• April 1, 2006
  • By Coreen Bailor, (former) Associate Editor, CRM Magazine

Market Focus: Telecommunications: Sharpen the Focus on Agent Training/Answering the Call

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As wireless companies increase their offerings, training CSRs and delivering timely and adequate information needed to resolve inquiries grow increasingly difficult. According to a J.D. Power and Associates 2006 study, "Wireless Customer Care Performance Study--Volume 1," customers now contact their provider an average of 1.94 times per issue by phone, the highest level since measurement began in 2000. The main factors in the increase, according to the firm, are the rise of available, new wireless services and products, and how complex they are to use. "The products and services that they're offering now as opposed to two or three years ago have changed dramatically," says Kirk Parsons, senior director of wireless services at J.D. Power and Associates. "It's not just voice anymore." Enhanced functionality is enabling customers to use products for data-related activities like taking pictures, recording video, watching TV, and listening to music. "On the customer service rep side, they have to be trained on those. So, as you add additional services and products to the mix it becomes more difficult for a service rep to deal with all those problems," Parsons says. Adding to that challenge is the tech-heavy nature of the wireless industry. For example, if a phone manufacturer creates confusion because of how a phone is designed, the wireless carrier gets the customer call, according to Todd Beck, senior product manager at AchieveGlobal. Or, if a competitor introduces a complex or novel calling plan, confused customers call their own carriers for an explanation. "That means customer service providers must be adept at assimilating information from many sources, adding in their own experience, making educated guesses to fill in blanks, and then phrasing the answers in the way each unique customer expects to be helped," Beck says. "That's a lot to ask of any employee, let alone one in the typical high-turnover call center." Knowledge barriers also may be contributing to increased hold times as CSRs struggle to find the right answers. The average initial reported customer hold time of wireless companies is 3.57 minutes, up from 3.44 minutes in the previous report. "Poor agent training wastes customers' time," says Lior Arussy, president of Strativity Group. "It's an insult to...waste their time with people who cannot solve their problem. Part of the problem is that agents don't have...the information or authority to [solve] problems." Poor customer care can quickly translate into lost business, Beck says. "Because every carrier has affinity plans enabling free calls to other customers, when a wireless company loses an influential customer, they could lose that customer's entire family, social network, or coworkers." To deliver a more efficient and timely service experience, wireless companies are dedicating reps to specific customer inquiries. In the call center, specializing a certain number of reps enables them to become experts in that area, Parsons says. "Being a jack-of-all-trades service rep is [not] pertinent anymore. [It's not] a business model that will work." Answering the Call: A Russian telecommunications company turns to CRM to improve customer service. The Russian cell phone market has experienced tremendous growth in recent years, leaving wireless providers in that country struggling to serve an abundance of customers. MegaFon-Moscow, a division of MegaFon Group, is one of three telecom providers responsible for providing GSM wireless network coverage for the region surrounding Moscow (GSM is the standard wireless network throughout Europe and Russia). The company entered the GSM market in 2001 without a single customer. Since then, its customer base has ballooned to more than 3.3 million subscribers. As a result, the company decided to install a new CRM system in March 2005. "We wanted a vendor that wasn't going to give us an off-the-shelf product, so we chose Amdocs...to implement a solution around our business processes," says Ella Lokshina, director of customer service and CRM. The company implemented Amdocs CRM, and within two months of the implementation MegaFon-Moscow began seeing results. "Now, 80 percent of our customers do not wait more than 30 seconds when calling into the call center," Lokshina says. "We've also been able to increase the number of customer calls per CSR by 25 percent thanks to Amdocs automation." In addition, the company also has better call routing. "We can now route customers based on their customer profiles to a specific agent with specific skills," Lokshina says. Last, Amdocs CRM has linked MegaFon-Moscow's call centers with its stores and back-office operations. When a store employee enters a new customer into the system, agents and back-office employees gain access to the information in less than five minutes, according to Lokshina. And agents and store employees now provide the same services. "There's one system for everything," says Scott Kolman, director of product marketing at Amdocs. "Anyone, anywhere, at any time can get all the access to the right data. It's seamless." --Colin Beasty
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