The UK telecoms market remains one of the largest in Europe. A fiercely competitive landscape, with market consolidation resulting in four major operators and a handful of MVNOs serving the nation.

This has resulted in lower prices for customers, who are now presented with multiple phone and tariff combinations when they choose to change their plan or upgrade their handset. However, this choice can soon become confusing when the phones and plans on offer are broadly similar. To stand out telecoms providers need to make customer service their brand differentiator and the arrival of 5G provides the perfect opportunity to do so.

Consumers usually don’t want to think about their mobile bill or usage unless there is a problem. However, when they do contact their provider they have very high expectations, especially when it comes to digital customer service and complaint handling. Digital brands such as Amazon have set the gold standard on how consumers want to be treated by organisations, and this customer service experience is now expected across all sectors. Further to this, the Covid-19 pandemic has forced consumers to become digital natives, further raising the bar and creating new divides. A report by the regulator Ofcom found that only around half of consumers who make a complaint are satisfied with how it is handled. Telecoms providers are bogged down with huge legacy systems, complex governance models and can struggle to convert internal innovation into reality at a speed to match customer expectations, and this is impacting their customer service.

Using data to personalise

The route to the next generation of customer service requires greater personalisation, so customers feel that they’re speaking to a trusted advisor, rather than a faceless contact centre. Providers need to be able to take managed risks, to test and learn, and to innovate in the way they approach customer service. To do this they need to combine digital channels with human conversations and be able to knit together the data from every customer touchpoint.

By leveraging their own customer data, overlaid with data from external sources, telecom providers can build insights about their customers to drive customer experience. A more rounded understanding of their customers, such as their behavioural patterns, how they work, how they access content, and the devices they have at home, will help to identify customer profiles. When overlaid with the usage information telecoms providers already hold, these will provide more opportunities to support customers in ways that go beyond servicing their plan, providing scenarios where the operator can pre-empt issues before they occur.

In the corporate market there are many layers of customer contact points within a single contract, from the end-users who want to know the granularity of their plan, through the IT or operations team that manages the contract, to the CIO or CTO who wants to know more about the future of telecoms. These all provide opportunities to become a trusted advisor built on a thorough understanding of their different needs. Providers need to be more proactive and advise businesses on how to get better value from their plan or let them know about future technology that could benefit them. This is where they can truly add value and provide premium customer service.

Ensuring organisations can action data is just as important as developing a technology platform and can be even more of a challenge as this becomes a cultural shift that needs to be managed actively. Shifting mindsets to create a data-driven culture requires senior leadership to lead by example, embracing insights when making decisions – be it large or small – and focusing on the right metrics. Ensuring the data itself can be accessed by all teams will ensure decisions and actions can be made quicker and with confidence that agents are doing the right thing for the customer.

The huge 5G undersell

The arrival of 5G is a huge opportunity, but despite promising game-changing speeds and far greater capacity, the hampered roll-out and flat messaging has meant it has failed to catch fire with consumers.

The coronavirus pandemic has changed the way we work and live and as people continue to work from home long-term, this creates positive outreach opportunities and the chance to reframe the benefits of 5G. Telecoms providers need to showcase the benefits in a new post-pandemic world.

The 5G network uses three types of radio signals: low, mid, and high wave frequencies. Low wave is the foundation that will provide blanket coverage and help to reach rural communities. Medium wave brings stability and faster speeds across a wider area. This is great for town centres that want stable coverage everywhere, and it will provide greater broadband resilience to people working from home. High wave (also known as mmWave) provides super-fast speed for 4k and VR purposes, but at a very short distance from the transmission tower, so it could be used where there is a high concentration of people, at sports events for example. Although high wave is more niche currently, it will eventually become the norm. Framing messaging around these different use-cases will show the benefits from a personal to societal level and go beyond frequency speed. Providers should also use 5G as an opportunity to go beyond the technology and demonstrate how they have moved their customer service up a level too.

Getting the brilliant basics right

With 4G it took 5 years for all providers to be offering unlimited data plans as the norm. With 5G it’s been 18 months. For a long time, telecoms providers have focused on the add-on or gift they can offer with their plans. They offer reward platforms with access to discounts, and more recently content partnerships with the likes of Netflix or Apple TV. For example, O2 are offering 6 months access to Disney+.

BT moved into providing its own sports content with BT Sport in 2012, initially offering free access to entice broadband subscribers and then to BT Mobile customers. However, it announced in April that it would be selling a stake in the television arm so it can focus on upgrading the UK’s broadband network, so what next?
When price or proposition is no longer a differentiator, service has to be. Consumers don’t want to feel that they have been lured into a contract with shiny offers, only to be left languishing when it comes to using their plan. A deeper understanding of customer profiles will help providers to be more elegant about personalisation and the choice of offers they provide, and then continue that personalisation at every touchpoint.

Providers need to stop playing it safe, become braver and more willing to test and learn how they approach customer service. By transforming their organisations to understand what matters to their customers, they can move ahead of the pack and achieve growth built on a reputation for excellent customer service.

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Written by

Sachin Shah

Sachin Shah

Sachin is Telecoms, Media and Technology Sector Lead at Capita, with extensive experience working in the Telecoms Media and Technology Sector. As a strategic thinker Sachin maintains an entrepreneurial mindset that thrives in innovative environments that foster empowerment. Sachin is a commercial specialist with experience in digital, product development, marketing & business development disciplines in corporate & start-up environments.

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