The lives of others

In the not too distant past, operators were slow to react to customer sentiment as the touchstones between the provider and the customer were few and far between—the most common interaction coming at the end of the customer’s lifecycle when it was already too late to act. Yet as technology has evolved, those touchpoints have grown more frequent, pushing customer experience centre stage. This is reflected, etymologically speaking, in the transition from ‘customer relationship management’ to ‘customer experience management’.

The argument is that, to deliver an unrivalled customer experience during the lifespan of the customer relationship (not just when selling to them, or trying to stop them churning), an operator must prioritise the needs of that customer throughout the organisation—in the culture, structure, technologies and business processes the operator employs.

“There was a lot of system development activity ten or so years ago; operators were putting in these CRM platforms, and having one dynamic interface for selling and serving gave you a holistic view of the customer. But really, this was fundamentally just a customer database, it’s not customer experience management,” says Iain Regan, global head of business development, at business process outsourcing firm Firstsource.

Likewise, technology has allowed the system of customer reward to evolve beyond the unsophisticated loyalty points model pioneered by supermarkets and petrol stations. As Michal Harris, director of marketing insight and strategy at Amdocs, points out: “Every telco had a section related to retention and loyalty but the main focus of this was all about whether the end user had enough loyalty points. Really, you have to build a relationship with the user with a more holistic approach to win customer loyalty.”

This is the critical difference between customer relationship management and customer experience management—technology is no longer the biggest show in town. A company-wide strategy is needed to address satisfaction and an outstanding customer experience should be embedded in all aspects of operator strategy, from marketing and advertising to the network and smartphone portfolios. This is not to say that automated technological solutions are not vital, though.

“Operators should be giving me alerts about things that are happening that may affect me; such as planned outages or service disruptions,” says Scott Kolman, senior vice president of marketing for customer experience solutions provider Speech Cycle. “They need to let me know that issues do exist and that there is a resolution—action will be taken and the issue will be resolved. Proactive care such as this will show me they acknowledge me as a customer and make me feel that my concerns and welfare are valued,” he says.

For example, if a subscriber gets off a plane in a foreign country and turns on their handset, only for the phone to fail to register, they will have a negative experience. But if the operator has a platform to automatically suggest a response to this, the customer will have a positive experience.

If the operator can see in real-time that the customer’s phone has failed to register because they were not provisioned properly for international roaming but can also see that this is a high-value customer with a good credit rating, who has historically used international roaming, a business rule can be set up to automatically turn on international roaming. The operator would also need to send the customer a notification via SMS that it has enabled roaming services, and if the customer does not want it to be enabled, they can choose to disable it.

“If that all happens in real-time; if I come off the plane, turn the phone on and it works, then clearly, there are big gains,” explains Jeff Gordon, CEO at Syniverse, a technology and services provider for telcos. “From an economic point of view, that device is being used, it’s generating revenue, instead of being out of commission for a few hours or a few days, and my cost to serve, because I’ve automated that infrastructure, is peanuts. It’s less than if the customer got in touch to initiate the roaming, which will have required tier one or tier two support.”

Operators that are serious about customer service also need to prioritise it in the structure of their business, and according to Gordon » Rawling, senior marketing director at Oracle, carriers really do understand the challenge. It’s the way you bring it all together. “Systems and technologies need to talk to each other,” he says. “The customer experience is where differentiation is going to be. It’s not a network initiative, or about billing or a call centre, it’s about organisational change. It’s about all these things,” says Rawling. “It’s a business problem.”

Often, this necessitates the appointment of a head of customer service or, in the case of Everything Everywhere, a chief customer officer (CCO).

The CCO’s role is to ensure that the customer service team continuously reviews its processes and its engagement with customers to identify opportunities for improvement, while the team’s goal is to improve customer loyalty and recommendation rates. One method Everything Everywhere uses is to set up specific teams to deal with issues in anticipation of significant events, such as when there is a new product entering the market that is likely to be immensely popular.

“We have an experienced team in place to support all enquiries and we have dedicated teams for certain enquiries. For example, when we launched the iPhone we had a dedicated team to support on this and this alone,” a spokesman tells telecoms.com.

