Avaya's Faten Halabi.
The fact that customer expectations and needs are changing isn’t exactly news to any business. The same goes for the telecommunications industry. According to one PwC report, 73 percent of people point to customer experience as an important factor in their purchasing decisions – just behind price and product quality.
But what are the implications in this period of great digital disruption, and how can telecommunications service providers – specifically in the GCC region – respond? Faten Halabi, regional sales leader at Avaya, has some ideas.
CommsMEA: How would you describe the digital transformation of service providers within the GCC to date?
Faten Halabi: The GCC’s telecom service providers have been going through their digital transformation since about six to seven years ago. At the same time, the landscape has changed a lot with fresh entrants coming into the market with a focus on delivering superior (or at least differentiated) customer experiences.
Customers’ expectations have also changed as individuals, businesses, and cities have become more interconnected than ever before. In turn, our usage of and our relationship with service providers is more important to us than ever.
At a high level, and from a customer experience (CX) point of view, this means that telecom service providers are having to provide more, to build greater loyalty, and to explore niche segments to maintain revenues in a competitive environment.
As part of the region’s digital transformation, offering a clear and consistent customer experience is so important. What do you see as really driving investment in this space?
Service providers – like any other organisation – need to maintain customer loyalty and retention. Without that they cannot build on their business. Clarity and consistency in their customer engagements is essential to this loyalty equation.
One of the challenges that service providers face when it comes to their CX strategy is needing to protect their existing technology investments while having the freedom to define, build and test new customer engagement models quickly. This has focused technology investments into more open, scalable platforms that are also easy for employees to use. You can have the most advanced contact centre or data analytics system in the world, but if you don’t have the expertise to use them, then it is meaningless.
I would also note that speedy resolution remains a crucial factor for customers when evaluating their telco service provider. If my Internet at home is down, for example, I want to be able to call, email, or open an app to resolve the problem in the way that is most convenient for me at that time. Each of these channels must be able to support me to resolve the issue quickly in a single engagement. In this sense, it’s not enough to simply provide omnichannel service; you must also offer the depth of capabilities and the speed that customers are looking for.
When we talk about investments in customer experience on the technology front, what are some of the new capabilities and solutions that service providers are eyeing?
The single biggest technology pivot that service providers are looking to make is shifting towards cloud-based communication solutions. This is starting to result in a greater adoption of contact centre as a service (CCaaS) offerings that provide a single platform where service providers can access a full suite of collaboration solutions instantaneously. Importantly, these cloud-based solutions must be built to integrate with other business applications by using open standards and extensive APIs for customization capabilities.
When you look at specific technologies, the region’s service providers are also investing heavily in artificial intelligence (AI), enabling their customer care or customer contact centres to develop smarter automated services. Given the sheer volume of customer interactions that telcos need to manage, AI-powered chatbots and analytics systems can make that crucial difference in building a competitive edge.
Building on that, how is automation coming into this area of contact centre technology?
The ability to automate certain operations has and will continue to be an attractive proposition to any telecom service provider. That said, there are two factors that I believe are spurring automation within the contact centre today.
The first is social media. Platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat are booming in the Middle East. These are vital channels for service providers to reach and interact with their customers. People want to be able to talk to the organisation they deal with through social media. Social media monitoring and sentiment analysis is essential to improve the customer journey. Again, given the diversity and frequency of customer interactions through social media, there is a major push from the contact centre to find better ways to automate the monitoring, prioritization, and responses on social.
The second factor comes back to first-time resolution. In this digital age, people want to be able to do more, faster, and their attention span is narrowing. Within the contact centre, faster resolution requires bringing together relevant data as quickly as possible, which is done by automating that collection process. This is why we’re seeing a lot of interest in AI and advanced analytics—technologies that can work independently to build knowledge within a contact centre and give agents the power to have conversations with context.
Shifting here slightly, what are some of the big service providers looking for in order to boost loyalty specifically?
Different service providers have different KPIs for their customer service. For a long time, the top metric that would deliver “loyalty” was improving your FCR (First Call Resolution) rate. This is because there were a lot of studies showing a direct correlation between FCR and customer satisfaction. Many of the region’s top service providers still look at FCR as one of the defining metrics in the customer experience.
From a service and experience point of view, boosting loyalty – whether measured through FCR or otherwise – really comes down to how well you can intelligently connect people and information. Service providers are, therefore, constantly on the lookout for technologies and partners that can help them to shape intelligent connections. These priorities include having a single interface for managing all customer interactions, and tools that provide a seamless customer experience across communication channels.
How is Avaya partnering with service providers to optimize their digital customer experience?
There is a clear recognition that giving customers a better, more relevant experience through technology differentiates them from their competitors. Today 80 percent of companies view customer experience as a competitive differentiator, yet one recent IDC study commissioned by Avaya found that only 28 percent of companies believe they integrate customer communications with fulfilment and delivery “extremely well.”
Telecom service providers are thus looking for ways to simplify their communications, empower their teams, and better understand their customers. With this in mind, our role ultimately comes down to intelligently connecting people and information – helping service providers to create more seamless communication experiences.
This story first appeared on pages 18-20 of CommsMEA September 2018.