The customer still isn't king in telecom-land

You may have read Alex Leslie’s recent blog on Disruptive Asia in which he poses the question ‘Could it be that now, finally, the customer really is king?’

You’d like to think so wouldn’t you?

In some industries the customer has been the incumbent ruler for quite some time. But for the industry-formerly-known-as-telecoms the customer has continually come second to our own navel gazing. We have spent billions on digital transformation. We say this is to provide a better service. But too-often we are being disingenuous. Our aim is really to upgrade our IT systems and save OPEX. Any customer benefits come second to these aims. And this is important because our priorities mean that customers often have to wait years for any discernible improvement.

In some service providers the experience provided is fantastic, digital and customer centric; but in many it seems increasingly old-fashioned, badly designed and stale. While most CSPs have an eye on their rivals to ensure they keep up, they don’t have a similar passion for meeting customers’ needs. The excuses for providing a sub-optimal experience are also extremely well-rehearsed. They boil down to the same old mantra: our legacy is holding us back.

It’s not all bad news. In his post Alex itemises some of the things that have improved (at least in Asia). He mentions specific initiatives such as omnichannel and the move towards a greater focus on customer service. I want to believe that Alex’s optimism can also apply to Europe and North America; but while he sees the doughnut, I still see the hole. In fact the experience is so full of holes it is more like Swiss cheese than a doughnut. And this is because it’s still implemented in silos and based on IT rather than being customer centric.

Take our recent research on customer bills. This revealed that the reason customers complain about bills is largely because they’re confused, not because the bills are wrong. This tells you that service providers are still not good at communicating with their customers. (see COVID-19 is accelerating CSP digital transformation)

Satisfaction with UK telecoms firms has gone down

In fact, rather than improving, satisfaction with telecoms firms has stalled or is dropping in many markets. Take the UK as an example. The July 2020 UKCSI (a multi-sector study of customer experience in the UK), reveals that the telecoms sector is still 10th out of 13 verticals measured when it comes to customer satisfaction. Satisfaction with telecoms firms has gone down from 74.7 to 74.2 year on year. Customers are more satisfied with public sector services than with ours (public sector national, 76.1; public sector local, 75.3). And they’re only less satisfied with utilities (72.6) and transport (71.4).

Unsurprisingly, not one telecoms organisation featured in the top 10, although a small number of telcos outperformed the sector average. Top of the pile is MVNO Tesco Mobile (82.8), which just lost out on a top ten placement, being ranked 12th. Next comes Sky Mobile at =27th with a score of 81.0. The only other telecoms firm in the top 50 is GiffGaff, another MVNO, whose score of 80.1 gives it a ranking of =47th. The gap between the highest performing organisation in the telecoms sector (Tesco Mobile) and the lowest is 14.7 points – enough to drive a coach and horses through.

But there is some good news. Sky Mobile has improved its satisfaction rating by 4.4 points in the last year to outperform the average for the sector by 6.8 points (81.0 v 74.7). BT’s score has gone up by 3.7 points, although it still languishes more than 2 points behind the average for the sector at 72.1.

But surely, given how well we’ve managed to support everyone during lockdown, the telecoms sector’s score has risen? Not according to the Institute of Customer Service, which said satisfaction with the telecoms sector had dropped by 1 point since January. “When comparing customer experiences recorded just before the lockdown (16 – 23 March) and after the lockdown was introduced, 5 of the 14 Telecommunications and Media sector organisations in the UKCSI registered a drop in customer satisfaction of at least 2 points,” noted the report’s authors.

Customer experience in the New Normal

The pandemic has pressed a great reset button when it comes to customer experience. The New Normal for customer service requires telecoms firms to:

  • understand the new needs of customers
  • focus on care and service, not just short-term financial objectives
  • provide clear information on policies, support and advice
  • ensure the right tone-of-voice in communications
  • identify how products, packages and offers need to change
  • meet customer needs faster and deliver change sooner.

Morgan Lewis
Morgan Lewis

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