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Customer experience has little to do with customer service

2nd Jun 2004
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Complexity is the middle name of telcos and utilities operations today. Most organisations are hugely constrained by the logistical nightmare of co-ordinating the multiple internal and external resources that create and deliver the many services on offer [in a manner that delivers the right customer experience].

They want to improve the overall customer experience, but they can’t while this burden of complexity drags down their operational performance. But there is a solution to this vicious circle that’s proven to deliver a better customer experience at the right price for the customer and at a substantially lower operational cost, argues Cristian Parrino of Vidus.

For years, telcos and utilities have tried to overcome many barriers to deliver a good customer service at an affordable cost, not least of which are operational complexity and the ever-increasing introduction of unpredictability into the equation.

Customers are more demanding, wanting convenient service delivery times and jobs completed perfectly on the first visit. However, to date, such luxuries have been compromised by the inability to move away from the conventional thinking and approach to service delivery, through unacceptable cost and price trade-offs and through the inability of service providers to manage daily interruptions to planned work.

Orchestrating the many and varied internal and external influencing factors that comprise getting the service delivered as requested by the customer and to the customers expectation, has forced telcos and utilities to work to the lowest common denominator when it comes to delivering service.

The result is a very poor experience for the customer. One where, for example, the customer accepts appointment times they might not like and stays home for follow-up visits by a different engineer because the first one couldn’t fix the problem, or the parts were not carried in the van. Or, even worse, the appointment is missed altogether as a result of unforeseen changes or poor control over the schedule. This is the kind of customer experience that drives people away from their service provider.

All telcos and utilities have multiple, diverse and geographically dispersed customers who have bought a wide range of products and service level agreements (SLA). To deliver to these customers, the telco or utility has a finite number of mobile field engineers, each with multiple skills and various resources at their disposal, spread unevenly across regions, who have varying skill sets and are available to work at different times. The work schedules of these mobile engineers are typically managed by staff working at centrally-located service management control sites or dispatch centres.

The telco or utility has a transport fleet of varying sizes located at regionally dispersed, immovable key depots. These vehicles are of varying ages and conditions, carry different tools and equipment and can be off the road at scheduled and unscheduled times for servicing and repairs.

The service provider also has a complex supply chain providing thousands of interrelated parts and an intricate stock allocation system that needs to forward parts to those depots nearest the highest incidence of need in the past. These parts must be put into the right van with the right mobile engineer who has the right skillsets, and then arrive at the customer’s address at the pre-allotted time, taking into account such unpredictable events such as local travel, emergencies and weather conditions.

Last, the needs of customers can suddenly change and place best laid plans in disarray – increasing the burden on the service provider. And without the ability to react effectively, there could be valuable missed opportunities to up sell additional services. However operational complexity makes it hard to know in real-time what local resources are available at any given moment.

The scale of the minutiae involved in this enormously complex business environment is awesome. It is so huge that if you ask most service providers today if they could deliver on a customer request, to the customer’s timescale, they would not be able to answer and they would lose the opportunity to satisfy the customer.

Conventional thinking has led most organizations to focus on service execution in the field in order to improve their customers’ experience – but this is only a small part of the overall picture. All the factors in an organization which affect the end-to-end customer experience process need to be a focus. From the point at which the customer calls the contact centre and arranges an appointment, through the management and execution of the service, to the after service customer care and billing process – while doing so at optimal cost to the business.

Traditional field service management tools only focus on the operational elements of the daily scheduling process – the ‘now’ – and critically miss the ‘before’ and ‘after’.

With markets opening up across Europe, the temptation to swap telco or utility when a service call goes wrong is easily acted upon. Indeed, research by SPL WorldGroup reveals that nearly half of UK customers of telcos and utilities are likely to continue changing supplier for the foreseeable future, mostly because there is nothing to differentiate between service providers except on price.

To stop the rot, telcos and utilities urgently need to find a way to raise the quality of their customer service and experience to levels that at least match, if not exceed those that the general public has come to expect from other sectors, for example the retail sector. The penalty of not doing so will either be a return to a price-cutting war that benefits no-one, not even the customer in the long-run, or a swift take-over by a more customer-focused European competitor. Because even when the operational issues are solved, most service providers still have not addressed the whole customer experience issue, which will in the end be the compelling differentiator.

Somehow, telcos and utilities have to dovetail all the multiple facets of their resources - chiefly people, parts, transport, changing events and most importantly, customer’s time which in the modern day has become the most valuable currency between service providers competing on customer’s experience.

Providers need to synchronise systems to manage one or more of: call centre and field service tasks, people and skills, locations, time and physical assets. In technology terms, this means addressing the difficult horizontal integration of what are currently multiple, silo-ed business processes running on diverse software platforms with little automated co-ordination or communication between them.

Delivering to an increasing customer expectation, on demand without driving up cost and damaging service levels, means coordinating every element of delivery within an organisation right through the supply chain.

The synchronisation of resources in this way is the only answer to delivering a great customer experience in an increasingly demanding market.

Cristian Parrino is Vice President of Strategic Alliances at Vidus.

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