Moving customer service from dial up to superfast

Telecoms.com periodically invites expert third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece Richard Goold, Partner at transformation consultancy Moorhouse explores ways in which telcos can improve on their current poor reputation for customer service.

The telco sector does not enjoy a reputation for excellent customer service. Even within the same company, customer satisfaction can vary significantly depending on what part of the business customers are dealing with, whether that’s their broadband provider or their pay TV supplier. In recent customer research from Which? four telco providers were in the bottom ten per cent.

This is the consequence of a three-pronged problem for telco providers:

  1. Lack of ability in using already held data to enhance the customer experience
  2. The rapid growth of TMT organisations – usually through mergers and acquisitions (M&As) – and dependency on third parties
  3. Lack of digitalisation in an era where customers expect a simple and satisfying experience with minimal effort on their part

These problems are by no means insurmountable and if looked at through the lens of improving customer satisfaction, could give telcos that get it right a competitive advantage over their rivals.

Lack of ability in using already held data to enhance the customer experience

The more data you have the harder it can be to service customers, and telco companies have a lot of data. Not only that, it’s held on many different systems, such as point of sale, billing and service systems. Customers can find it repetitive when it’s not driven by a single source and they have to give their information at the point of sale for a credit check and then again when dealing with other parts of the same business.

The quality of the data is another matter. Analytics are only insightful if the data they are working from is good. Trying to build intelligence out of garbage will only make things worse, so companies should only do analytics when they know the data they have is of high quality.

Telcos need to develop long-term and authentic relationships with their customers if they are to enjoy the benefits of loyalty. Paying attention to the customer journey and ensuring that the ‘moments of truth’ when they engage with you are a positive experience is key. For example, knowing that a customer is most likely to call with a query on a bill soon after receiving it means that having access to the same information is pretty important. That said, there are examples where back office systems are up to a day behind the billing systems that have generated the bill and as such the customer has access to information that the customer service team are unable to access.

Customer authentication is another opportunity to provide good customer service. How many of us have entered phone numbers and pin numbers etc into the phone before we even get to the customer service representative to then have to provide this same information again when we eventually speak to someone? It is not unusual to have to go through this again if you are handed off to another department! By making this seamless and consistent, organisations can enhance the customer service experience and further build goodwill for those times when things go wrong.

The importance of goodwill between an organisation and its customers should not be underestimated. It can take a significant amount of time to build but can be eroded almost instantaneously when things go wrong or when an organisation fails to do what should be straightforward. Against this backdrop it is not hard to see why existing customers get frustrated when they see better deals being advertised for new customers. It certainly doesn’t suggest that they value their current customers.

It’s not often this can be said, but telco providers could learn from the financial services sector in this regard. Banks are now very cognizant of the fact that if they offer new customers something, they should also make it available to their loyal account holders, otherwise they might not be loyal account holders for much longer. Rather than looking simply at what competitors in the sector are doing, telco organisations should raise their ambitions and learn from who’s doing customer service well, no matter what the sector.

The rapid growth of TMT organisations – usually through mergers and acquisitions (M&As) – and dependency on third parties

The telco sector is a hotbed of M&A activity but customer experience is often a long way down the agenda in the new organisation. The mish mash of IT systems after a merger, and the reliance on third parties for over the top services also complicates matters.

Examples of organisations that have come together as a result of M&A activity and ultimately compromised customer service, if only in the short term, are not in short supply. There is often confusion through the eyes of the customer as to what the changes mean for them – this includes the products or services they will now receive or have access to, as well as questions of whether they are getting good value for money.

Telcos need to pre-empt any confusion by going out proactively to communicate the benefits to customers. And not just the benefits of the business deal, but what it actually means for them. Customers couldn’t care less if it’s providing the new organisation with marvellous opportunities for synergy and leverage – is my bill going to increase? Is my coverage going to get worse?

M&A activity can be an important accelerator for organisations seeking to enter new markets and build new capability and capacity. It cannot be done at the expense of customers. If there is any risk that customer service could be compromised or go downhill then it really calls the whole business case for the M&A into question. Customer experience should be a massive consideration when contemplating a change like this.

Lack of digitalisation in an era where customers expect a simple and satisfying experience with minimal effort on their part

Organisations still don’t ‘get’ digital. Customers wants to make minimal effort when consuming a service or fixing a problem and the telco sector is lagging behind others sectors, such as retail, in getting to grips with it to service customers.

Telcos need to make it easy for customers to use their preferred channel. And if they want to encourage customers down a particular route, then they need to make it slick and seamless. Have you noticed that some organisations have a freephone number for people wanting to sign up as new customers but a premium number for resolving customer issues? Infer from that what you will about their attitude towards their customers…

As more and more services are consumed via technology there is an increasing expectation that problem diagnosis and resolution can be done via technology enabled self service. But if it does all go wrong and you end up having to call a help line, you don’t want that to be painful, as you sit there like a cab stuck in traffic – the cost going up but getting nowhere. It needs to be efficient and joined up, not a case of being passed from pillar to post to try and get a problem solved.

Too often organisations forget that there is a direct correlation between their existence and their customers. The services provided by telcos are increasingly becoming natural extensions to the way in which people go about their day to day lives and as such absolutely essential. As such it can be a very emotive experience if your broadband goes down, if you are unable to watch a key sporting event or if your mobile stops working whilst on holiday.

By putting the customer at the heart of everything they are trying to do and using each contact with them as a chance to provide excellent service, telcos will be able to build goodwill and loyalty with their customers. This goodwill will stand them in good stead for the future and help to both differentiate themselves and give them the edge over competitors.


Richard GooldRichard has over 19 years’ consulting experience across the technology, public sector, financial services and insurance markets. He is a member of the leadership team at Moorhouse, and has led on multiple extensive transformation programmes, working with senior stakeholders to address their key challenges. These have included post-merger integration, the launch and delivery of new services, rapid cost reduction and service improvement programmes.

Richard excels in leading on business and customer strategy, operating model development and transformation programme design and delivery. He also specialises in legal services and the third sector. Outside of work, Richard is a Justice of the Peace and a qualified FA referee.

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