Over the past few years, transformation has often been the byword for huge change programmes that have sought to improve all areas of a Communications Services Provider’s (CSP’s) operation, including all business processes and the underlying BSS / OSS systems stack. These idealistic projects have sought to create a future-proof utopia whereby everything can be done faster and cheaper than ever before. Unsurprisingly, business transformation has rarely lived up to this hype.
The problem with business transformation is that by its very nature, it sets out to cover all aspects of a business rather than having a specific focus. There are too many stakeholders with different and conflicting goals for the transformation, and whilst internal politics prevail, the market dynamic changes with the competition able to move and react much more quickly.
Customer Experience Transformation is different. It provides a focus and a common goal by which all activities can be measured. So the transformation becomes about making something specific better, rather than creating a panacea to support all possible needs of the future.
Systems, processes and people
It may be one of the hottest topics for the telecommunications industry today, but you cannot simply pay lip-service to improving the customer experience, it needs to be a complete transformation covering systems, processes and people. Buying new technology alone doesn’t mean you will improve your customer experience. Similarly, efforts to improve the customer experience by retraining people and changing processes may be restricted by the systems that are already in place.
It needs to be holistic - you need to deliver a great customer experience at all customer touchpoints across the Fulfilment, Assurance and Billing processes. And you can’t just focus on consumers; you need to address business customers too.
It also needs to be service agnostic. However this doesn’t mean that the customer experience should be exactly the same for each type of service, but rather the customer experience shouldn’t be pre-determined or limited by the service type, whether that is fixed, mobile, cable or multi-play packages. Similarly, the quality of customer experience should not be dictated by whether a customer chooses to prepay, postpay or nowpay.
Customer Experience Transformation also means there needs to be a shift from reactive mode to becoming proactive in the way customer relationships are managed. The focus changes to “keep and enhance” the customer relationship, rather than just “winback” strategies when customers might churn. Too many customer retention strategies are centred purely on contract extensions and handset upgrades – for example, a customer threatens to leave and gets offered the latest smartphone when they renew their contract. The customer experience needs to be great throughout the entire customer lifecycle.
So what are the key system characteristics you should be looking for? First and foremost, you need to have a unified customer record. All pertinent customer information should be accessible and maintained in a single, unified place. It is also critical that the BSS / OSS provide end-to-end process support. For example, it’s no good having to enter data into multiple separate systems to complete a customer order. There needs to be end-to-end traceability to avoid the “runaway order” which leaves customers frustrated by an apparent lack of action and Customer Services Representatives (CSRs) unable to track progress.
It’s hard to predict the future, but you have to prepare for it as much as possible by creating a systems architecture that is flexible and will support change. Openness and standards-based systems are key attributes. Also there are great advantages to using standard product as much as possible, rather than doing heavy customisation which can result in less flexibility and greater cost down the line.
Online self-service is now a given in the internet age, with customers expecting their CSP to offer the same online flexibility that they experience when shopping on Amazon.com or booking their next holiday. However, most CSP business cases for self-service were historically based on a cost / business efficiency point of view. Self-service must be an integrated service channel which is driven by what the customer wants and will be integral to the overall customer experience.
We are also now witnessing the introduction of Social Media channels (such as Twitter and Facebook) into the mix, which is perhaps the most dramatic change in customer relationship management in many years. Social media changes the landscape from a private channel of communication between customer and CSP, to a public dialogue that anyone can join in to. Crucially, social media must become an integrated service channel and not just another new silo.
Creating the right foundation in terms of your BSS / OSS systems is critical to being able to deliver an accurate, consistent and timely service. Once these are in place, you can then address the softer issues that turn you from a simple operator, to being a trusted Communications Services Provider.
Change of mindset
The next stage of the transformation means looking at all of the CSP’s processes to see how they impact customers and the customer experience. And this is usually a big challenge for CSPs as typically staff are very technical and technology focused. In fact as we so often see, the Telecoms industry is renowned for putting cart before horse and trying to sell too much technology for technology’s sake. So this requires a change of mindset to think about everything from the customer’s point of view.
This means spending more time listening to customers to find out what they like and what they don’t like, as well as regularly measuring their satisfaction and service experience. And a key element here is to ensure that you have appropriate customer-focused KPIs. In our recent Customer Experience tweetchat, Steve Hauck, Customer Experience VP at Global Crossing made the comment to say “Don't get caught only reviewing internal metrics. The outside-in view is more important when working to improve Customer Experience”.
And this is a very important point. Business KPIs have to be aligned with customer experience goals from a customer’s viewpoint, not from what the business thinks the customer wants or is acceptable. Just look at the rail industry – they continuously provide statistics that say 98% of trains run on-time and think this is satisfying their customers. But that depends on who defines what on-time is!
Finally, processes need to be geared to a more proactive approach to managing customers and the customer experience. All people relationships need a regular frequency of contact to develop and become strong. So for CSPs, this means looking at all touchpoints throughout the customer lifecycle.
The last part of the transformation comes down to the people themselves, who are the final and often most visible link in the customer experience chain. And this really needs to be driven from the top down in any organisation as part of the company culture. A lot of it is basic training in how to listen to customers, and ensuring staff have the right attitude when dealing with enquiries or complaints. How the job is done is often more important that what is actually done.
And this means aligning company HR policies and culture with customer experience goals. For example recruitment, training plans, staff motivation and review processes. It’s common sense, but if you don’t have happy and well-trained staff with the right attitude, then they are never going to delight the customer.
There are many attributes of a great telecoms customer experience including: consistency, predictability and quality of service; accuracy and timeliness of charging and billing; attitude and responsiveness of staff; personalised interactions and offerings; and simplicity and ease of service use. Put all these together and over a period of time you can achieve the magic formula for a trusted relationship between CSP and customer.
A business imperative
A great customer experience is no longer optional, it is now a business imperative and requires top-down management commitment. As markets mature, the focus shifts to retention rather than acquisition and a great customer experience is the key to keeping and growing the customer relationships. It should also be noted that studies have shown that price premiums of up to 20% can be achieved because of a strong brand and strong service culture.
Clearly it is possible to make customer experience improvements by addressing the systems, processes and people issues independently. However for a complete transformation all three dimensions need to be assessed and aligned with the customer experience goals.
It is also crucial to remember that there are many different customer touchpoints across the Fulfilment, Assurance and Billing processes, and to delight a customer, you really must deliver a great customer experience at all these touchpoints.
And finally, technology and processes are the tools that create accuracy, consistency and reliability of the service that is delivered. People should be used where they can deliver the most value in the customer relationship and not just to plug gaps or make things work.