How can telcos pay for rural broadband?

I read an Interesting article recently that describes some views from the new EU Internet chief, Günther Oettinger. He says that if telcos provide broadband to rural areas then they should be able to tie the customers in to long-term contracts – payback for delivering the infrastructure.

I disagree; surely the onus should be on enabling the telcos to innovate and create an infrastructure that provides equality of access and service terms? Having permission to just lock people in does not incentivise telcos to solve the underlying problem.

As I have blogged about recently, access and speed are the basic table stakes now – customers will not want to be held to ransom just because the answer is not yet available. As VFI have shown with their recent deal with ESB, there are innovative ways to address this challenge and the focus should be on incentivising telcos to innovate and keep the customer’s needs at the heart of their planning.

It’s all very well saying ‘access on a long-term contract is better than no access’ but what happens when the service drops and I cannot escape a long-term and expensive contract?

Matanuska Telephone Association Lineman works to bring high-speed broadband to Chickaloon and Glacier View

 

Photo by US Dept of Agriculture licensed under Creative Commons

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Teleperformance wins prestigious NOA award for CSR

Last night the National Outsourcing Association Annual Award (NOAAs) ceremony took place in London. The NOAAs are a bit like the Oscars for anyone involved in the service and outsourcing business.

Teleperformance won the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) award, something I am extremely proud of. Industry analysts often rank us as being one of the most competent and reliable companies in the business – as well as one of the most innovative – but this major award for our approach to CSR shows that we are really thinking about the impact of the company on people and the planet.

The reason we won the CSR award was our Citizen of the World programme. Citizen of the World was established in 2006 as Teleperformance’s charitable initiative to help the world’s most vulnerable infants and children meet basic survival needs and ultimately reach their individual potential.

Our multi-faceted commitment includes funding and sponsorship for abandoned baby shelters in developing countries, de-worming and other medical supply needs, food provisioning, computer donations to impoverished schools, clothing and toy donations, and victim transport funding.

Citizen of the World includes a global crisis fund to aid disaster victims on an ad hoc basis and world-wide participation of Teleperformance charitable volunteers to support the initiative’s goals.

We don’t just run these programmes as part of a marketing campaign for the group. On the first day any new team member joins our company, they learn about COTW and our Citizen of the Planet initiatives and how participation in these programmes is any important want to ensure the company assists the communities in which it is located.

I’d like to thank all the team members who made the COTW programme as successful as it has been and the NOA for recognising this. Thank you and congratulations to everyone in the Teleperformance UK team for doing the work that led to this great award!

buiding

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Vote now for the most respected contact centre professional!

Call Centre Helper is one of the most important sources of news and information for those of us involved in the contact centre and customer service business in the UK.

CCH recently asked their readers to nominate who are the most respected people in the contact centre industry. I’m very proud to see that I have ended up on the shortlist!

But that’s not all. The CCH shortlist also includes my colleagues Matt Sims from here in the UK, Mark Pfeiffer from the USA and Sanjay Mehta from India.

CCH is taking votes on the shortlist from now until the end of November. Presumably this will allow them to publish the top ten industry figures before the end of 2014.

I would appreciate it if you could take a moment to click this link and then vote for me. If you have time, please also add a vote for my colleagues. I can see many other friends and peers on this list as well, but I can’t ask you to vote for everyone!

Click here to vote on the Call Centre Helper website.

Respect

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Moving the customer experience moving from good to great

Industry analyst, Michael Gazala of Forrester, published a blog recently that will strike fear into the heart of any company with a merely average attitude toward customer service. Gazala said that the Forrester data on customer experience has seen the average level of service increase in every industry since 2007.

That’s every industry Forrester covers and every year for over seven years now. So if you are not including the customer experience in your boardroom discussions then there could be trouble ahead for your company in 2015.

The implication of all these increases in the average level of service is really that expectations are accelerating. Customers want more and those responsible for the customer experience today need to think much harder about managing loyalty, developing a mobile experience, and listening to the online buzz about specific products. My colleague Richard Nicholls recently blogged on the subject of how customers expect a great emotional attachment today and how this is essential for any company that expects loyalty.

Gazala highlights two key trends that are going to be important to watch in 2015:

  • Emotion has the biggest effect on customer loyalty, so it’s going to be a big factor in what companies do in 2015 – literally buying into emotional reactions from customers.
  • More surprises from upstarts; smaller companies with great ideas that help customers – like airbnb – will be more common. Large firms need new ideas for services and products that have a stronger emotional connection and this will often come only from new firms.

I agree with his predictions, in particular how loyalty is going to change in the near future. In 2015 it is all going to be about the way companies engage with customers, regardless of the free gifts they hand out.

What do you think of his other point about developing an emotional connection? Leave a comment here or tweet me on @matt_sims1.

Parking Lot.

Photo by Gaby Av licensed under Creative Commons

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How can tech help improve #custserv?

Tech Week Europe magazine recently listed six ways that technology can improve the customer experience. Now my first thought when I saw this was ‘only six’, but then it’s true that people are only just starting to notice how important technology is to the relationship between brands and their customers.

Briefly, their six tech improvements include:

  • Getting personal with CRM
  • Intelligent routing to the right agent
  • Location independence
  • First time resolution on any channel
  • Integrating social media
  • Workforce management in the cloud

Of course, updates in the technology world go far beyond the adoption of cloud computing and sometimes by focusing on the technology itself, the service delivered is obscured.

