Several companies seem to make big bets when it comes to offering good customer experience. However, it can’t be denied that in a hyper-connected world, amidst the plethora of options available to customers, differentiating the experience offered is no easy game. CommsMEA speaks to leading analysts, operators and telco vendors to whip up the perfect potpourri to deliver a delectable customer experience.
• Henrique Do Vale, head of sales, applications and analytics, MEA, Nokia
• Amaal Al Lawati, our chief customer experience officer (CXO), Ooredoo Oman
• Duncan Howard, chief commercial officer, Zain group
• Ismail Mohammed, senior vice president, customer operations, du
• Adam Spence, head of customer experience and transformation, Vodafone Qatar
• Nidal Kamouni, CEO, PCCI Group
• Tarek Saadi, head of engagement practices, Middle East region, Ericsson
• Maarten De Wit, partner, Oliver Wynman (MEA)
CommsMEA: How can incumbents replicate successful newcomers?
Al Lawati: It would be hard for any new entrant to the market to replicate the quality, reach and value of our services or indeed our relationship with our customers. But change in this industry is constant and rapid, customers’ expectations constantly rise and any successful player in our industry must continue to focus on, and make significant investment in, innovation to keep ahead.
Saadi: One of the ways to reclaim lost ground is to adopt a more agile approach to both their offering and network quality. The 4 Rs of success are: right experience for the right customer sold at the right price, and delivered at the right cost.
Wit: Incumbents need to consider digital customer experience business models to kickstart their own transformations. A digital business model will require fewer points of sale and call center reps. On the other hand this also requires different employee profiles; telcos need to start hiring math wizards, software coders, UI design experts and data scientists.
CommsMEA: What are the biggest organisational hurdles to improving customer experience?
Al Lawati: Maintaining consistency across all channels of communication should be a constant focus. And it should always be borne in mind that regardless of the advancements and progress made, that there is always room for improvement. This is something too often overlooked by even leading organisations.
Howard: In most organisations, customer experience is a department or a project as opposed to a mind set and belief that exists in the way people perform their day to day work, make business decisions, design processes and policies or even buy and implement a new platform.
Saadi: First is the internal silos that cause conflicting behaviours due to conflicting targets, thus losing sight of the end customer needs. These can be overcome by setting aligned targets that are geared towards serving the end user.
The second hurdle is competence. As the technology keeps changing, it is important to keep a strong focus on competence development as well as acquiring and keeping the right talent.
Spence: In any organisation it is about making sure that the customer is at the heart of everything you do including the first initial stages of product and proposition development.
Kamouni: The real challenge we see is having the real commitment from the top leadership.
CommsMEA: What are your views on the usage of social media for enhanced customer experience?
Saadi: When it comes to end user experience, it is important to distinguish between real experience and perception. One way for operators to keep their finger on the pulse, is to keep checking what their customers are saying on social media and finding ways to communicate with them using the same medium.
Al Lawati: We are always looking for ways to enhance our customer relationships and in a country like Oman with a youthful population, social media is an especially important way of connecting with our customers. Because of this we have put a great deal of effort into our social media and now have some of the top sites in the country. On Twitter we now have over 185,000 followers, our Instagram followers more than doubled in 2015 and our views on YouTube grew by 431 per cent over the same period.
We do analyse use and engagement on social media in terms of our brand health and awareness and can use it to assess feedback on products and services. By keeping our finger on the pulse and staying in-touch with our customers’ thoughts and feelings, we can quickly identify community trends.
Howard: In our era customers dictate where and when they want to talk to us or about us; we don’t want to be missing in action and we are present on the social media and we are deploying a centralised platform that will provide us with a greater visibility of the social activity and allow us to prioritise, route and respond to social activity in more consistent and timely manner.
Mohammed: Social media has made our customer interactions more personal, enabling us to build relationships with them and earn their loyalty.
Spence: Customer interaction has shifted from a 1-2-1 relationship to a 1-2-many relationship. Previously if a customer has a negative interaction on a phone call they may tell 10 of their friends about the experience, now a negative interaction is immediately visible to hundreds of thousands of people. This means the stakes are much higher but it also means that the opportunity to really create a wow customer experience is much higher.
CommsMEA: What kind of customer services do you provide?
