How can operators solve the complex challenge of enhancing customer care?
Customer care is an extremely complex challenge. From a Network Engineering perspective, it is a purely mechanical challenge. From a Sales and Marketing perspective, it’s a correlation between perceived and delivered value. From the Customer Service Representative (CSR) perspective, it’s emotional alignment and affability with a customer.
With all these complex perceptions of customer care, how do we truly enhance customer care practices?
Customer care is a malleable and ever-evolving concept, prone to major differences from one region to the next, and even from one customer’s household to the next. Instead of trying to cover the entire spectrum of customer care, I’m going to focus on one of the major aspects that every Tier 1 operator considers vital to the overall care experience: the call center.
But First… An Anecdote on Customer Care
I remember 20 years ago helping my Opa with a computer issue over the phone. He had somehow adjusted the settings in Microsoft Word so that all the font symbol icons he used while translating documents from English to Swedish or German had “magically” disappeared. Being technically minded, I was by inference the expert in restoring the missing menu bar back to Microsoft Word.
Now this was pre-YouTube, and how-to blogs weren’t widely available, so I couldn’t just direct him to a website or video.
After spending about half an hour maintaining my composure while saying the same thing over and over again (“right click–>view–>toolbar”), I finally gave up. I ended up driving for 20 minutes to his house and was able to fix the problem in approximately three seconds. There was an obligatory tea, cookies, and random story of days gone by, but I’m sure there is the truck-roll equivalent to that as well. Come to think of it, I was the truck roll.
Why does this story relate to improving customer care? The example with my Opa highlights some important truths: some customers are less tech savvy than others, some have greater levels of urgency than others, and some just want to figuratively trick you over to their house for a cup of tea and some small talk.
These customer behaviors can greatly influence the conversation about customer experiences while resolving an issue. This is exactly what we’ve learned while working with Tier 1 partners on projects to improve customer care.
What We’ve Learned with Tier 1 Partners
When talking to a Tier 1 service providers, what starts off as a simple question on customer care and customer experiences quickly expands into interesting discussions. The conversation shifts from what seems like an expected response on reliability in the outside plant, to a subscriber-centric conversation that focuses on the relationship between the service provided and the expected value of what is delivered. As soon as there is any disparity between the expected services a customer signs up for and what is delivered, there is a chance that the customer feels taken advantage of, or cheated. This greatly increases the risk of churn.
Before we look at how we can prevent customer churn, let’s explore the common interactions between service providers and their subscribers.
Customer Experience Influencers
The customer lifecycle from an operator’s perspective
We often discuss diminishing average revenue per unit (ARPU) in direct contrast with what is referred to in this decade as the ‘age of retention.’ The image above represents a customer lifecycle from the operator’s perspective, from the discovery efforts, to the use of available services, customer call center expectations, and retention tactics. This lifecycle is broken into seven distinct categories, each representing an aspect of the customer experience.
- Discover – This category covers the customer experiences as they learn about available services and determine how it impacts their decision to acquire services, including promotions, website UX, and community influences.
- Purchase – This category covers the customer interactions driving customer experiences during the purchasing of the services. Major influencers of this category range from sales representative interactions, installation processes, and ultimately, the quality of the Internet service that is promoted.
- Bill and Pay – These tightly integrated categories seem relatively obvious and not somewhere that one would expect a challenge, however, in March of 2017 a major service provider was hit in social media over discrepancies on customers’ bills. After a week of disruption, the CSP admitted to surcharge errors and had to issue refunds to some of their customers. Billing accuracy is clearly a vital piece of the puzzle.
- Use – Once a subscriber has broadband services initialized, most of this category is driven beyond the commodity of a simple internet connection. This category includes the customer connection, not in terms of speed, but as to whether the gateway/modem has service and is functioning properly. A major portion of the customer experience is based on this factor alone.
- Customer Service and Retention – What keeps the customer loyal? This seems to be a relatively obvious answer: the customer signs up to purchase a specific set or package of services, and if they receive that set or package, then they are satisfied. However, if they receive services that are less than what they signed up for, they will do something about it — whether that means communicating the frustration with the service provider’s call center, or finding a different provider who has an attractive promotion. Network quality and Internet quality are major influences in these two categories.
Customer Service and Retention are the most vital aspects when attempting to minimize churn and improve the quality of experience for subscribers on a network, and they are heavily influenced by interactions with the customer call center. Let’s look at this aspect in a bit more detail.
Customer Service and Retention
Customer Service and Retention have a significant effect on subscriber churn rates
After conducting research with some of our Tier 1 partners, we discovered several themes that fall under the categories of Customer Service and Retention, such as agent handling practices, issue resolution times, and retention efforts. The work an operator conducts to optimize these essential components of the services lifecycle are directly related to quarterly churn rates.
American business tycoon and world-famous investor, Warren Buffett, has a quote which fits perfectly in the context of customer care:
The truth today is that we live in a world where social currency, Twitter remarks, and angry forum echo-chambers have actual impacts on the user perception of a business. While conducting research with our Tier 1 partners, we learned that resolving customer issues quickly and with high satisfaction was key to ensuring that customers were retained. But additionally, it helps to ensure that a brand name isn’t perceived negatively, which can create risks during an operator’s ‘Discover’ efforts.
There are numerous challenges currently facing operators within the customer call center. In order to understand how customer interactions occur and learn how to examine some of the real customer metrics, we needed to dig deep into the minutiae with our Tier 1 partners, asking question such as:
- How long does an average customer care call take?
- What is the education and skill level of the customer service representative (CSR) team?
- How frequently are calls escalated?
- How often and how quickly does a call result in a truck roll?
- How many steps are involved in resolving a basic issue such as bandwidth speed test?
- How many systems are used in the RCA of the call?
Essentially, we want to know what key metrics of success were being measured during a customer call.
Through our research, we observed how operators were managing their call centers, and then went through the various troubleshooting flows and permutations. Once we had hard metrics, we identified problem areas that our partners were dealing with in terms of issue resolution, and then we began a journey to develop a solution that would address a number of these challenges.
We created a list of goals for a solution that would simplify and enhance the customer care process. These goals included:
- Reduce the time it took to resolve a customer issue
- Eliminate the necessity to troubleshoot from multiple OSS systems. Specifically, reducing the need for multiple screens or tabs and related copy/paste actions between each
- Simplify the complexity and reduce the number of steps for customer issue resolution
- Reduce the frequency of call escalation
- Cut down on the number of expensive truck-rolls
- Provide a means for tech-savvy subscribers to resolve issues entirely on their own, without the need for customer support
Armed with this data, we started on the journey to develop a solution for our partners. By working together, we created a solution to meet these challenges and reduce the time and costs involved in resolving customer issues. Working collaboratively with operators has not only helped us gain insights and share respective expertise, it has led to better solutions that address the most pressing customer experience challenges.
Pete Koat is Chief Technology Officer at Incognito Software Systems
A dynamic leader with extensive knowledge of key industry trends, Pete brings over 15 years’ experience in executive management, project management, software development and architecture, embedded devices, network protocols, system integration, and hardware design.