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Your WAN provider: Knowing when to let go

Some WAN providers can give enterprises more headaches than good services, but is it time to let them go? Find out with these tips.

Surveys show that businesses value long-standing relationships as much as WAN providers do, but anyone who's ever contracted for WAN services knows that some provider relationships simply have to go. The trick is to know when to let go versus when to mend the relationship, and there are some simple tips based on enterprise surveys that can help.

Signs it's time to let go of your WAN provider

Reason 1: If any direct misrepresentation can't be reasonably explained as a misunderstanding by your WAN provider, then you should walk away at the first opportunity. A provider should never make any meaningful changes to a contract term without your knowledge. In nearly fifty examples where businesses overlooked a WAN provider's misrepresentation, the provider proved to be untrustworthy in other ways later on. This is something you can't negotiate on; contracts rely on good faith.

Reason 2: If your WAN provider is merging or changing its business model in a way that obviously conflicts with your own business plans, it's time to replace them. This could happen if a WAN provider is being acquired and will no longer serve an area where your branch office resides. In many cases where this happens, the provider will try to reduce the immediate revenue loss with assurances of continuity, but if a provider is phasing out services of the type you buy, or services in a geography you need supported, it's time to find another, no matter what assurances are offered.

Reason 3: If your WAN provider increases service prices multiple times when you have not changed your service features or scope, you should move on. The general trend in the market is for WAN services to decline somewhat in price over time. Sometimes providers will present businesses (particularly small and medium-sized businesses) with small increases instead, or they will offer a service that provides more access speed or another feature, but at a higher cost. If you don't need the feature, that's just a price increase in disguise.

Reason 4: The final "automatic disqualification" is if a WAN provider violates a service-level agreement (SLA) multiple times -- especially if the provider is not acting proactively on the issue, failing to escalate the problem report as promised or failing to meet commitments on remediation. Even the best providers will occasionally violate an SLA or drop the ball on a remedy or escalation, but two times is a bad sign, and three is a clear warning of a problem. History shows that this sort of thing is often a signal of an overloaded network or overworked operations staff, and more bad things are likely to follow.

When to make amends with your WAN provider

When a WAN service provider does something that merits concern, businesses may want to put pressure on them to turn things around before considering an incumbent provider. The strategy is to present a proposed remedy as a way of sustaining the relationship. If your WAN service provider still can't do what they promised to keep your business, then consider them unreliable. Be reasonable, but be firm.

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The first example of a "warning shot" situation is if your provider fails to return calls or emails, or loses regular contact with your account team. This is always frustrating, but it can also be a signal that your WAN service provider is in trouble or isn't valuing your account as they should. To address this, start by establishing a specific schedule for contact and specific expectations for a response. This should include an "escalation clause," meaning you should have a contact of a senior person to use should your regular contact not be responding. In many cases this process will restore communication; be sure to write it into your renewed contract with the provider too. If it doesn't work, then it's time to change providers.

A second situation where negotiation should be provided is when an unexpected change in terms is presented with a contract renewal without any discussion with you in advance. The change can be in pricing, terms of service, length of contract or SLA. A good WAN provider will never change terms on an active customer without prior sales contact to offer an explanation, so if that happens to you, it's an indication you're not being cared for correctly. Start by scheduling a meeting with both your regular sales contact and that person's superior, and get a senior operating executive from your own company involved as well. At the meeting, make it clear that you expect to be notified of service changes in person, not by having a new contract delivered, and write that notification into the terms of your renewal. If that's not acceptable, find another provider.

When your WAN provider doesn't meet your needs

There are also some situations where changes on your side of the relationship may indicate you need a new WAN provider.

One example is where your company is expanding geographically and requires network connectivity where your provider doesn't offer it. If this happens, start by asking the provider whether it will act as an integrator in providing the wider service scope with another carrier, accepting primary support responsibility. If it won't, you'll likely have to find a provider whose service geography matches current and likely future needs. When you have a contract up for renewal, it's wise to consider the possibility of needing wider geographic coverage for services prior to the renewal.

A second situation that's increasingly common is where your company wants a higher-layer service such as cloud computing, either provided by the network provider or at least integrated with current network services. If your WAN provider won't link to your optimum cloud choice or offer an equivalent cloud service, it will put you at a significant risk for finger-pointing or service problems with cloud access. Don't accept that; your provider will have to address your new service needs or you'll be better off with a new provider.

While virtually all WAN users have considered dropping their provider, most still say that negotiation is the best approach to anything but major issues. They also say that candor and professionalism in resolving disputes pays dividends in the long run. That also applies when you do have to change providers; move on without excessive recrimination. You may have to return later!

This was last published in October 2013

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