In previous business generations, no one would think to put discussions of the DevOps department and the end user in the same vicinity of each other. There were too many middlemen, the most formidable among them being The Marketing Department. It was the company’s customer facing duty to sell whatever it had after DevOps got done at any cost (including the cost of customer trust at times). Why face unnecessary scrutiny during the development process for no reason? We’re selling the sizzle here, not the steak!
The modern consumer now has the ability to peek behind the curtain, and they are taking every chance to do so. Savvy companies are embracing the opportunity (and making it a marketing opportunity, as a matter of fact), but the truth is that businesses have more or less been forced to let them look. It is not a choice.
The telecom industry is no different. The customer journey is shrinking. From manufacturing to gaming, end users are demanding real time iteration improvements for subscription-based programs. The communications backdrop upon which all of this is based must keep up with the retail products moving along its airwaves. The modern customer no longer blames poor performance on the retail brand right in front of its face. People know the names Verizon, AT&T, Comcast, Samsung, Nokia, T-Mobile, etc. These are brand names that they can touch, blame and even boycott (to an extent), if necessary.
So what are the winners in today’s telecom industry doing to facilitate a better customer experience? Lets take a look at some of the most successful programs that are helping to drive sales and Industry 4.0 to new standards of performance.
The New Customer Experience, Year Over Year
Digital transformation plus advanced data analytics equals the potential for a much improved customer experience. With every new level of technical and processing power, telecom companies have the ability to empower each and every employee with a charge of an improved customer experience (CX). Being at the center of communications means that telecom companies are at the forefront of the consumer data that is driving new data. Here are just a few of the ways that telecom companies can use this new power.
Enhancing Digital Services
The average customer of today knows nothing about calling operators and repeating their stories to three or four separate people while being transferred from department to department. Modern customer service is more automated than ever, with less actual human contact than ever. Yes, the robots are coming. What’s more, these robots are actually raising the bar for what is possible in the customer support experience.
Over 31% of major companies are already infusing their customer service processes with AI. This actually puts customer service operations as the second most popular use case for business AI. What’s in first place? IT. Wow.
This is definitely a technology that is coming right on time, as customer expectations rise year over year for customer service in the 70% range according to Microsoft’s 2016 Global Customer Service Report. The number didn’t rise quite as high in the 2017 and 2018 reports, but it remained around the same range.
Messaging apps are a great way for companies in every industry to talk to customers. Chatbots Magazine found that around two-thirds of consumers expected to run into a messaging app when corresponding with a business. These apps make the process of customer service quicker without losing out on any personalization. This is a theme throughout all updates for telecom companies – the ability to scale in a cost efficient way without losing out on customization options or hiring tons of new people (the machines are coming).
The Proliferation of AI
2019 finds us in a world where one third of contact centers have already invested in robotics and AI, giving credence to the 2017 Global Contract Center Survey from Deloitte. The number one reason for this investment is to improve customer experiences across channels. Full-scale robotic process automation will become more accepted in the mainstream as AI proves itself as the most efficient technology to scale the customer service experience.
Oracle says that by 2020, 78% of companies will already have adopted AI into customer service. Among blue-chip telecom companies, this percentage will probably be higher than that. Fully 85% of customer service conversations will be driven by AI infused bots, not human beings, according to Gartner research. Believe it or not, the average consumer is actually in favor of this kind of interaction. Across industries, people asked her talking robots over humans. Why? Robots take the ego out of the conversation and focus the conversation solely on the interaction or problem that caused the call the first place. More logic means more solving more problems in a shorter time period. When a customer knows that a robot is on the other end of the line, that customer also feels less of a need to react emotionally. He knows that he will get no response, so he calms down. This also helps to focus the interaction.
2021 will bring us the AI for CRM revolution. Salesforce tells us that customer relationship management solutions infused with AI will give us a new level of global business revenue and employment opportunities. Revenue is expected to increase by $1.1 trillion and create 800,000 new jobs.
2022 will bring together many of these new technologies in innovative ways. NLP (natural language processing) combined with chatbots are expected to save $8 billion in customer support costs for businesses every year, according to Juniper Research. The same combination saved companies only $20 million in 2017, which just goes to show how quickly technology is improving and will improve in the age of 5G.
The personalized automation that chatbots create will allow companies to save more than 70 cents on every consumer interaction in banking and healthcare. The most common inquiries will be filtered down a detailed rabbit hole that will actually get the interaction right, no humans needed! Customer handling times will also come down quite significantly. The less a human is involved in a customer service interaction, the more the average handling time comes down.
However, AI will not solve all the problems that companies need to shorten the customer journey. A Deloitte study found that tech and multimedia companies are implementing AI infused contact center tech at a 56% clip. McKinsey finds that only 29% of human customer service duties can be automated, however. The low hanging fruit such as cashiers, first-line support agents and lead generation sales reps will be the first to go. Chatbots can handle around 80% of these questions. Overall, chatbots can save a company around 30% of its customer service expenses.
Making the Journey Friendlier
If you have ever been on a long road trip or sat through a boring presentation, you know the experience of having a friend to pass the time with. Simply interacting with that friend seemed to speed up time and make the experience more enjoyable.
In the world of telecom companies, becoming this friend is the digital transformation process. One of the most important aspects of the digital transformation is a user friendly website, something that many telecom companies are investing in now. The friendly website becomes a platform for the company to connect the customer to loads of information that he can use. Prospects can use this information to compare service packages and prices.
