This surely may not be the intent, but the pressure to cut costs, their conflicting cross-functional KRAs (key result areas), internal politics, and the need to show profits eventually outweigh the customer. The reason telecom network operators are not great at delivering customer experience is that they focus more on themselves rather than the customer.
This approach then spills into all aspects of all their employees’ behaviors. The enormous processes and systems that exist, are more for measuring their own business performance parameters. With over 15 years’ experience in the telecom domain, I can say, the telecom mind-set is still ‘inside out’.
Today, telecom customers are far more well-informed than ever before. As the competition intensifies the customer is spoilt for choices. It is more challenging to acquire new customers, but even retain your existing ones is not easy. Today’s customer is increasingly demanding and is very sensitive to the speed of response, problem resolution, pricing, product, and services. Telecom’s only product is its “SERVICE”. Yet most customers are not completely satisfied with their existing network provider and keep changing their operator to find that elusive best customer service experience through the MNP route.
As we discuss “CUSTOMER”, it would be apt to quote what Mahatma Gandhi said about a customer in his speech in South Africa in 1890, “A customer is the most important visitor on our premises. He is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him. He is not an interruption of our work. He is the purpose of it. He is not an outsider of our business. He is part of it. We are not doing him a favor by serving him. He is doing us a favor by giving us the opportunity to do so.”
I briefly propose the following “SEVEN” simple strategies to deliver an improved customer experience. For ease of understanding and recollection, I have used the term “T-E-L-E-C-O-M” to develop my thoughts into executable strategies.
Every customer has different communication needs. Hence it is imperative that the companies need to continuously interact with them and interpret their usage patterns to keep offering them tailor-made plans to fill this inherent need.They have to pro-actively move them to plans that are more beneficial to their customers and stop always looking at the ARPU (Average Revenue Per User) impacts, basis their usage patterns. Is it not better making a little less from an existing customer than not having them on your network and make nothing at all? It has been often found that many customers have churned to competition since their existing operator did not have the plan they wanted or has offered them the plan as a last minute retention tool. This offends, and lingers in their minds forever. A new billing methodology of an incumbent operator took between four to six four months for others operators to match. This resulted in a huge churn for the existing operators, apart from helping the operator grow substantially in those six months, even with a far lesser footprint.
Telecom industry has various departments like marketing, network, admin, credits, verification, collection, HR…some of who do not face customers directly unlike sales and customer service. It is necessary to engage all these departments with the customers as frequently as possible to understand the customer’s pain points and perspective’s. This will allow and encourage a better-coordinated effort and solutions to manage internal conflict and quicker resolution. The customer should be at the center of all cross-functional priorities.
Primarily the digital media. Today’s customer is outspoken and very bold. They mostly leave negative feedback on various social media platforms about their experiences. It may be about the network, billing issues, delay in response, deactivation, and interaction with touch points or call centers. Most prospective customers read through this feedback before they decide to choose on an operator. Use this medium extensively to cull out data and address positively at the earliest. This will help you not only serve your existing customers but reach out to new potential customers. This will also help in having an enhanced customer experience.
Build systems to involve all your users and employees to give feedback through a simple free SMS back to the network. The front line knows most of the issues out there, you just have to ask. All operators have their own apps, add a simple drop down of the top 10 common complaints to ensure that data can be classified and mined properly for faster resolution. Acknowledge receipt. Shorten the process of making them call you with an issue. Ensure this is widely publicized for customer’s knowledge on recharge cards, monthly bills, emails, send SMS, and use digital & print media extensively. Put a robust and foolproof mechanism in place to provide appropriate solutions and revert to the customer. If some issues cannot be addressed due to financial, regulatory or legal constraints, be truthful in conveying the same. Trust me, most may still decide to be with you, or at the least not leave negative feedback on social media.
Giving your Customer good service is passé, strive to delight them. Explore for reasons to reward them. Telecom industry thrives on data. Segment them basis AON (age on network), create clubs basis this, band them basis ARPU, payment history, recharge patterns, minutes of usage, data usage, VIPs, roaming, caller tunes downloaded…and give enticing offers, offers should either be completely free of negligible in cost. We all appreciate freebies and are always delighted. The data of their birthdays is readily available, send automated greetings, and give special offers on their birthdays. Do customer meets locally to get their feedback and pain points, is another good idea. For corporate customers, most operators already have the account management approach. Empowered them for resolution directly from the field, instead of coming back to the office and sending a chain of emails for action and further follow up. While eliminating pain points of the customer is necessary, it is more critical to identify areas you can differentiate your company from competitors too. Telecoms need to get ahead of the trend. Instead giving the ordinary experience, telecoms need to start delighting your customer.
Customer service department is not the only custodian of delivering customer service. There are several touch points (telephonic and physical) for customers in the form of direct and indirect stores, retail outlets, call centers, dealers, distributors, field executives. These touch points should be well equipped and trained to resolve the customer walk-ins/queries. The real challenge is in ensuring that the customers get seamless and similar experience across all these points. Empower them to get it first time right. Have technical and product experts at these locations. Many touch points originate from complete external parties and some are even co-partnered by franchises in telecom. Monetize them handsomely basis retention percentage and first-time resolution. A seamless onboarding journey, easy activation processes, ease of switching between plans across all touch points.
This means that all managers practice customer service management. Their results should be quantified. Most managers work like technicians while working on data, rather than looking at it from the responsibility and knowledge perspective. Their actions should give positive results. All telecom managers must have the customer service traits embedded into their work culture. The manager has to be an artist. His only responsibility should be to make his company deliver the purpose for the sake of which it exists, and telecom exists only for the sole purpose of delivering efficient and effective customer service. Don’t always look at the profitability of the organization. Delivering great customer experience should be more pro-active than reactive to ensure there are no negative customer experiences. Managers and their teams have to ensure there are more deeds than words in action.
Lastly, my take on the strategies that telecom operators should take to improve customer experience is that they should base their future strategies only on ‘Customer-centric-strategy’, and not either on ‘product’ or ‘price’ and see to it that it is delivered through flawless execution for an enhanced customer experience.
Mohan Reddy, a senior telecom professional with working experience with mobile operators in India.