Though all consumers need some support throughout the customer lifecycle, many prefer to tackle certain parts of the journey alone. For those telecom customers looking to answer their own questions and resolve their own problems, self-service channels offer an opportunity to obtain agent-level solutions without ever talking to a physical agent.

In the past, traditional self-service options only offered basic FAQs and site search functionality. While these tools helped identify potentially relevant content, they did little to assist consumers in determining which piece of content contained the answer they needed. But, as the telecom industry continues to evolve alongside these promising technologies, service providers have begun to expand the scope of their self-service options.

According to Aaron Shidler, vice president of product management at Oracle, today's telecoms use online and mobile self-service tools to facilitate three actions:


  1. Commerce—Customers can access product and service catalogs, while also managing new product purchases, along with service activation and subscriptions.
  2. Support—Customers can manage their accounts and profiles, while also gaining easy access to the brand's forums, blogs, and FAQs.
  3. Billing care—Customers can check their usage, adjust their current service to avoid overages, and pay their bill online.

And, as consumers' needs and behaviors continue to change, the technology driving these self-service offerings continues to evolve, as well. 

Making Moves in Mobile

Though consumer mobile adoption continues to perplex many industries, telecom companies have actively begun to integrate mobile offerings to enhance their self-service efforts. Being part of the industry that spawned the smartphone and Internet technologies we now use daily, telecom companies recognize the function mobile plays and its pivotal role in the self-service sphere.

Because consumers have become accustomed to accessing information at a moment's notice, mobile devices can often be found attached to their hips. In fact, according to Morgan Stanley, 91 percent of all U.S. citizens have their mobile devices within reach 24/7, making mobile an ideal channel for companies across industries looking to leverage self-service. Mobile self-service can automate frequent questions and transactions for telecoms, such as paying bills or checking data usage, while reducing the need for interactive voice response (IVR) systems or live agents. Shidler also notes that mobile has the potential to reduce customer churn by immediately addressing issues, such as texting customers when they are about to incur overages. 

But, as Matt Kearney, senior product manager at CSG International, highlights, consumers rarely limit their brand interactions to a single channel. "According to Google, 90 percent of users interact with multiple screens to complete a task, but the most popular starting point is the smartphone," he says. "Customer service providers (CSPs) can no longer view the customer experience on a desktop PC as the primary focus. They cannot afford to simply let consumers pinch and zoom their way through the Web application on their mobile device."

Kearney notes one Compuware survey that revealed 71 percent of users expect a mobile site to load as fast as a desktop site, while 57 percent would not recommend a business with a bad mobile site and 40 percent would turn to a competitor's site after a bad mobile experience. These statistics demonstrate why telecoms must think holistically, moving beyond the desktop experience to accommodate consumer needs and cultivate trust. Successful mobile strategies often lay the foundation for customer satisfaction, and its importance will only continue to grow as mobile adoption gains momentum.

Why 'Virtual' Has Become 'Reality'

Mike Hennessy, vice president of marketing at IntelliResponse, notes that the knowledgebase used by self-service tools is the same used by customer service representatives, giving telecom companies the chance to deliver a consistent message to the customer both online and off. As this recent infographic highlights, chat technology has seen a 24 percent increase in recent years. These tools offer the opportunity to simulate human service interactions through self-service platforms that tap into the virtual agent base.

"Self-service tools, like virtual agents, can act as an 'online concierge' to customers through the information-gathering process," Hennessy says. "By offering buying recommendations and tools to compare plans, or resolving simple issues, self-service options preserve and improve relationships with existing customers and increase the likelihood of conversion to a sale, or even an upgrade."

Cogeco, the diversified telecom company offering television, Internet, and phone services throughout Canada and parts of the U.S., employs a variety of self-service tools to provide customers with an exceptional, proactive online experience. The "Ask Cogeco" virtual agent solution acts as the primary method for delivering online self-service to customers. Customers need only access the main support page and enter their question in the box provided. By entering a complete question, the system can distinguish the virtual agent from regular site search, using context clues to provide the single best answer available. Predictive matching technology also matches the question with possible answers in the knowledgebase based on intent, not keywords, so customers can find answers even when typed keywords cannot be found in the title or text of the answer. This strategy also yields a list of related topics and a dynamic "Top 10" list of additional questions as a means for curbing customer frustration.

Such methods not only reduce email and phone volumes, thereby reducing company costs overall, but the raw voice of the customer data provides telecoms with the chance to generate real-time actionable insights and fine tune their approach. Though many believe virtual agents signal the death of the call center, such technology promises only to enhance the customer experience by freeing up call center agents for more complicated questions that require sensitive personal information, emotional intelligence, and a one-on-one approach.