How does customer experience need to change, to acquire and retain new customers and ensure a profitable road to recovery?
The last year should have been a golden year for European telecommunication (telecoms) companies. Tens of millions of people were forced to work from home in response to Covid-19 and have become increasingly reliant on robust residential broadband and mobile phone networks to do their jobs and entertain themselves. Demand for the industry’s most important product — connectivity — has never been higher.
With the advent of significant mergers and acquisitions in the UK telecoms sector, such as Vodafone’s move to split off its telecom tower business into a separate company to handle the business of constructing, owning and operating its communications towers and Telefónica’s decision to merge its O2 business in the UK with Virgin Media, the race is on to acquire customers and secure market share. At the same time, organisational need to deliver a superior brand and customer experience to retain customers has never been so vital.
Consumers’ adoption of and dependence on digital, whether for basic everyday living, working, studying or entertainment has presented enormous challenges to telecoms operators during the pandemic. The changes in usage of products and services have meant that consumer priorities will have changed since the pre-Covid era, especially with regards to an increase in appetite for digitised experiences. Consequently, other brands may have reached out to your organisation’s customers. The likes of Amazon, Apple, Nordstrom and the other gods of customer service could have been educating your customers in what excellence looks and feels like. On the side of the consumer, there’s an emerging group of vulnerable customers needing a more empathetic experience as furlough ends, and many are faced with increased financial pressure to pay back both personal and business loans.
So, the question then arises, should telecommunication operators (telcos) invest in branding and marketing, or focus on a superior digitised customer experience. What’s the optimum balance?
At a recent roundtable at Connected Britain with C-Suite telcoms attendance, there was a debate as to how telcos can move towards profitable growth, following the impact of Covid-19. There was a general consensus that the pandemic has shifted the paradigm. Many organisations have had to transform their businesses out of necessity; however, customer experience needs have changed as well and service centres need to be aligned and more empathetic to their customers. Customers expect a greater level of intelligence from their services and expect telecoms providers to offer increasingly better services.
A classic example is when a customer’s internet goes down when they’re working from home. Understanding and empathising with the customer becomes imperative. An employee working from home is no longer physically visible to the employer and needs to be able to demonstrate and prove output. When the internet is down it creates an element of doubt and questions over trust as to whether the employee is working or not, adding additional stress for the employee. With no way to contact their operator, and no information on when broadband services will be up and running, stress levels increase significantly.
During the pandemic, complaints volumes stagnated as customers nationwide understood the strain telecom providers were under following such steep increases in demand. However, coming out of the pandemic there is an expectation that the quality of service should have improved and that the ‘grace period’ is now over, despite the shift in demand on infrastructure as more people are working from home.
As we carry on in the ‘new normal’ there are more pressures to resolve these critical service issues, which often stem from cumbersome back-office processes. Equally telcoms operators not having the coverage needed, particularly in rural locations, is becoming increasingly taxing as people want the flexibility to work from anywhere. The growth in the number of home workers has resulted in increased capacity and network quality issues, which escalate as the infrastructure comes under greater strain, and perpetuate into the quality of services challenges, causing complaint volumes to surge. Many more customers are airing their issues via social channels, and there has been a surge in public expressions of frustration. Typically, these are over poor customer service experiences, or lack of a service, not being able to physically speak to anyone, being passed from one department to another, or being physically unable to find a phone number to call. Customers will also want guarantees over the quality of service as they see 5G implementations, and much improved service level agreements when it comes to response and resolution times.
A parallel challenge to the surge in calls and more emotive challenges arising from home working is the way in which customer service representatives react to the emotional situations they find themselves in with customers. Many are trained to mitigate the risk of the customer churning, but not trained in how to handle complaints or vulnerable customers. There then becomes an emphasis on training employees how to manage emotional conversations. Simultaneously managers need to know when to intervene, support or train the employee to deal with emotionally charged customer situations.
Moreover, telecoms providers need to be better at supporting customers who they can see are going to be in trouble financially. This is especially important around tone of message. Communication needs to be both personalised and contextualised before the usual collection responses are sent. This requires both automation and data insights that link to the right type of communication via the right channel to achieve an empathetic response. It may mean switching from an email chasing payment to a conversational messaging interaction, or voice communication where sensitivity is required.
By linking personalised and contextual data on the customer’s vulnerability to digital invoicing and debt recovery solution, you can send personalised payment notifications via email and SMS using corporate branding, and at the same time manage all correspondence, so you know if messages were received, opened and which prompted payment. Payment systems such as Pay360 by Capita’s Collect AI solution can learn how to contact a client based on history and profile. Messaging can be tailored for each profile and each time the payee clicks on the payment link, they will be taken to a fully hosted and branded Payment page.
To hear more from the Capita team, Aimie Chapple, CEO Capita Experience spoke on Day one of Connected Britain in the Connected Society Track on the evolving expectations in customer experience and adjusting to the shift in customer demands.
Click here to view the interview.