We have an involvement with pretty much everything the business is doing that could affect customers, or other departments within the business. So, after a terrific year at PlusNet, it is with much sadness that I must announce that today is my last day. Those of you that knew me well from the Portal forums and PUG will know that I hail from the Westcountry. My family and my girlfriend are all still down there and the 600 mile round trip every weekend recently began to take its toll. For personal reasons, I must move back to Devon to be closer to them all and it is for that reason alone that I am jumping ship - back over to the customers’ side of the fence. It was a very hard decision to make. I’ve made some fantastic friends up here over the last year and have learnt a lot. Not just about PlusNet but about the industry and about myself. I’m sure I’ll be back fairly regularly to be dragged out for pints by the Comms crowd, however! No doubt you’ll all see me straight back on the forums next week… just this time, I won’t be tagged “PlusNet Staff”. I look forward to continuing to help customers and cast my view on the industry going forwards. So, without further ado, all that remains is for me to say – so long, and thanks for all the fish!

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You'll be missed by the folks at PN, of that I'm absolutely certain. Make sure us civvy's don't miss you too - keep your promise. See you next week in the forums... Wink
Dabbler
Thanks for your excellent account of your time spent working for Plus Net. I have been a regular follower of the helpful advice you have been able to give on the many problems that us customers encounter. I am sure that the Plus Net staff will miss you but the rest of us will keep a sharp look out your comments which I will watch for with interest. I wish you the best of luck in what ever work you are going to undertake in the future. Kind regards, davidhil
Grafter
Thanks Liam, you have been extremely helpful over the last year and before that on the boards. All the best for the future.
Grafter
Good luck in your move back to the West Country, Liam. Lucky sod - I hail from the West Country myself and wish I was back there instead of being stuck in Kent! Thanks for your help with the various issues you've tackled on my behalf.
Grafter
I'm sorry that circumstances have forced this on you Liam. I was delighted to see you join Plusnet & you have demonstrated over the last year that you are a master of the art of Customer Communication. Well done. I'm sure Plusnet have given you a shining reference, but you only need to point a prospective employer to your public postings to get a reference that should satisfy anyone. I do hope that we don't lose you altogether & look forward to your contribution as a customer once again, with the added benefit of experience from the 'other side'. Having lost so many helpful customer contributers to the staff, it will be good to get one back! All our customer support staff work from their home offices using VPN & VoIP, coupled with VNC to connect to the customer when needed. It's a shame we don't have a current vacancy, or I'd be sending you an application form! All the very best for the future.