Service providers need to invest wisely in the right kind of resources to provide a high-level of experience to the customers consistently across the various touch points. Customer experience and brand loyalty already is and going to continue as the main differentiator leading to profitability.
Rafael Domene, senior partner, Peppers & Rogers Group
Chafic Traboulsi, head of network services, Ericsson Middle East
Kaustubh Kashyap, head of MENA region, Mahindra Comviva
CommsMEA: What are the innovative ways to engage customers emotionally so as to build a strong brand loyalty?
Kaustubh Kashyap: Maya Angelou had rightly said: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” People flock to some products like Amazon, Apple, and Uber because they are better at spreading awareness of customers’ emotional stories for the service and not on product usage stats. One reason for disconnect between content and customer is that the messages have become too complex and they present too many statistics; rather, they need to have emotional connect.
Communication today must evoke feelings even more than before, and inspire people to think and feel positively about the services from the telcos.
Rafael Domene: We have worked with STC and the intelligence put into their loyalty campaigns is indeed amazing. Campaigns need to be data driven and accordingly companies need to act in an agile and proactive manner to build a strong brand.
Chafic Traboulsi: Some ideas are the use of customer feedback applications, social media feedbacks, and proper use of campaign management to keep customers interested in brands. The key here is the follow up on the feedback. The operator that does it better will be the operator that will influence the customer the most.
CommsMEA: How has the importance of customer experience evolved over time?
Domene: Companies have started paying more attention to customer experience than ever before. They have realised it’s no more an option, rather a must-focus area since it has a great impact on both the top line and bottom line revenues. Companies can really understand and measure the real impact. However, they still have a long way to go.
The explosion of big data has also made it all the more essential for companies to make sense of the same using proper skill sets and use the insights to deliver an enhanced customer experience.
Traboulsi: In the telecom and IT domains, importance of customer experience has increased many fold due to the strong influx of applications & OTT services. In the past, customers were using few services like voice, SMS and MMS. Now there are applications which define user experience rather than simple telco services.
Kashyap: As the customers’ demands and interactions evolve with time, technology and social media, the organisations have to be a step ahead to manage such engagements with them. Customer engagement models that were relevant just five years ago are not sufficient anymore; a combination of social and mobile has created a phenomenon that can only be dealt in real time. As a result, human centric designs and investments in innovative customer experience that anticipates the need of the customers are the parameters that will define success in customer experience management.
CommsMEA: How would you rank the customer experience offered by regional telcos relative to other customer friendly organisations? In spite of being a very important component of the economy, why don’t telcos manage to fare well on the experience benchmarks?
Domene: Traditionally, telcos worldwide have focused more on networks, marketing, and acquisitions; they haven’t embraced the customer-centric approach to a great deal. This is why, they are still lagging behind when it comes to providing a great experience. Customer journeys are not properly identified and studied to improve service offerings. They still use manual processes for several purposes; considering the massive volume of interactions they engage in, manual processes can’t suffice to provide the best experience. Automation needs to be brought in.
Traboulsi: Regional telcos are focused more on basic network KPIs while struggling to manage the real end customer experience. However, there is an increasing realisation in the operators for the need to align towards measuring and improving the actual end user experience.
Kashyap: The good part is that the telcos in the region have realised that they lag behind in the customer experience compared to organisations from other industries like airlines, hotels, eCommerce, retailers, BPOs, etc.
There could be many reasons for poor customer experience – disparate network elements, non-uniform network quality, numerous service offerings, non-aligned touchpoints for the subscribers, etc. Besides, the problem gets accentuated due to different types of devices that the users own and the complexity of the business partner networks that run their applications on a telco’s network.
However, on the brighter side and perhaps ironically, customers do find telcos trustworthy when it comes to collecting and handling personal data, which is a key element, considering that telcos are important component of the economy! Using this element as the basic premise, telcos are improving the experience of their customers.
CommsMEA: How can operators ensure that customer experience becomes not just a feature but the culture of the company?
Domene: It’s all about making sense of the data. The data has always been there but most of the time, telcos haven’t given much attention to these. Leading companies which are world-famous for the experience they offer, like Amazon, Facebook and Google are now showing telcos the value of data and insights drawn from that. The key is to make sense of the big data and use the derived insights to improve customer journeys.
The region has been lately putting a lot of emphasis on digital transformation, however, that can’t be realised unless one prioritises big data analytics and automation. In order to improve customer experience, it’s essential to make interactions friction less, and that’s not there yet.
Traboulsi: It is important for organisations to ensure that their targets and KPIs are set in line with customer experience not only network performance. It shall happen through properly defining services or application based KPIs based on user experience by market segment.
Kashyap: The approach of telcos towards customer engagement would have a paradigm shift once the focus of the telcos shifts from customer acquisition to customer retention and longevity. This means that right from network architecture designs, hiring standards, training, management processes to incentives have to adapt to the new reality of managing customer experience in real-time with minimal customer efforts.
