Can telecoms companies offer designer customer service?

In the continuing drive towards improving customer service and encouraging self service, telecoms companies are increasingly broadening their online resources with a range of communications channels; from more prominent and detailed FAQs to customer forums where subject experts communicate with each other and exchange tips to help consumers solve problems without recourse to a live agent.

Yet despite these alternative channels, the contact centre with real people on the end of a phone remains one of the key means of providing customer service. But this method is increasingly complemented by these additional channels.

The online channel will naturally appeal to a particular demographic: The ‘techno-savvy’ Facebook generation are more likely to go online to resolve customer service and technical issues. Older consumers tend to prefer the reassurance of human interaction. Age UK highlights that older peoples preferred choice of interaction for information or advice is face to face, followed by over the telephone. They also remind us that over 60 per cent of 70-79 year olds and 75 per cent of those over 80 never use computers.

In fact, all customers are expecting more from their contact centres in terms of speed, variety and depth of help. The Autonomous Customer report published by BT Global Services, showed 43 per cent of customers prefer to deal with an organisation via the internet but still reach for the phone if there is a complex problem or they want some advice. Seventy eight per cent regard themselves as ‘shopper swots’, having used the internet to research by reading reviews, visiting comparison websites and using self serve options before they buy, while 60 per cent said their method of contact will change continually depending where they are and what they are doing. A total of 83 per cent said they will buy from companies that make it easier for them to do business with – which indicates that getting the right communication channels in place can pay enormous dividends. The results of this survey indicated that smart phone users tend to display all of the above behaviours more strongly than other customers.

With the 21st century population constantly on the move, diversity of communications tools (smart phones, tablets, laptops, netbooks, PCs at work and home), flexible working and shift patterns, all demand 24/7  service.  Many Telecoms companies have been wise to this for some time as they are happy to network their contact centres in different countries to take advantage of different time zones in the drive to offer complete 24/7 access to a human agent.

The latest technology can help fine tune the customer experience with speech recognition products providing a branded greeting for each caller, bundling the caller’s intentions together with contextual information about their profile and history to determine the most appropriate next step ― self serve or live agent ― to effectively resolve the interaction. The result aims to be customer self service that is friendly, intuitive, and on the customer’s terms. The use of online chat can help companies improve their online sales by proactively engaging with website visitors.

Social media routes like Facebook and Twitter are increasingly used to connect and have meaningful, open conversations between organisations and customers (some companies have thousands of followers), but a balance must be maintained to ensure that these communications channels are not used too overtly to push sales as there is potential for a backlash if consumers feel that they are being manipulated.

Appreciating that this is a dialogue and not a sales pitch helps smart companies tailor additional messaging and interaction accordingly, enabling customers to have a deeper and hopefully more lasting relationship with the brand. Knowing when to offer help and when to take a step back so the customer can proceed at their own pace is key to using social media in the most personalised and effective way.

Interaction with a fellow human being can help combat the dreaded customer churn estimated at between 30 per cent and 40 per cent in the UK according to research carried out by Pitney Bowes. In fact, one in seven mobile phone customers has been talked out of leaving their existing network when they call up to terminate a contract the Firstsource Solutions YouGov survey revealed. These human interventions can also be used to cross-sell additional or complementary products, providing the timing and mood is right. Who better to judge that moment than an experienced contact centre agent? And who better to act with courtesy, professionalism and charm on a call to make all your customers feel like VIPs?

There is, however, a health warning. Even if you fine tune all your channels to reach your customers at any time on any device, research shows that some customers have no desire to stay loyal to a company.  And the prevalence of the comparison websites encourages consumers to review their services and seek the best deals. Some churn is an inevitable consequence of the natural human desire for novelty and variety.

But if you want to compete, then the most important lesson of this digital age is that people are increasingly short on time and patience. It’s now crucial to ensure that the channel your customer chooses works first time, as a report from the Harvard Business School demonstrated in July 2010. The report said: ‘Research shows that customers who attempt to self serve, fail, and are forced to pick up the phone are 10 per cent more likely to be disloyal than those customers who were able to fully resolve their issues in their channel of choice.’

The traditional contact centre offering can now be augmented and extended by an increasing range of channels offering a much more bespoke level of service which customers increasingly expect as standard. Telecoms companies that embrace this approach will have the most lasting relationships with their customers now and even more so in the future.

Iain Regan is SVP, Head of Telecoms & Media, UK & Australasia, at Firstsource Solutions.


  1. Avatar Jennifer MacIver Edwards 04/08/2011 @ 10:22 am

    You rightly point out that the correct communications channel is key both to winning new customers and retaining existing ones, and many companies are broadening their options to meet customer demand. However, the real issue is knowing which channel works for each individual customer. With so many options, there is a danger that customers will simply be inundated with communications across all of these channels – leaving many feeling dissatisfied and disconnected from their service provider. Indeed, when we asked 6,000 British customers, 90% said they did not feel their communications requirements were being consistently met. The key is to provide a consistent level of service whatever the chosen channel to ensure customers feel they are being listened to and treated as an individual.

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