Al Lawati: Ooredoo prioritises the customer – and we focus heavily on customer engagement and the experience. Customers can connect with us in our stores, through our Contact Centre, social media, website support systems, SMS feedback requests, online help centres, technology blogs and through our app. In fact, Ooredoo is continually looking to advance its existing lines of communication, so that our customers can connect with us at their convenience through mediums that they are familiar with. True to our name which literally means, ‘I want’, our brand resembles our customers’ desires, which we learn of through such lines of communication, and by embracing the feelings of our customers, we are able to produce new and exciting experiences, originating from Customer Experience Management (CEM).
Howard: Zain continues to maintain its focus on customer experience, moving from a traditional telecom provider into a true service-orientated business. Across Zain’s major markets we provide a full channel support for our customers across traditional, automated and digital/social channels. Our premium customers receive a personalised support and our enterprise segment benefits from our dedicated account management model.
Mohammed: Today, customers can simply walk into any one of our 62 du shops, countrywide and speak to a customer service representative for any query. Last year, we introduced in-store video retail support, allowing walk-in customers to interact with service agents through a video conferencing system. Our call centre staff are equipped to resolve customer service issues in a number of languages truly reflecting the multi-cultural social fabric of the UAE. Customers are increasingly turning tech-savvy and hence we also offer mobile customer service support with our du App.
Spence: What I’ve found particularly interesting is the use of different channels such as Instagram and WhatsApp to sell products. We recently launched our My Vodafone app which will put the power into the customers’ pocket. The best customer service tools are those that speak to the customer and can resonate with them – hence we’re firm believers of keeping track of trends and ensuring we leverage these in our customer experience strategy and chat really has been one of these key consumer trends.
Kamouni: We go beyond customer service to provide a full customer experience solution, whereby covering all aspects of the customer’s interaction with the brand. Online and digital solutions are now core to our strategy given the consumer shift and the evolution of the IoT.
Saadi: We at Ericsson strive to support MNOs deliver the best customer service experience. Our solutions in the Transformative IT domain allow MNOs not only to better understand customer expectations, thus providing targeted services, but also to empower the customers to serve themselves at the push of a button.
CommsMEA: What differentiates the customer experience provided by you from those of others in the market?
Vale: Nokia’s Customer Experience Index (CEI) brings network and care data together with customer satisfaction surveys the operator is already doing. Coupled with this, Nokia’s view of >15 dimensions of the subscriber and easy to use interface, provide operators with a quite complete view of the subscribers.
Saadi: We have a proactive program in place where we work with leading operators to make sure their networks are not only delivering the required experience for today but also ensuring they are ready for tomorrow’s requirements too.
Al Lawati: Ooredoo’s combination of extensive global expertise and talented caring people with a genuine understanding of Omani culture and the diverse population living in the Sultanate, allows us to provide our customers with the highest levels of user-friendly technology and customer satisfaction. We are a community-focused brand that welcomes customers into the Ooredoo family, through which we create an intimate and definitive experience together. We are committed to enhancing daily life by making communication easier, more versatile and always a rewarding experience. For Ooredoo, our core values – caring, connecting, challenging – are not simply a statement, they are something we live by, and translate into action every day.
Mohammed: Our efforts to ensure customer satisfaction begins at an early stage, by ensuring that our staff members are satisfied.
Spence: It’s something we call the ‘broken line principle’, which essentially means, if a customer cannot use their line, they are not going to care about the cool video and marketing content we offer via social media. They just want their problem fixed. Thus, it’s crucial to offer a strong care approach first – and this is where we stand out.
Kamouni:Our advantage comes from the fact that we have practically implemented integrated customer experience strategies across a large footprint and have the capability to deliver that operationally across a number of touch points.
CommsMEA: What’s the latest in offering to ensure customer experience is improved with ease and convenience?
Vale: Predictive and preventive services are a great way to improve customer experience with minimal impact to the subscriber if any. Nokia has several predictive services available like Predictive Operations, which predicts subscriber impacting issues up to 48 hours before they occur with a 95% accuracy rate.
Saadi: We have developed processes, tools and methods that focus on the users’ application experience instead of looking at Network KPIs.
Al Lawati: Our digitalisation initiative has seen the launch of social media platforms and apps, with award winning releases, such as the Ooredoo Oman app. For customers seeking convenient and immediate solutions at their fingertips, the app, as well as our website, features elements, services and data that satisfy a wide variety of needs.
