Last month, the Institute of Customer Service released the latest UK Customer Satisfaction Index (CSI) a bi-annual measure of customer satisfaction across 13 sectors pivotal in driving the British economy. In a world where reputation can be made or broken with a single Twitter post, the index has become an important indicator not only of the quality of customer service, but also serves as a wider barometer for a brand’s overall standing in the eyes of consumers.
Looking at the headlines, July’s CSI isn’t easy reading for the telecommunications industry. Bottom of the pile when marked on criteria including speed of contact resolution, customer access to advisors and competence of brand representatives, telecoms falls way behind the top sectors of retail and tourism. In fact, this has been the story for a number of years, with telecoms consistently landing in the index’s lowest customer satisfaction spot.
Why this might be is up for debate. Analysis accompanying the CSI suggests that businesses in the highest scoring sectors are ‘particularly strong in complaint handling and over the phone experiences’ – inferring that those with the lowest rankings are not keeping pace in these areas.
Thinking about the traditional operating environment for telecoms businesses can also provide clues. Sectors like travel and retail in particular have been forced to focus on optimising customer experience as a way of building loyalty in the face of increasingly fickle and spoilt for choice consumers. Meanwhile, telecoms providers, with their lengthy contracts designed to tie customers in, have by comparison been let off the hook. They haven’t needed to worry as much about providing an excellent customer experience to build loyalty, when, by default, they have been ‘providers for life’.
But things are changing. If you dig deeper into July’s results, you’ll see that the telecoms sector has improved its customer satisfaction scores over the previous two indexes. Although a little slower than competing sectors, telecoms brands are beginning to recognise that empowered customers today can – and will – demand more from their providers and that loyalty is no longer guaranteed. Consumers are more aware than ever of the plethora of options available, and will happily defect from a provider if they feel they will enjoy a better experience elsewhere. In response to this, disruptive businesses such as giffgaff and Tesco Mobile, both of whom appear in the top 35 organisations in the latest index, are already tapping into the trend of giving customers service on their own terms.
With the telecommunications revolution just getting started, providers that act now have a fantastic opportunity to use customer experience to help them stand out from the crowd. To get head and shoulders above the competition, there are a few simple rules that telecoms brands need to follow if they are going to get customer experience right.
Expect the unexpected
Straightforward, A-to-B customer contact such as making a payment or advising how to return a faulty product are the retail sector’s bread and butter. They are uncomplicated, easy to solve and can lead to a happy, satisfied customer with little sweat from the brand. In the telecoms world, the type of interaction a business has with its customer is far less likely to be so simple.
Instead, on a daily basis, telecoms suppliers encounter non-transactional enquiries and complaints. These are less linear, harder to resolve quickly and leave a wider window for mistake or frustration. For the ever-connected customer, an issue with their smartphone or their ability to communicate with others can be critical. It is here that the battle for customer satisfaction can be won or lost – and providers must make sure that customers’ exceptional problems are receiving exceptional customer experience to match.
To deliver experiences that win over customers in these circumstances, telecoms brands must ensure that those on the front line are focused not on time spent ‘handling’ a customer but instead on finding a solution or answer to a query, no matter how long it takes. To achieve this, businesses need to make sure they are creating helpful advisors who are empowered by the processes in place, rather than constrained by them.
Whilst it is true that digital customer management is on the rise, 65% of non-face to face consumer contact still happens over the phone and 15% over email.
Whilst innovation remains a must have for brands looking to redefine their customer experience strategy – and will undoubtedly help telecoms providers offer a point of difference consumers crave – it is important that they do not forget tried and tested channels. Web chat or introducing website FAQs, for example, will not negate the fact that customers sometimes just want a voice at the end of the phone. Consumers today want convenience, and this means offering them the right mix of channels to engage in the way that best suits their needs, at a particular time.
Introduce customers to customers
Customers will always listen to other customers – whether in a managed online community, review site or social media – and the power of this should not be underestimated. Whether good or bad news for your brand, customers today are not afraid to share their opinions – and it is the brands that harness this that will rise to the top in the coming years.
When it comes to customer experience in the telecoms industry, giffgaff is a leading brand that has made all the right moves to gain an advantage over the competition.
Launched in 2009, giffgaff revolutionised the mobile market industry as a ‘virtual’ operator with no high-street presence, offering cheap, SIM-only offers. In line with this disruptive approach to doing business, the provider also worked with Firstsource Solutions to shake up the way it interacted with customers.
The brand decided to build its consumer communications solely around a dedicated digital community, where network members could interact with other members online to air questions and find resolutions. Relying on ready-made brand advocates to deliver giffgaff’s communications has meant that the network is able to deliver great and, most importantly, authentic customer experience through informed, passionate agents.
Whilst a member, or customer, led approach to customer experience might not be the solution for every brand, the giffgaff example offers an important lesson in customer experience to others in the telecoms sector.
The only way is up
As customer satisfaction continues to creep up in the telecoms sector, there’s now an exciting opportunity for telecoms companies willing to push the boundaries and think differently about how they approach their consumers.
If these businesses can shake off legacy approaches to customer experience and instead empower their agents, offer a multi-channel service and harness the power of their customers, they have every chance of continuing to rise up the ranks of the UKCSI survey and boosting their brand in the process.
As published on Telecoms.com