The consumer wireless market in in the United States is extremely competitive, but when you’re looking to disrupt business models and also provide e-commerce in crowded market, competition is even fiercer.
For Republic Wireless in Raleigh, North Carolina, product innovation and customer service is how it looks to differentiate itself. It’s one of as many as 50 mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) competing for customers along with the four big wireless carriers. Since launching its services in 2010, supply chain efficiency has been a key component of the company’s success and growth, said vice president of supply chain Alan Pendleton in a telephone interview with EBN Online.
As an MVNO, Republic doesn’t own the wireless network infrastructure that delivers its wireless services; rather, it purchases bulk access to network services at wholesale rates and sets its own prices. Specifically, it offers a low cost mobile phone service that defaults to Wi-Fi and falls back to Sprint's and T-Mobile's cellular network. Pendleton said a key value proposition as a Wi-Fi carrier is to tap into computer technologies to deliver VoIP service and pass on savings to customers.
Republic has also taken an e-commerce approach to fulfilling customer orders. Through its online store, it sells Motorola, Samsung, LG, and Huawei phones, but also supports bring-your-own-phone (BYOP) compatibility to its service plans by offering SIM card kits.
Because of its e-commerce fulfilment model, Pendleton said Republic is not only competing against other carriers, including the big four, but also major e-commerce players such as Amazon in terms of customer experience. “We’re expected to deliver to the standards set by industry giants,” Pendleton said. “By virtue that we are B2C, we have thousands and thousand of of small deliveries to customers.”
And because it’s a small company, Republic doesn’t have the capabilities of a large supply chain to track everything, but its core philosophy from initial inception was that it wanted to anticipate, detect and respond to any problem before the customer is aware of an issue, said Pendleton. “Early in our growth, we developed systems to support our ‘management by exception’ goal.” As Republic grew, so did complexity. “We saw that complexity would mean more technology to automate the supply chain.”
An request for proposal (RFP) process brought One Network into the picture to help Republic continue to scale its supply chain capabilities and meet its manage by exception goals. It recently started using One Network’s Real Time Value Network (RTVN) so that it has complete end-to-end supply chain visibility, whether it’s an e-commerce order from a customer or an inbound shipment from a supplier, while its intelligent agent technology monitors fulfillment during execution, warning the carrier of possible problems.
Pendleton said the RTVN brings together all the necessary parties, including Republic Wireless, its suppliers, third-party logistics providers, and parcel carriers to orchestrate inbound supply and e-commerce. “Our team is not manually entering and executing transactions,” he said. “We want them to be strategic thinkers, decision makers, negotiators and ultimately advocates of the customer experience.”
One Network CEO Greg Brady said the wireless market is one that doesn’t have the greatest reputation for being a customer-friendly environment or cost-friendly, but observed that Republic is taking a clever approach to customer service that distinguishes itself from other players. “They don't have people touch orders,” he said. “People only get involved when there’s a problem.”
It makes sense that it would gravitate to One Network because of its ability to connect suppliers together, but what’s different is that it normally goes into large enterprises where a user is moved through a process via an ERP system, said Brady, which is rather costly. Republic’s approach is very consumer-driven, and the system learns from all of customers to understand demand and return rates to automatically align the supply chain.
And because staff only get involved there’s a problem, Republic’s supply chain is hugely scalable, he said. “The system will allow them to grow without the traditional headaches.”
Pendleton said Republic knew it was on to something early on based on demand signals, so the company invested in its supply chain. It didn’t have any significant pain point prior to moving to One Network’s RTVN. “We weren't waiting until we had protracted pain.”
However, to execute its high customer satisfaction strategy, he said Republic did invest in more inventory than it probably needed to, as well as more fulfillment capacity than necessary. This created a buffer to deliver on customer expectations. But by using One Network’s RTVN, the company can operate leaner and to meet its key performance indicators in a smarter fashion.
Republic is now in a position where it can detect an error in the first order where it appears before it crops up in multiple orders and can correct it, ideally before the customer detects it, said Pendleton. “Sometimes there’s latency between when a problem occurs and when the negative outcome is experienced. If you wait for someone to feel that pain, it’s repeating itself during those windows.”
In the future, Republic will be able to feed real-time detection directly into its customer support engines to give customer support representatives the ability to proactively reach out to customers. Already the tool has become popular with Republic’s supply chain analysts because it makes their lives easier, said Pendleton. “This tool is helping us grow and scale and accept more complexity without adding significant burden onto the team.”