Howard: We are taking proactive approach to network management to pre-empt issues that could potentially cause unnecessary interruptions to our customers.
Mohammed: Our customers who walk into our retail stores can resolve any issues through our innovative video retail support system at selected du shops across the UAE.
CommsMEA: What kind of endeavours are you engaging in to derive real-time insights on consumer experience and what kind of systems are in place to address issues (if any)?
Saadi: We have developed our latest analytics platform called Ericsson Expert Analytics that takes inputs from multiple sources and allows us to understand what the user expectations are and what kind of experience they are getting in order to decide if corrective actions are required. We also have a CEM solution that allows us to dig to the subscriber level and geo-locate data to make localized intervention where needed.
Vale: Nokia has customers who are using our real-time analytics in conjunction with Customer Care to be able to see where customer issues are happening and understand if those problems are in the radio or core network so the care tickets can be properly assigned and resolved. With Nokia Preventive Complaint Analysis operators have seen a decrease in customer complaints by 38% due to this early detection and resolution. With the Nokia Wireless Network Guardian when there is congestion in a cell the top users and applications can be identified at that moment and measures can be taken to give priority to the appropriate applications or groups of subscribers.
Al Lawati: As part of our ongoing customer-centric initiatives, we raised the bar on CEM last year by becoming the first in the region to implement ResponseTek’s CEM software into our customer service infrastructure. This world-class software provides mass feedback across all customer touch points through a ‘Voice of the Customer’ Listening Platform™, giving us insight into market trends in real time, ensure consistency in service delivery, and evaluate the impact of products to enrich the customer experience.
In the first stage of the ‘Voice of the Customer’ programme, we sent SMS surveys to all customers who contacted our centre, spurring approximately 10,000 valuable interactions each day. The feedback programme was later extended to all remaining touch points to provide more holistic insights in terms of complaints, in-store purchasing, outbound calls, payments and queries.
Howard: In 2015 we have implemented a group wide voice of customer platform; this net promoter score platform increased our visibility and understanding of the elements that influence customer experience.
Mohammed: More than 90% of our customer interactions are linked with a customer feedback mechanism and our dedicated teams make sure to action on poor-rating and address their pain points, ending up with a satisfied customer.
Spence: The key support mechanism that we have deployed across our IT teams is toolsets to slot social media into a customer interaction ecosystem, which includes management and insights coupled with tools to ease the ability for customer management and agent response.
CommsMEA: How do you think the customer expectations have changed over time?
Al Lawati: CEM has become increasingly important in the telecoms industry over the last decade, especially as people’s expectations have grown. In fact, today there is a strong correlation between customer satisfaction and brand loyalty. It is no longer about simply offering the best deal People come to Ooredoo just as much for the experience and relationship we offer as for our market leading products and services.
Saadi: A focus on time-to-content is extremely important; according to a scientific study published in the latest Ericsson Mobility Report, time-to-content delays cause a jump in mobile users’ stress levels. Conversely, a delay-free experience triggers a positive emotional response and increases brand engagement.
Mohammed: In the past, organisations used to drive consumer demand – however, with the changing tides and the amplification of social media – the customer is now in the driver’s seat. According to The Social Habit, 57% of customers today expect the same response at night or on weekends that they get during business hours when they post on social media.
Kamouni: Customers now have much more options and they expect the companies they interact with to be present and available to support across all channels. Furthermore because of the increased competition, companies are demanding more than traditional services and are asking for better value like big data analytics, experience mapping and contribution to revenue generation through total customer lifecycle management. Today, the market dynamics have changed and only those with innovative solutions will survive.
CommsMEA: If you had to enlist just three things to ensure a cutting-edge customer experience, what would those three be?
Saadi: Those will be understanding what matters to the user using the right analytics; app experience–focused network planning and optimisation and removing organisation silos to ensure customer experience is top priority for all.
Spence: The best customer experience solutions are proactive, personalised and above all, productive. If these attributes are applied to delivering state-of-the-art customer experience tools, then there is little room for failure. The key is to keep innovating.
Kamouni: We believe that companies must drive customer experience as they drive any other revenue generating initiative.
Al Lawati: The team, the team and the team! No matter what advances there are in technology, for successful CEM the most important thing is the team – the people who deliver the experience to customers. This is why Ooredoo prioritises recruiting the best talent and then making sure they are supported by the right training and feedback systems.