Advanced Analytics and Friendly Websites
As big data analytics become easier to collect, organize and analyze, the potential for this data actually expands. Access to advanced data analytics allows a telecom business to understand its own weaknesses and pinpoint the spots for upgrades, predict how its network will be used in the future and generate actionable consumer insights. Telecom companies also have the ability to analyze targeted areas by demographics and better understand the preferences of its preferred audience. The friendlier a website is, the easier this data will be to organize and collect for a telecom company.
Telecom companies are perhaps in the best position to make its data collection methods more consumer friendly and its analytical methods more in depth. Because customers are moving through the telecom industry to produce digital information, the onus is really on the company to organize this information better than its competitors and attached that organization to a set of key performance indicators (KPIs) that are relevant and timely for the business.
Better P2P Communications
As stated above, a fully AI infused customer experience without human to human interaction will not be possible within the next five years. There is something that your human employees bring to the table that even the best machine learning algorithms will not be able to emulate completely.
As such, the employees are at the center of delivering the best customer experience although digital transformation tools will allow for improved customer service programs. One of the most important aspects of digital transformation is the ability to let the operations improve end to end – from the technology to the employee. When the employees are properly empowered to give prospects efficient customer care solutions, telecom companies will improve efficiency and retention rates.
Time is the New Money, Simple is the New Complex
Top companies such as Netflix, Uber and Amazon continue to set a higher standard for digital experiences that are fully personalized to the individual and very simple to use. Telecom providers should be able to provide the same kind of performance, but many companies have actually become tangled in the wires of complexity. In the rage to scale and provide a personalized experience to enough people to pull in more profit margin, some telecom companies are separating their marketing and sales teams. Development and operations are effectively stunted, creating products that are basically targeted at single people rather than markets. New plans crop up beside old ones, confusing customers with overlapping channels and conflicting brand messages.
Many telecom companies are also beginning to find out that the customer experience is directly and very closely tied to the motivation of employees within the company. It is actually a great advantage to be a smaller telecom company at the beginning of the 5G revolution. These new upstarts are more agile because they are not weighed down with legacy processes and hierarchies. They are digital first, and they fully understand that there is no paradox between, say, omni-channel marketing and a short customer journey.
Bain & Company analyzed the performance of 150+ telecom companies in 12 markets to find out exactly which product and process approach is working in the marketplace. What they found was that simple and digital works well in terms of bottom-line growth, top-line growth and customer loyalty.
One of the most telling signs of a company in need of a change is a business with multiple pricing structures. Many telecom companies that are lagging behind the digital transformation curve have more pricing plans than they need, especially when considering the differences between back book in front book customers.
In many cases, the rules that cover the contract terms, promotions and discounts of these plans often overlap. It is difficult for employees to keep up with the features of each plan, and it is just as difficult (if not much more) than that for a customer to find the appropriate pricing structure for his individual needs. There is nothing worse than a customer who has taken the journey down your sales funnel only to find a confusing conversion page or an unsure sales agent at the end of the process. This is the customer who will hang up the phone your face or bounce away from your website and never come back.
Fortunately, there is an opportunity for companies experiencing this confused type of structure. The real chance for improvement comes in creating a new portfolio of products that are based on simple modular product building blocks. A company may have to make some very difficult decisions about legacy products, but the result will be a much more streamlined set of products that hit the problem set of a target market much more accurately. Redundancy is a killer, and companies should put safeguards in place to keep complexity from needlessly finding its way back into the process a few months down the road.
The Customer Episode
One of the most effective turns of phrase that telecom companies can apply to a simpler and friendlier customer journey is the so-called “customer episode.”
The customer episode, in one way or another, is how successful telecom companies learn to view the behaviors of their targeted customer base. Each action of the customer base is separated into a discrete and separate episode. It is described with a simple subject and verb phrase such as I leave, I pay, I buy or I use. The point of a new structure is to deliver a smooth and seamless experience to a customer on a consistent basis.
Rethinking customer episodes means looking ahead to the future of your customers needs. A company can then begin to tier a hierarchy of episodes based on importance to the company as well as to the customer. The following questions become very important metrics:
- How often does each episode cost and what is the frequency of its occurrence?
- Is this episode an important milestone to customers?
- If a company focuses on a particular episode, how much can it improve a Net Promoter Score?
The Digital First Omni-channel Strategy
A vital component of creating a digital experience that is simple for customers is to move into a primarily digital, channel strategy. This means a company must have a vision that places its digital footprint at the forefront of its marketing and service transactions. The company should prioritize streamlined digital experiences that are so simple that customers actually prefer to perform those actions online. Slowly but surely, a company will nudge its customers towards the online space with a gradual communication strategy laced with relevant incentives.
No, the telecom company does not have to immediately neglect physical channels. There are still plenty of people with money who prefer legacy communications channels. They may not want to move. At the same time, a company should understand that the majority of the marketplace is moving towards the digital landscape.
Before Industry 4.0, the Age of Information and the Internet’s culture of instant gratification, telecom companies tried to keep R&D as far away from the end user as possible. This simply can’t be the case now with successful business, much less a business in an industry that is gaining more of the mainstream spotlight than ever. As the 5G infrastructure prepares to go fully commercial, the telecom industry will need to pay more attention to the customer experience than ever before. The winners of this era will be more than the producers of innovative hardware. They will also be the producers of a shorter, more precise journey of delivering those innovative products into the hands of their waiting customers.