Such an executive will need to be able to marshal data feeds from all other parts of the operator’s business, says Convergys’ VP for communications, Igor Sarenac. “Every functional group in an operator has their own set of data reports,” he says. “You have a set or marketing data, a set of data that comes from customer surveys, a set that comes from listening into the call centre. If you don’t connect all of these up to each other, that’s a big mistake.”

Accountability is a development also picked up on by Iain Regan from Firstsource, who says that chief- and senior executives are now being given remits extending across all parts of the telco operation, including ownership of, and accountability for, ensuring that the customer experience is consistent across the entire operation.

Lee Epting, content services director at Vodafone, is a case in point. While each Vodafone operation has a dedicated team, which in the company’s parlance caters to CVM (customer value management), Epting takes aspects of the customer experience under her own umbrella. “When I was focused on the discovery of content, the customer experience wasn’t really in my remit,” she says. “But now there’s this focus on the transparency of information and, in order to create great discovery features on the device, we realised we can integrate customer care too. It was an ‘aha’ moment.”

Epting believes that customer experience is an area of differentiation for providers and returns to this idea about transparency of information—a two-way flow of data between the operator and the consumer—as a means of preventing churn. “Are we listening to our customers and understanding their needs, wants and desires as they relate to support and access to information?” she asks. “How do I, as a provider, put data about your phone usage into something you can understand, and help you change your behaviour?”

As head of content, Epting is involved in many of these touchpoint opportunities between Vodafone and the end user and she believes that, in a digital world, the ability to serve customers from a digital perspective is absolutely key. “So we’ve focused on giving our customers access to information that is valuable to them and related to their relationship with Vodafone. Telcos have sometimes been accused of being a bit grey with regards to the transparency in their offerings and usage, and making that information available really is key.”

According to Oliver Finn, VP marketing at active subscriber intelligence provider The Now Factory, this is one area that allows the operator to position itself as gatekeeper of the smartphone ecosystem.

Finn says that operators should promote the apps that are most suitable for the network and cause the fewest issues to the operator, as these will also be the ones that cause fewest issues to the consumer. In addition they should also empower the consumer and promote self-care. A positive experience can be created, without requiring costly support intervention. “This means giving customers more information about the devices and apps that they’re using, and directing them to self-care portals so that they can easily configure their devices,” he says.

The consumption of content and interaction with self-care services are increasingly driven by social media, and it is crucial to recognise how this one factor is dramatically changing the customer service landscape. There is an inherent danger in social media as, when customers take to social networking sites to communicate with brands, it is often to vent their frustrations at an instance of poor customer service, and share their negative experiences with their friends and acquaintances.

“It is critical that operators step up their notion of customer service and realise that—for those that don’t – their customers can not only defect to someone else, they can also infect a far wider community. Their sphere of influence goes well beyond their friends down the block; now that sphere of influence literally encompasses the globe,”says Syniverse’s Jeff Gordon.

One way Everything Everywhere has tackled this challenge is by putting into place a buzz monitoring system that tracks and evaluates social comment and sentiment. The company says that the solution gives it access to real time information which it uses in four main ways: to engage in online conversation where appropriate; to manage its own social media campaigns; to evaluate online sentiment and its campaign performance; and to educate the business with real-time info on products and services.

The operator also uses dedicated correspondents to track customer sentiment and communicate with customers experiencing poor service. The spokesperson explains: “One example of how we use social media as a tool to provide customer service is the @OrangeHelpers Twitter stream which helps customers with questions about everything from handsets to contracts, apps to bills and tariffs to texts.”

A grasp of social media is just one strength that operators will need to develop if they are to truly place the customer experience at the heart of their business for the duration of each customer’s life cycle. They will need to back this up by exploiting the full range of data at their disposal from the different functional units within their business. Appointing a chief customer officer, or equivalent, is a positive move and one that many operators will likely make. But in reality this is just another way of slicing the cake of business responsibilities. If that senior executive does not have the power to effect change within the organisation, then the operator will not be able to effect change in the customer experience.

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