Virgin Media powers the lives of millions of consumers and businesses across the UK and Ireland. From TV and digital video content, to data, voice and transmission, it provides critical services to 3.5m mobile customers and 6.1m cable customers through an ecosystem of market-leading partners.
Ensuring every partner is working in concert is key to Virgin Media’s leading position in the market, and it is Nick Good, Director of Partner Operations, whose mission it is to support them. “My team manages the day-to-day operational performance and provide partner support services to ensure that the partner teams have all they need to do the best job for our customers,” he says. “We also provide engagement initiatives that make the partnerships work as a true partnership; our goal is to make sure that our partner teams feel like they're actually part of Virgin Media, not an external partner.”
Good’s job is not just about solving issues and checking in, however, but to engage with partners and form strong, working relationships to the benefit of all within the ecosystem. To do this, Good’s team take a five-point approach. The first is open lines of communication to share news and “call out individual contributions from specific people that have gone above and beyond”. Co-branded work environments are another pillar, through office artwork and branded desktop platforms “to bring the teams closer together”.
Biannual surveys are also conducted to gauge the connectedness of the Virgin Media operational partners, and to solicit feedback - a valuable loop that helps Good and his team learn what they should be doing differently. That feedback is used to create a ‘one-team plan’ (point four), a combined course of action to inform where there is room for improvement, and what goals they can work towards together.
The fifth is presence and face time. “The more connected we are to our partners, the more connected they are to our customers,” Good says. “Probably the most important point that's suffered the most throughout the year is face time. Being out with the partners, working with them and getting to meet the guys on the ground to really create those connections is vital. Unfortunately this aspect has been heavily impacted, as you can imagine, throughout 2020, but I’m hopeful it won’t suffer too much more throughout 2021.”
The impact of COVID-19 is a common thread in everyone’s lives. One year on since the outbreak was declared a pandemic, our lives have irrevocably changed, and as such, the role of Good’s team has been of particular importance. As millions of people shift to working from home, remote learning, and using digital channels for all aspects of day-to-day life, Virgin Media’s services “have been more critical than they've ever been”. As the UK’s largest gigabit (1,000Mbps) broadband provider, Virgin Media has been pivotal in keeping people and businesses connected over the past 12 months. And it is poised to be fully gigabit ready by the end of 2021, an organisation-wide goal in which Good’s team is central for ensuring that partners have “the knowledge, the tools and the information that they need to support our network as it evolves and grows”.
“Gigabit readiness for our partner community is really about making sure they can keep supporting the network and therefore the enhanced gigabit service that runs over it to our customers,” he explains. “And bear in mind, that's not just about consumer customers; it's also Virgin Media’s business customers, where we have a lot of critical businesses within the UK that rely on our network, including many blue-light services, hospitals and schools.”
Engaging partners will be key to maintaining the high level of service that Virgin Media’s customers have come to expect. “In partner operations, our key principles are based on linking the partner's engagement with that performance,” says Good. “We’ve seen partner performance increase steadily over the time that we've implemented and tightened the governance practices and also where we've increased the focus on engagement. Ultimately their performance reflects directly on the network performance, and therefore the experience that our customers receive.”
KPIs that paint the most insightful story of how each partner is performing have been given close attention by the performance management team. And Good has traced a correlation between increases in these key indicators and increased engagement. "So that's how we link through to trying to provide that superior performance: making sure the partners are performing as optimally as they can,” Good says. “And that's partly through the performance management, but it's also through that engagement management too. My team and I have been able to bring the two together.”
Data is also central to the management process from an automated perspective, but also in being “more proactive” in identifying and resolving issues as they arise. “We have a significant initiative in progress with one of our partners, Accenture, to introduce new tools and practices that will enhance data correlation ability, and ultimately help us deliver superior performance on the network.”
In the future, Good hopes to extend the engagement practices and expand his team’s work to create an environment of even greater cooperation, and what he terms “cross-partner collaboration”. “At the moment, all our partners provide a specific service to us to support that particular part of the network - and they do that very well. But in terms of Virgin Media getting the best out of them, by being able to collaborate across them, that's one focus that we're going to be working on through 2021,” Good says. “We certainly think there's a definite opportunity to get them working closer together, rather than just working more closely with us, which is what we've been focused on today.”
A prime example for this more cohesive marriage between partners is BTMSL, which provides the time-division multiplexing (TDM) network, and ISS, Virgin Media’s power and air conditioning services provider for technical sites. “When ISS understand more about how the switches relate to the technical sites that they support the power into, then there can be a greater working relationship in terms of managing the whole network. Certainly when there are issues on the network - as there are now and again - getting the two closer together to fix issues where the power may have interrupted a switch’s operation, that’s the sort of event where we need to get them working more collaboratively for the future.”
One means to make this a seamless experience for partners is the use of more advanced engagement techniques and gamification, Good says. Gamification has been proven to increase engagement, whether between brands and consumers, or internally. “We’re in the very early phases of this, and still considering what, exactly, the model will look like. But what we do know is that if we can bring elements of gameplay to the partner teams, it will allow us to enrich the interactions that their people have with us and their daily duties. As engagement increases, it will hopefully allow us to continually push for increased performance.”