This Industry Viewpoint was authored by Steve Smith, VP of Strategic Industries, ClickSoftware
Typically when a customer calls their service provider, they have a problem, whether it is to report an outage, a billing issue, or some other disruption in service. Warranted or not, telephone and internet providers do not have the best reputation for their responses to customer service requests. However this perception seems to be shifting, with increasing customer satisfaction scores reported for telecoms companies in 2018. Telecoms want satisfied customers, and in today’s market where OTT services are eroding market share from traditional service providers, they also need customer loyalty. Effort is the strongest driver to customer loyalty, according to Gartner, and unlike most other scores, this is one area where organizations, including telecom companies, want to score low.
The Customer Effort Score (CES) is a key performance indicator (KPI) that is indicative of customer satisfaction and is easier to measure. Measuring the CES essentially involves ranking the responses around one simple statement: The company made it easy for me to handle my issue. Lower customer effort scores result in longer term customer satisfaction than by satisfying or delighting customers alone, which has long been the focus of companies aiming to improve customer experience.
Great customer experience starts before an issue arises but is vital once there is a problem to handle. In 2017, U.S. businesses lost $75 billion due to poor customer experiences -- up $16 billion from 2016. That’s business that telecom companies can’t afford to lose. To uncover all of the potential pain points for customers, companies must consider every interaction customers have with the business. Below are three ways to reduce customer effort by telecoms customers, with a goal of improved customer satisfaction and loyalty.
#1: Enable customer self-service
Contrary to what the words imply, self-service does not mean leaving the problem to the customer to handle. It means giving them access on an ongoing basis to information that helps them treat issues and get the most value from the product or service. People like to feel in control of their situations and this can take the form of an easy-to-navigate website, a quick and fluid process for booking an appointment, or easily reaching a representative directly. In fact, a recent survey found 91 percent of respondents would use an online knowledge base if it met their needs.
By giving customers direct access to some tasks, it lessens the burden on them to follow up to ensure the task has been handled. For example, a customer is having a problem with network connectivity. Instead of the customer having to take the time to call or figure out which department needs to be contacted to solve this issue, they can search the Frequently Asked Questions page on the website and find all they have to do is reboot the system. If the customer is not able to solve the problem on their own and a service visit is required, it is table stakes for the customer to easily interact with their provider via their preferred channel. Be it via phone, desktop or mobile, customers need to be able to easily schedule an appointment for service. Once the appointment is scheduled, they can be kept aware of the status of the visit and when precisely they can expect the service professional to arrive at their location. The days of the four hour appointment window are over.
#2: Empower employees
Enabling self-service involves empowering the customer to sometimes take on some aspects of the solution, which in turn leads to them having to expend less effort. In the journey to decrease customer effort, it is also vital to empower each employee to deliver exceptional service. This is especially important for frontline employees, like technicians, who have some of the strongest (and sometimes only) interactions with customers.
Field service professionals may work directly for your organization, but in certain cases, they are contractors. Regardless of who they are, these employees need to feel empowered to do the best job possible so customers feel that their time is being treated with respect. To do this, employees need to have access to the most essential information and tools so they can fix the problem in one visit. Do they have access to the customer’s case so they could prepare ahead of time? Do they have the proper tools and parts in their vehicle? Was this visit absolutely essential or could the problem have been solved more quickly over the phone? Failure to ask these questions when approaching appointment scheduling results in customers needing to explain their problem again to a technician, having already explained it over the phone or online. Worse yet, it can also result in the customer needing to reschedule the appointment because the technician arrived without the proper equipment or skills. The customer then needs to devote more of their time to finding a solution, rather than getting it right the first time.
#3: Integrate all systems
To achieve the transparency and control customers want and telecom operations require, cross-channel and cross-team integration is essential. Integrating communication channels, processes and policies provides consistent standards for employees to follow and for customers to expect. Just as it is important to avoid the extra time customers must expend to re-explain the problem to a newly arrived technician, it is critical to ensure information is shared seamlessly when customers are transferred from department to department. It is ideal to minimize the number of transfers over the phone or in-person, but when necessary, it is crucial to enable information sharing.
Too much effort means a bad experience
To create a seamless experience for customers from the moment the need for service arises, examine where your organization can lessen customer effort. Gartner has found that by tracking the CES and what drives it, organizations can improve overall customer experience. The result is happy, loyal customers and a competitive edge for your business. Additionally, Gartner found that reducing customer effort also correlates with more customers sharing positive testimonials of the company through word of mouth. With customers demanding more from their telecom providers in terms of the latest technology and fast service, telecom companies can reduce customer effort to meet these demands