Transforming Service in the Telecom Industry: Why It’s Needed and How to Make It Happen
By Ron Kaufman
What’s happening in the industry?
Telecommunications companies used to be cash cows: massive, often government-linked monopolies that provided essential connectivity services and reliably churned out cash. But this world is rapidly changing, if not already gone.
The industry is being radically disrupted by services that make use of telco’s connectivity platforms but offer higher perceived value to customers. Ubiquitous over-the-top (OTT) services like music streaming (Spotify), video communications (Skype), social platforms (Facebook), and resource-sharing (Uber) are all building highly personalized profiles and intimate relationships with their customers. By contrast, many telco’s only know their customers’ billing address, payment history, and average bandwidth consumption.
Expanding internet use and cloud based media services are constantly increasing our demands for high-speed data. This requires larger investments by telcos in infrastructure and upgrades, but without an assurance of greater profitability. Better connections, faster speeds and more convenience are now expected. Demand for unique digital experiences is growing.
Meanwhile, savvy customers opt for ‘pay-as-you-use’ billing, demand more customized usage plans, and are more likely to switch service providers. And with phone number portability between telcos assured by government regulators, each upgrade to a new mobile device puts a customer’s loyalty to the telco at risk.
What’s needed to succeed?
The most important change is to shift customers’ perceptions of telcos from “my phone company” or “my internet provider” to “my reliable source and trusted partner for the needs of my digital life, including communication, coordination, information, entertainment, access, storage, and privacy”.
Creating and delivering such intimate and integrated services requires telcos to operate with an extraordinary level of cross-functional collaboration. Traditional silos of product and service development, marketing and sales, physical distribution, and customer service and repairs, simply cannot keep pace with the speed of new competitive offers or rising customer expectations.
A more holistic view of the customer – and the telco’s role in a customer’s life – is needed. This requires a new understanding of service as part of the customer’s entire experience, and not just as a function of the customer service departments. Varied language between departments and diverse measures for success by business lines (consumer, corporate, networks, media, etc) should be replaced by a more universal service language and more comprehensive measures of the telco’s success. A strong commitment to building service partnerships is needed, including excellent internal service to colleagues, creative external service with application developers and industry partners, and continuous service improvement for customers.
The old business approach of locking in customers through punitive agreements and obscure contract language won’t work in the long run. Not only are competitive offers readily available, but continuation of such outdated practices leaves a telco open to online expressions of discontent. Similarly, training telco employees to handle all service requests with standard scripts and procedures is a recipe for customer and employee frustration.
Ultimately, telcos need to increase their customers’ loyalty and deepen their trust. Only this long-term result can reduce customer churn while keeping good customers who upgrade their devices, retain and improve their plans, and consume additional services while happily referring their family and recommending their friends.
What’s needed to make the change?
Every member of a telco service team – and that includes every employee and partner on the team – needs the following:
1. A definition of service that applies to all working relationships. We use this one: Service is taking action to create value for someone else.
2. A means of calibrating and measuring how good – or bad – is the service you provide. Hint: the answer to this question is not found in a procedure or a KPI, but in understanding the perception of the someone else you serve.
3. A framework to recognize what the people you serve value most and to determine where you can increase the value you provide. We call this framework “The Big Picture”, analyzing each service experience as comprised of value in four categories: Primary Product, Delivery Systems, Service Mindset and Ongoing Relationship.
4. A working model and proven toolset to identify where and when you can deliver better service. We call these Perception Points – specific opportunities for adding value during any internal or external Service Transaction.
5. Understanding that improving internal service requires as much focus as improving external customer service – and a clear understanding why each cannot survive without the other.
6. Finally, an appreciation of the value of predictable scripts and procedures, while recognizing the need for creativity in service, flexibility in response, and personal responsibility for action.
Delivering these key learning points to our telco clients in recent years has resulted in dramatic quantitative improvements in market share, customer satisfaction, customer loyalty, and employee engagement.
What is your view of service in the telecommunications industry? Where do you see the opportunities for telcos to improve, compete, and win?
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