Greg Owens, Motive: Telcos are sidelining customer experience for speed

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Nearly every industry is joining the recent customer experience management gold rush, including telecoms. Analyst firm Ovum recently predicted that customer experience will be a top priority for the sector next year as telecoms firms shift much of their IT spending towards customer-orientated systems in order to improve satisfaction ratings.

Greg Owens, head of marketing at Motive, believes that now that everyone is offering the same devices, companies are seeking to differentiate on price. “Companies are starting to realise just how expensive it is to acquire a new customer and that it's not just a land grab anymore, it's not just about who can grab the most customers. The market is very saturated, especially in the mobile space, so now getting new customers comes down to stealing them from the competitors and to do this you really have to have the best customer experience possible,” he says.

As Alcatel Lucent's customer experience solutions portfolio, Motive helps 16 out of 20 of the world's biggest service providers – including BT, Vodafone, Bell Canada ad France Telecom – prioritise what’s most important, whether that’s minimising churn, trying to save operational costs or reduce calls to the helpdesk to deliver the best customer experience.

“For instance, where do customers go to complain? That’s something that operators are really trying to get their head around,” he said. “There's some basic analytics that operators need to collect from the network. They need to know how their customers are experiencing their service – are they getting the right bit rate, are they having drop calls – and they’re now starting to ask if there's a way to monitor what they're saying on social.”

Businesses, he says, are also focusing on the cost of attracting customers with figures increasingly highlighting the substantial increase in acquiring new customers compared to retaining existing ones. He points to Kissmetric's recent customer service infographic, which showed that customers are also likely to abandon transactions if they have a bad experience and have now come to expect an almost immediate respond to their service request across a variety of channels.

Owens continued: “The other thing consumers are pushing for is the ability to do more on their own without having to call the helpdesk, which is starting with younger consumers who would rather figure it out themselves. As consumer behaviour is changing, they want to be able to contact their operator when they want, using the channel that they want. Not necessarily going into a store or calling somebody, but instead using apps, where you can troubleshoot stuff yourself, or being able to chat online with an operator and not having to call and wait on hold.

CX challenges

Serving the rising omnichannel customer and their ever-growing demands is not easy and according to Owens, telcos get a raw deal in the world of customer service management. One of the main challenges he believes is self-inflicted, almost ingrained in the industry itself.

“If you look at the telco market 20 years ago when they just had phone and long distance and then they started getting into high speed internet, then TV services, generally as they adopt each of these services they come with a whole different set of tools to support it and different billing systems.  For instance, Bell Canada here has 12 different billing systems and it seems ludicrous but when they get a new offer from a vendor, they often will get the billing system to go with it. So when customers call to complain about something or to get help with something, they have to log into a different system depending on the nature of the question, which creates a very difficult environment to be able to provide really good technical support.

“The other thing is that telco is a very competitive market,” he says. ”Cable companies and telcos are fighting tooth and nail for business but it’s unfair in the way that they’re being compared to different industries like banks and insurance companies, like the well-known American publication Consumer Report.

Whilst banks and insurance companies can focus their efforts on delivering a service that is non-intensive (customers rarely meet with their banks), compared with a telco, Owens believes their business is fairly straight forward. When you think of the various services telcos provide – the phone line in your home, multiple mobile devices, different PCs – then if any one thing goes wrong it has a trickledown effect on the customers’ overall experience of the operator.

He says: “That’s a unique challenge and not a lot of other industries have that complexity to deal with. The fact that they’re being lumped in with these other industries is creating a bit of a snowball effect. It’s fair to compare telcos with the airline industry but comparing it with your bank or your insurance company or restaurant seems like an unfair comparison to me.”

Not everyone agrees with this idea of separating out sectors in order to rank customer service levels. The Institute of Customer Service (ICS), a UK professional membership body for customer service, produces a bi-annual index that measures the quality of customer service across 13 business sectors, benchmarking retail (food and non-food) against automotive, utilities and telecoms and vice versa to record an overall UKCSI figure – with the most recent results from July showing an achievement of 77.9 out of 100.

“I understand if they're looking to benchmark themselves against something and it's fair in the sense that consumers have the same expectations, Owens responded. “The average consumer doesn't realise the complexity behind all of the services that they get, they don't understand why they're getting drop calls – they don't really care, they just want it to work.

“But telcos can't go out there and try to explain how complex it is because it makes them look like whiners for lack of a better word. So they have to suck it up, and they have done that, and they're trying their best to make these improvements and that's why they’re looking at lots of different vendors available – they know that there’s that opinion out there and sometimes just making improvements and showing that you're trying to make improvements brings people onto your side a little bit.”

Customer-centric strategy

Owens outlines one of these improvements as the creation and appointment of a chief customer officer to the board, or senior staff bonuses tied to the company’s overall Net Promoter Score. “There has been some discussion in Alcatel Lucent about whether customer experience is a buzz word that's going to continue to resonate with the industry. I don't think it'll ever go away, it's always going to be important but it's always going to have relative importance,” he says, noting BT’s recent acquisition of wireless firm Spectrum and the risk of moving CX to the backburner as it focuses on rolling out the new network.

“It's definitely important to roll out fibre and deliver all these ridiculously high speeds but along the way you have to ensure you have the tools to ensure that at any time you don't affect the customer experience so if you show up to someone's house to install a new device that gives a 400MB connection and if doesn’t work the first time they try to use it then that's going to affect their experience.”

Asked if sometime telscos can sometimes be found guilty of side-lining customer experience in favour of product, he believes that in North America, internet speed has become everything for some companies. “Speed is what a lot of the telcos and cable companies have been publically battling over to get customers.

“On the US commercials for high speed internet, operators are offering 50-100MB connections and there's always this one-upmanship that they think resonates with consumers because faster means better. I don't know if the average user really understands what these speeds mean and I don't think anybody even understands that they need that kind of bandwidth. That’s when it could potentially lose its focus.”

So how can companies make the biggest impact in their service offering in order to differentiate in the market place? “It’s just about constantly innovating and making sure that we think about all the different trends that are happening in the market, so it’s about improving agent-assisted care, having a self-care solution and looking at analytics to understand your customers and be more proactive in helping them.

“That’s the innovation that's happening in the industry; the future is a three-pronged timeline.” 

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