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Taking on the UK’s ‘big four’ broadband providers with a people-first approach

Taking on the UK’s ‘big four’ broadband providers with a people-first approach

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Broadband provider, Zen Internet, aims to take on the UK’s ‘big four’ providers. Chairman and Founder, Richard Tang, started the UK company with the philosophy of a people-first approach and aims to think long-term over short-term profits. He talks about the company’s ethos and how they always aim to do the right thing for their people and the environment.

Tell us a bit more about your business.

Zen Internet is the largest B Corp certified telecommunications and technology service provider in the UK. We provide a full range of broadband, data, voice, hosting and infrastructure services to homes and businesses across the country, as well as business-grade broadband, Ethernet and data services for a wide range of large business, corporate customers and channel partners.

But, what sets us apart is our ethos. Although we’re the oldest Internet service provider in its original form, we consider ourselves to be a challenger brand, aiming to take on the big players, through our people-first approach.

Not only that, for us at Zen, sustainability is really important, and our B Corp status is evidence that we’ll always aim to do the right thing for our people and the environment. On top of this, we have also pledged our commitment to be Net Zero by 2028, an ambitious target which we have a project team actively working on to ensure the targets can be met.

How has the business grown since it first started and how did you ensure growth?

Whether it be telling friends or colleagues about using the service both at home and in work, the business has primarily grown organically through word of mouth of the great service we provide.

Our growth has also been fuelled by our regular award wins, such as consistently topping Which?’s annual broadband survey and achieving Which? recommended status on multiple occasions. We have also been awarded the PC Pro best broadband provider for 17 consecutive years. Our Trustpilot rating, which is far ahead of the industry average, also holds us in good stead. Consumers will trust real hand experiences, and thankfully our reputation in this space is testament to our leading customer centric approach.

We’re different from the big players as our strategy is to invest long-term in our services and build a loyal customer base to continue the rapid growth we’re experiencing.

How did the business start?

Back in 1995, I asked my brother, Dan, whether he thought the Internet would take off, over a pint, in a pub in Rochdale. At the time not many people used the Internet and there was little interest in it. More than 25 years later, I don’t think anyone, me included, could have seen how it would change society and business so dramatically.

What’s the business’ approach to management?

Our philosophy is built around putting people first and whether that be our own Zen workforce, our customers or our suppliers, it is something that sets us apart in the industry. To be successful, you need your people to be happy and engaged. This fuels the creation of a good customer experience and enables a greater relationship with suppliers too.

We also give staff the autonomy to make their own decisions, for example with our customer service employees. They’re given the authority to make decisions on the spot to help solve customer problems, such as authorising a new router, without the need to seek senior approval. This gives staff the freedom to be efficient and ultimately the responsibility that enables them to grow.

What is your company’s vision and goal?

The ultimate aim for Zen is to help make the world a better place by evolving the capitalist system so it’s more focused on people and sustainability. We want to do that by setting the example that you can build a successful business through this approach. It’s key that people understand that people and profit are not mutually exclusive.

What kind of clients do you serve?

We have clients right across the spectrum from residential customers around the country, through to SMEs, enterprises and the channel. Depending on the needs of the customer, our services range from broadband, hosting, voice and data through to Ethernet and infrastructure. We are proud to have built the biggest independent broadband network in the UK and provide wholesale access to this network to other ISPs.

What has your career looked like so far?

The first word that springs to mind is, varied. Before I started at Zen, I was a computer software and hardware engineer for six years. Starting Zen from scratch, I’ve had to do everything from answering the customer service phones, to fixing the network, creating the website and more. As the company has grown, I’ve had to learn first-hand how to manage and lead people and teams, and then how to let go of responsibilities as I moved from CEO to Chairman in the last three years.

Which market do you provide services for?

Zen is primarily focused at providing services for residential customers and the private sector on the business side. However, now more than ever, connectivity is such a huge part of our lives that it resonates across all sectors and in every part of our lives. In particular though, we’ve seen increased appetite from retail and construction companies, as well as health and social care in recent years.

How do you equip your staff with skills and knowledge?

At Zen we have a massive focus on development for our staff, which includes an active and dedicated People Development team. We regularly conduct inductions providing training that can help staff enhance their skills on all aspects, such as customer service. We also actively encourage our people to sign up to the Living Leader programme to help them achieve their leadership potential. Just over a third (35%) of our people have been through the programme, with 83% of these in managerial positions. We have opened it up to our entire workforce with the intention that everyone in the business will have the opportunity to experience it.

How do you work with other executives within the C-suite to make sure your voice is heard?

As Founder and Chairman, it’s my role to govern our executive board, providing constructive criticism and insight based on my 25 plus years in the company. However, as Chairman, I have to remember to step back and let them get on with running the business. It’s this balance between governance and a more hands off approach that’s ultimately the trickiest part of my role.

How do you ensure different teams in your organisation work together?

It’s all about creating the right culture within a company. Our ethos of happy staff, happy customers, happy suppliers is embedded in everything we do. This means that everyone buys into the idea of teamwork. It’s important not to have a blame culture too and encourage staff to share knowledge and mistakes openly and learn from them. Ultimately everyone is learning and it’s about showing our people that we’re on this journey together and no one is the finished article.

To make all of this possible though, you need strong leadership. It asks more of our leaders and pushes them to focus on people as individuals, working with them to get the best out of them, for the benefit of wider teams and the business.

Businesses also need to ensure that everyone feels included and represented within the company. This is why we’ve set up a number of diversity support groups, there’s Pride, Women in Tech, BAME, Faith and Pause. By encouraging and promoting diversity throughout, it helps to develop bonds between people in different teams that ultimately bring them closer together.

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