CenturyLink challenges cable with small business-focused call center in Louisiana

Woman hanging an open sign on a small business
CenturyLink is going to open a new call center in Louisiana that will cater to the needs of small business customers. (Getty)

CenturyLink is opening a new outbound sales center in Monroe, Louisiana, where 150 employees will focus on selling services and supporting small business customers to more effectively battle cable’s encroachment into the business sector.

CenturyLink said the new center, located on Forsythe Avenue, illustrates its continued investment in the northeastern Louisiana economy and supports its objective of bringing new jobs to the area.

The new center will focus on expanding CenturyLink’s small business customer base as well as offering enhanced products and services to existing small business customers.

RELATED: CenturyLink uses managed Wi-Fi platform to upsell SMB services

CenturyLink said it expects to begin training the new employees in March.

Vernon Irvin, president of CenturyLink’s government, education, medium- and small-business groups, said in a release that the new center will enable the service provider to more effectively address the ignored small business market, which needs more support and guidance about technology options.

“This new outbound sales center will enable us to better engage with small businesses to not only educate them on our range of services, but also to share how we can be a trusted partner in helping them achieve their business goals,” Irvin said.

Managed service focus

The new call center will be able to support a series of managed services CenturyLink introduced throughout 2017 designed for small businesses. Given that small businesses typically lack the staff and network resources to support more complex network management of Wi-Fi and cloud-based services, CenturyLink can take over that role to further its bond with its customers.

While it’s likely to introduce more services this year, CenturyLink crafted several offerings—including CenturyLink Business Wi-Fi, CenturyLink Business VoIP for small business customers and CenturyLink Managed Enterprise with Cisco Meraki—with an eye on small businesses.

A cornerstone of CenturyLink’s movement is helping SMBs better manage their Wi-Fi connections. CenturyLink's new Business Wi-Fi service bundle leverages Cisco’s Meraki wireless technology to provide real-time monitoring and analytics to help businesses better connect with their customers.

Small businesses can use the Wi-Fi connection to provide not only a dual-access tier—one that’s dedicated to their own traffic and another for guest access—but also a way to market services and amenities to regular customers. A hair salon or coffee shop could provide online links to coupons and other promotions to regular customers.

Wi-Fi is just one of several service sets CenturyLink is using to attract SMBs. CenturyLink also launched CenturyLink Business VoIP for small business customers, a plug-and-play service that delivers premium phone features for a flat monthly service rate.

SMBs that don’t have the resources to manage their own VoIP network infrastructure can turn to a service that will offer them enterprise-grade features as well as necessary IT technical support to install and maintain services.

Having a call center dedicated to SMBs will certainly come in handy as it will likely be the point of entry to handle the order taking and troubleshooting point for these new services.

Battling cable’s SMB threat

Having a dedicated team to support SMBs makes sense for CenturyLink, particularly at a time when the telcos are seeing growing competition from cable operators like Charter and Comcast in the SMB segment.

Already, evidence of this threat is being seen at Comcast, which reported business services revenues rose 12.2% during the fourth quarter to $1.68 billion. The cable MSO attributed the revenue jump to increases in the number of customers receiving its SMB services offerings. Also, Comcast Business increased revenue per business customer relationships by 5%.

Charter also saw decent gains in its fourth-quarter business service revenue results. The cable MSO reported SMB revenue rose 4.5% year over year to $931 million and enterprise revenues rose 8.3% to $570 million. In all, Charter’s fourth-quarter commercial revenue rose 6% to $1.5 billion.

Looking forward, CenturyLink may also start seeing Comcast and Charter competing more for medium and large business customers. Besides expanding their DOCSIS 3.1 and fiber footprints to deliver 1 Gbps and higher speeds, these providers are also offering their own flavors of SD-WAN, an initiative that's clearly focused on chipping away at the telcos' long-standing MPLS service empire. 

Cable operators can offer higher speeds and other services like cloud over their existing HFC and fiber networks. These factors have allowed cable to effectively chip away at the SMB customers that once only CenturyLink and other incumbents served.

CenturyLink’s potential ace for SMBs is that it now has a larger set of network connection options, including a larger pool of buildings connected with fiber, to win back and lure new SMB customers from its acquisition of Level 3.