Hanging Up: The Peaks and Pitfalls of Telecom Customer Experience

Here are eight imperatives for digital customer experience transformation in 2016.
Customer Experience

Telecom companies are notorious for their less than stellar customer service. Yet, while many providers have made significant strides with regard to their overall strategies by putting customer experience ahead of all other priorities in recent years, many still haven't achieved their most basic goals. From cord cutters and alternative services, to their need for digital development and data collection, telecoms must juggle numerous emerging issues, while also trying to maintain the traditional elements of the business.

Ken Kennedy, CTO at CSG International, notes that service providers have been grappling with transforming their business to better serve today's consumers and strengthen brand loyalty, with the biggest shift stemming from the growing need for digital services. "The telecom landscape is undergoing a major shift, and more than ever before, the growth and success of service providers is dependent upon customer subscription loyalty," he explains. "In order to maintain the loyalty of subscribers and improve the overall customer relationship, telecom providers need to cater to today's digital savvy audiences by innovating around offerings that complement the on-the-go nature of consumers and offer a seamless, personalized experience."

Telecom companies should innovate around these eight imperatives to transform their businesses to better serve and engage digital consumers:

1. Re-engage cord cutters

Whether consumers are trading in their landlines for mobile phones, or swapping cable subscriptions for streaming services, Kennedy says that leading businesses must face the fact that these alternatives threaten traditional telecom companies by offering money-saving opportunities that are especially appealing to younger demographics. By creating skinny, flexible bundles, however, telecoms allow consumers to pick and choose only the services they truly want and need, thereby retaining their business and facilitating superior personalization.

2. Implement new distribution models

Consumers-especially television viewers-want the freedom to jump from one device to another without any struggle. Therefore, Kennedy suggests that providers need to implement new distribution models that allow for seamless connections across devices to deliver superior quality of experience. Viewing audiences want to start an episode of their favorite show on their televisions at home and have their tablets know right where they left off prior. Providing consumers the capabilities they seek will further advance loyalty and retention efforts.

3. Think outside the box

Because customer experience has become the differentiator across all industries, telecom companies must go beyond the norm to stand out from the competition. Nearly every cable provider offers to bundle its services and most mobile phone carriers promise to pay consumers' cancellation fees in exchange for new business, but few have yet to exceed these expectations and present customers with fresh opportunities, such as connected home technologies, in an effort to garner more customers and gain the competitive advantage.

"Providers need to think beyond video, for instance, when it comes to offering a top-notch customer experience," Kennedy highlights. "When thinking about the opportunities presented by Wi-Fi, providers need to think outside of the box to introduce a portfolio of offerings, such as connected home offerings. Video is the killer app, but data is what is truly going to make these service providers money."

4. Automate for simplicity

Rafael Domene, partner at TeleTech CSS, notes that, in many instances, the term 'traditional' now serves as code for 'old and expensive' with regard to customer service technologies and operations. Automation and the transition to digital, however, promise to increase brand loyalty and improve customer relations for these struggling companies.

"Automation allows telecoms to simplify the customer service process, while also giving customers precisely what they want-the ability to self-serve and bypass the contact center," he explains. It's a win-win for telecoms, which can cut costs, generate data, and boost customer retention and loyalty efforts in the process."

5. Empower customers to take independent action

Offering self-service options allow consumers to take matters into their own hands and answer their own questions, thereby reserving associates for problems that require human intervention. Republic Wireless, for example, crowdsources its customer support by affording users the opportunity to answer their fellow customers' community queries without contact center assistance. Customers with great knowledge of the products and services offered are empowered to help those who are less familiar with the company, thereby supporting the growing self-service trend so customers with serious matters can continue to receive the immediate attention they deserve.

6. Go granular with data analysis

By collecting consumer data across channels, telecom companies can pinpoint which questions or issues arise most frequently to develop proactive service methods that prevent problems before they surface. As Hanna Kettunen, senior product manager for analytics at Comptel, explains, many telecoms have already invested in Big Data initiatives, which can shed light on customer behavior, but without the processes necessary to bring insight to action, this analysis will go to waste. If telecoms can predict when customers complain, however, they may also be able to anticipate churn, giving them the opportunity to intervene accordingly.

7. Give associates the flexibility to tackle complex matters

Ultimately, telecom companies must actively preserve the human connection. Consumers want to know that there are well-trained associates available to guide them through the problems they can't solve on their own. From live chat to voice calls, telecoms must assure customers that one-on-one assistance will always be available no matter the channel they prefer. Customers also find comfort in knowing that, even when they can successfully self-serve, there are always associates listening to their feedback and analyzing their behaviors to ensure all such interactions continue to run smoothly. Such flexibility allows service associates to prioritize critical issues that could otherwise lead to attrition if left to automated services.

"Automation may cut operational costs and reduce call volume, but digital adoption doesn't mean abandoning human interaction all together," Domene explains. "Telecoms must assure their contact center associates are always available when the customer's situation requires one-on-one assistance. Customers need to know that if they can't solve their issues themselves, human assistance isn't far behind."

8. Move to a single interface

For KPN, the Dutch landline and mobile telecommunications company, the last decade has brought about much change, sparking the company's focus on simplification and experience. With the growth in smart device adoption and the increasing demand for seamless access to products on all devices, KPN realized it had to act by choosing a radically different approach if it was to remain competitive and fulfill its ambition of becoming the best provider. Because of this desire for seamless experiences, KPN recognized that it required a product-independent model that delivers all products and offering through one simple digital interface and single sign-on.

"Previously, under the product-oriented model, KPN customers were experiencing fragmented shopping experiences," says Joyce van de Garde, vice president of the Simplification Office at KPN. "When they wanted multiple products, they were required to sign in and sign out repeatedly with different usernames and passwords. Within the current customer-oriented model, all processes and customer interactions are designed from a customer perspective, focusing on excellent customer experience."

Using this framework in combination with its own customer journey, KPN was able to redesign processes across all customer touchpoints. While the framework has been beneficial in creating one single process language within the company, it's also improved understanding and cooperation between the various units of the business. Ultimately, this customer-oriented, service-focused model has enabled the company to break down the silos that hinder both internal operations and external relationships. The organization has the power to gain insight into all touchpoints along the customer journey, while customers can easily access every facet of their account without complication. This epitomizes KPN of the possibilities that result when transforming with digital in mind.