Posted on 30 November 2011.
By Santanu Nandi
The customer is always right’ is a slogan always used during customer service training. Whether a customer’s experience has been largely neutral or positive, it is the few negative experiences that will stick in his mind. Telecom service providers can’t afford to neglect the impact of negative customer experiences associated with services.
Maintaining customer satisfaction while effectively cutting costs is crucial for the telecom service providers, especially during the times of economic slowdown. As every telecom provider knows, meeting the service expectations of customers is essential. With rising competition in the telecom sector, customers are now more willing to explore other options and service providers.
According to a report commissioned by Pitney Bowes, a provider of mail-stream services, customer churn in mobile telecoms hit 38% last year-up from 33% in 2005.
Additionally, non-telecom companies like Google, YouTube, Facebook, and Hulu are emerging as top providers of personal content on mobile phones. With these companies coming into play and offering end users personalized content, the key position of the telecom service providers is shifting and evolving. If this trend continues, telecom providers will soon be facing greater customer churn. Consulting firm Bain & Company has determined that it is 6 times costlier to acquire a new customer than retain an existing one.
Telecom service providers are increasingly turning to outsourcing companies to import their expertise on improving the quality of customer service. Using well-established methodologies such as Six Sigma and LEAN, outsourcers can implement incremental changes in processes that can improve the customer experience while also cutting down the waste.
For instance, one outsourcer created templates that advisors can fill in to make after call notes-rather than expecting them to type notes from scratch. This has helped reduce average handling time (AHT) by over 2 minutes in some cases-creating estimated efficiency savings for a telecom service provider client of over $1 mn per year as well as reducing wait times for the customer.
The review of another telecom service client revealed communication issues between offshore customer service operation teams and technical teams onshore. A direct communication channel was established in order to reduce resolution times, which helped in receiving updates on ‘escalated cases’ and creating a speedy resolution of customer issues within 24 hours.
Process excellence initiatives carried out for one telecom company to increase the ‘right first time’ experience led to cost savings of $1.6 mn and an overall impact on the business.
Outsourcing companies can also help to steer customer behavior away from expensive-to-process calls and help to reduce call volumes. For instance, when customers call with routine matters like checking account balance or paying bills, they can be reminded that this can be done online. Outsourcers have discovered that significant costs were incurred simply by processing the 1 in 5 calls that came from customers calling for confirmation that a task that they had already requested had been completed-for instance, the ordering of a new handset or the dispatch of a replacement SIM. ‘Reassurance calls’ can be cut down by proactively leaving a message for customers when a task has been completed.
If outsourcing companies are able to reduce the number of simple calls, then contact center staffs are free to deal with more detailed calls that need expert support and advice. In recent years, the increase in device complexity has created a need for more technical support and contact center agents who are trained to answer a wide array of customer inquiries.
The level of technical support needed for users can be costly, and the expertise of an outsourcing company in dealing with these kinds of calls can be essential in keeping costs under control (e.g., by providing support when it is needed at peak call times rather than having advisors available at all times).
And it is not just a matter of understanding technical specifications. Contact center staffs require good interpersonal skills. Tasks like the collection of overdue bills require empathy. Customers must be encouraged to cooperate rather than to ignore the problem. And, even more important, call center staff need to be persuasive when a customer calls with the intention of canceling their contract.
Equally, telecom service providers have to strike a balance between encouraging self-service to reduce call volumes and retaining an incoming flow of customer enquiries, which provides a window of opportunity to cross-sell additional products including broadband and landline services.
Telecom companies are realizing that outsourcing companies can provide added value in the area of turning ‘cost centers’ like customer service into ‘profit centers’ by selling customers new products. This obviously has to be done with subtlety and care. No one wants to feel that they are on the receiving end of a hard sell from their mobile provider when they had simply called up to check their balance or add a data bolt-on before a trip abroad. Using their deep-rooted experience in what has succeeded and what has failed, outsourcing companies can advise companies and import customer service lessons from areas like banking and insurance.
Many telecom service providers are already doing this. Datamonitor predicts that the telecoms outsourcing industry will grow to more than $51 bn by 2013. With customers now wanting to communicate via online chat and give feedback on a telecom service provider’s performance via comments on Twitter or Facebook, the world of customer service is changing at a faster rate than ever before. Balancing the need to keep customers happy and persuade them to buy more products while also making efficient savings is no easy task-and it is one that outsourcing companies can help telecom providers achieve.