Currently, a lot of telcos are trying to push the burden of consuming customer service on to the customers themselves. This may not be the right approach, as the experience from other industries has shown. There has been a backlash from the customers in the form of customer dissatisfaction. So, going forward, the telcos have to not only work towards customer satisfaction but even more so focus on measuring customer efforts to access services, to ensure an overall positive customer experience. Conservatively, this trend is going to be around for the next decade or so.
CommsMEA: The key to delivering a great experience invariably starts with proper understanding of customer behaviour and preferences- what’s being done by the operators in this regard?
Traboulsi: Operators are running regular market studies and researches on all customer segments to clearly understand user behaviours and changes over time. There are complete teams within the opcos’ commercial departments who then analyse all the data and feed it into the marketing department. Net Promoter Score or NPS for example is sometimes used to measure customer retention and satisfaction.
Kashyap: As telcos improve their systems to understand the patterns of customer usage, to measure network quality and to understand how their businesses are performing against competitors, it becomes important to match real-time data collection with real-time customer service.
Usage of data sciences, predictive analytics and the best-in-class service delivery can help to create customer experiences that can reduce customer efforts to access services and thus improve their satisfaction. Telcos that have started investing towards such approaches are likely to notice positive results on their EBIDTA, sooner than later.
CommsMEA: What kind of technological tools are available in the market to quantify the satisfaction of the customers with the services they get from their operator?
Domene: The technology is there in place. What’s lacking is the knowledge and experience; at other times, the intention is not there. There are traditional channels like call centres as well as advanced digital channels like apps to interact with the customers. All these channels can provide a huge amount of information; however, these are not tapped effectively.
There are technologies to measure experience on all levels- be it networks, systems or interactions. The key is to take all this information, draw the customer journeys, understand the customer behaviour, and then act accordingly. It’s essential to address the root causes why customers interact with the operators in the first place. One must make sure to make the lives of customers easy and interactions simple.
Traboulsi: There are advanced tools available in the market (like Ericsson expert analytics, service operations centre etc.) which monitor customer experience and help in taking pre-emptive actions to improve customer experience.
Kashyap: A combination of social and mobile has created a phenomenon of real time engagement. As such whenever a service is consumed an instant feedback is sought by the telcos – whether online or at retailer shops. These inputs, with a time-stamp and location information, give good insights to the telcos on their customer satisfaction and behaviour.
Information can be collected from network elements and probing systems like opt-in apps installed on the smartphones to collect information on customer experience. Though decreasing in relevance, yet, periodic formal customer satisfaction surveys do still give great insight on customers’ behaviour, trends and brand satisfaction.
CommsMEA: Is real time grievance reporting and redressal still a long way to go?
Domene: For businesses like telcos, this has to be real time, and carried out in a pro-active and preventive way. There are tools to forecast certain issues. Most of the telco issues are not just limited to one customer; it might start off with one and spreads soon to others. The moment such a problem is detected, telcos need to make sure to act with agility to ensure that the problem doesn’t spread to many customers and is addressed as soon as possible, hence preventing excessive damage.
With technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning available, operators must try to anticipate problems even before customers take notice of the same, and prevent it beforehand.
Kashyap: Not really, few telcos are just couple of steps away. MTN (across all its 20+ opcos) and few Middle-Eastern telcos like Etisalat UAE and STC have launched self-care apps or portals for their customers. These can be easily expanded to offer real-time grievance reporting and redressal. The ability of a telco to manage such reporting and closure of the tickets would be one of the key factors to offer this service to their customers. Additionally, telcos and the supplier communities are experimenting with chatbots and natural language processing for real-time grievance redressal.
CommsMEA: How can social media be effectively integrated into customer engagement strategy?
Domene: Social media is a key channel; however, it’s a double edged sword. If managed properly, it can prove to be a great asset, and your customers can be the best brand champions of your service offerings. However, it’s very important to act in a really agile manner or else it becomes more of a problem rather than an advantage.
Kashyap: Social listening tools help listen to what the customer is saying about a service experience. These tools can be integrated into the overall customer engagement strategy by prioritising and channeling queries according to language, channel, services’ classifications and directed to the agents with the best skill sets to deal with them.
CommsMEA: What are the challenges on the way to providing a truly omni-channel customer experience that’s unmatched?
Domene: If you wish to have an omni-channel strategy, you need to first identify how you wish to address your customers. You have to understand their needs and behaviour and provide them all the channels they require to interact with you. The experience needs to be seamless, homogenous and consistent across all the channels. The main issue that comes in this respect is lack of proper planning and business sense while drawing out an omni-channel strategy.
Kashyap: The objective of an omni-channel experience is to create convenience and customer stickiness. I can foresee two major challenges – one is ensuring seamless service delivery across multiple touch-points of the customers for superior customer engagement.
The other challenge pertains to responding to grievance reports (from network performance or from the customer) received from different channels in a manner that is most efficient to resolve while being cost effective for the telco.