It starts and ends at the call center.
Posted Jan 1, 2006
The mobile industry in the United Kingdom is undergoing what could charitably be called interesting times (in the words of a traditional Chinese curse). Interesting, because the challenges faced by those marketing their services have never been so extreme: Virtually everyone already owns a mobile handset and has a mobile service, and revenues from voice and text are falling with new legislative rules by the operators' watchdog, Ofcom, and the rise of the Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs). Furthermore, there is little to differentiate one operator's proposition from another.
With the increased choice and decreased points of differentiation--people just don't care too much about who their operator is. What does keep customers loyal is how they relate to a brand, and how well they feel it treats them. There is growing recognition of this, as operators increasingly advertise their proposition for existing consumers--a panda does not forget its cubs indeed.
Something that impacts strongly on brand perception and another crucial cause of the rising specter of customer churn is the inadequate experience customers have when trying to interact with their operator's support desk. The extent to which this is a problem, however, is poorly understood.
The impact of poor customer service
A recent poll* of 2,000 people across the U.K., conducted by YouGov, showed that consumers are jumping ship in significant numbers due to poor experiences with operator call centers. One in five fed-up mobile users have defected at some point. Particularly startling is the fact that amongst the valuable youth demographic (18-to-29-year-olds), who are meant to be making money for operators by buying premium digital content, churn is significantly higher: one in four have abandoned their operator.
Despite the fact that operators are taking an increasingly focused view of their customer service proposition, consumers are still being kept on the line at the call center for much longer than they'd like. The same research shows that 31 percent of callers are kept on the line for 10 minutes or more while their inquiry is being dealt with, with a small but significant proportion being forced to wait for an hour or more. Clearly this is unacceptable in a society that grows ever more busy, and ever more impatient, with each passing year.
Whilst churn is a matter of fact in the industry, operators cannot afford to get blase about it, and need to understand the extent to which customer interactions at the call center contribute to it. When brand value decreases as a result, operator efforts at expanding into additional services and sources of revenue, such as broadband access or wireless hotspot provision, will be undermined.
It starts and ends at the call center
Although there are an increasing number of methods for telcos to interact with their customers, including self-service tools on the Web and mobiles, the call center remains the best point for entering into a relationship with customers and yet it is often taken for granted. Despite being the one place where operators can actively engage with their subscriber base, it almost seems an afterthought, and is rarely, if ever, an active part of their proposition.
Whilst a call center is not the easiest thing in the world to get right, it is certainly not something to be ignored; nor should it be assumed that the approach of implementing more and more expensive CRM systems will necessarily solve all customer service issues.
With high staff churn, repetitive work, and a job that will probably get agents shouted at by complete strangers on a daily basis, the tools given to the agents who serve at your customer service gateway need to work for them, and not against them. It is a reality that agents struggle with IT systems, and are forced to negotiate multiple different applications in order to field a customer query. Another recent research project conducted by Dynamic Markets found that 66 percent of U.K. call center agents have to use three applications or more to serve customers on a typical call, with 27 percent using five or more.
For example, during the course of a fairly standard call from a mobile phone user to add a new service to her account, an agent will have to interact with the billing system to pull up customer details and add the new cost, the credit check system to make sure the customer is good for it, and the provisioning system to activate the service. We refer to performing this process, across three to four applications and multiple screens, as swivel-chair integration. It causes delay as agents stumble across the applications reentering the same customer details--and aggravates the customer who just wants to upgrade his text bundle from 30 to 60 inclusive texts a month.
A call to action
Operators need to see this YouGov research into customer churn as a call to action, to recognize that many of the problems for their customer service proposition start with agents struggling with this swivel-chair integration process, keeping 31 percent of consumers waiting for 10 minutes whilst dealing with queries. With consumers being increasingly demanding, having more and more choice, and with the increasing commoditization of mobile services, differentiators like a solid customer service proposition will make the crucial difference between, say, 25 percent and 20 percent churn--substantial numbers for operators with 15 million customers apiece.
About the Author
David Davies is vice president, products, for Corizon, and is responsible for driving the company's products activities, including strategy, product marketing, and product development. Prior to joining Corizon, David worked for British Telecom on a range of ebusiness initiatives in business development and product development roles, including launching digital certification and eprocurement partnerships and products. He holds a Ph.D. from Cambridge University, an MBA from London Business School. Please visit www.corizon.com
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