However, one thing is clear, customer service needs tight integration into a technology solution far more than ever because the way customers interact has changed.

There are many reasons I could cite, but here are just three:

  1. Customers are choosing the channels they want to use, so the brand needs to be watching and analysing online blogs, tweets, and other conversations. Discussion about your brand or products is out there and not always directed at you.
  2. Information on customers is falling into silos more than ever – marketing, sales, customer service need to get integrated so there is one view of the customer and their behaviour before, during, and after a sale.
  3. Companies that are managing multiple customer service channels need to consider how to create an omnichannel environment because customers are hopping across channels more than ever and they do not want to repeat information on a call because the agent cannot see Twitter conversations…

This goes far beyond a debate about the use of technology. The increased integration of data between various departments is a strategic shift in how many companies will go to market.

Have you seen your own approach to customer service change because of technology? Leave a comment here or tweet me on @aniederer.

technology

 

Photo by Cathy licensed under Creative Commons

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What price good service?

More than a decade ago, outsourcers sold themselves as technology partners, able to offer voice platforms that significantly reduced the cost of voice services.  Then came the age of ‘employee investment’, and those that could demonstrate the ability to attract and retain the highest calibre advisors won through.  Now of course, having the best technologies and the best people are just hygiene factors, and negotiations focused heavily on the ‘cost’ of service provision, with little or no consideration of the value that that service creates for the relevant brand.

Of course, to be a viable partner to any business/brand, we must be able to do it better and cheaper than those brands can do it themselves.  This is the baseline and any business buying contact centre services have come to expect this, and quite right too.  So the question outsourcers have been faced with is “what value will you add”.  Defining ‘value’ has been a challenge.  In some cases ‘value’ equals ‘cost reduction’; in others, it genuinely equals ‘how will you create more value for my brand and my business’.

Significant transformation requires significant investment and a dedicated focus at senior levels across both organisations.  It is neither cheap, nor easy, but it is achievable and outsourcers are in the best place to provide it if they don’t promise the earth for a shilling at the point of engagement.  Buyer beware here, and the old adage “if it looks too good to be true, then it probably is” is worth keeping in the forefront of the mind.  You don’t get anything for nothing, and organisations who genuinely want transformation, or value add, should engage in discussions around the base price for the base service, and then agree budgets and budget phasing to achieve longer-term goals, which may ultimately reduce cost of ownership through cost reductions and/or significant increase in revenue generation, customer acquisition, or both.

We sell people’s time, it is our most precious asset.  The ‘value’ that that time brings however positively correlates with the price paid for it.  The higher the salary the greater the experience.  The greater the experience, the higher the expertise.  The higher the expertise, the greater the level of satisfaction.  So, when a contract for contact centre services is negotiated, give consideration to the likely impact of driving down the price.  There should be a level of honesty about margins required to enable the right level of investment in the service.  A higher price in our business enables greater investment in expertise i.e. It is passed through.

This is of course no real surprise, but many don’t want to consider the consequences of driving a hard bargain and hope that it will be ok.  This has driven the need to buy services in lower cost locations, and take advantage of development grants.  All this to drive down the cost whilst  endeavouring to improve the level of quality.

All markets are now relatively mature however, and there isn’t a significant cost advantage to doing business in any one city in the UK over and above another.  With this in mind, and with outsourcing costs as low as they can probably go, the debates will hopefully turn to the real value that outsourcers can bring as a business partner.

With the millions of contacts we handle every year, and the in-depth knowledge we have of what drives customer behaviour, we really are in the best place to influence customer strategies.

Many organisations are now saying they don’t want to talk about AHT, and other traditional contact measures.  They also want ideas about what this should be replaced with.  These messages have not ‘landed’ all the way through all organisations though, and the desires to change the approach at a senior level is often ignored by those managing the outsourcers on the ground.  This disconnect can cause frustrations on both sides and more importantly, delays in driving the improvements in customer experience that will add real value to their brand.

The difference in approach in some sectors in their strategy for managing non face-to-face contacts versus their customer-facing services is stark.  For example, I don’t ever remember walking into a retail store and being asked my name and identification details before I’ve even explained what my query is.  Or having to go through an awkward process to identify how the shop assistant should refer to me, ‘Jackie’, Mrs Lowe, or do I have any other preferences?  “Mrs I’m in a hurry” might be my answer.  And, as far as I can recall, I can never remember anyone coming up to a shop assistant serving me and telling them they’ve been talking to me for too long, so please hurry up and get me on my way!  Instead, shop assistants are employed to represent a brand, portray the brand image, engage with customers in a non intrusive way, all with the objective to sell more goods.  Why are these basic principles forgotten when negotiating contact centre services?  The answer is simple, handling customer enquiries by any method other than face-to-face is seen as a cost.  We need to keep it simple, remember what we are endeavouring to deliver, and measure delivery in terms of affordability AND brand development.

Rather than seeing customer service centres as a cost that we need to continually drive down, see them in terms of the business they can drive when aligned with the overall business goals and reduce the cost of the service overall through proper alignment of the relevant functions across the wider business.  If the marketing team are driving contacts in to the centre because of a bug on the website, reduce costs by fixing the bugs quickly, not by reducing the time it takes an advisor to support the customer in need.  For those contacts you can’t avoid, make them count and use the opportunity to leave the customer with a great brand impression.

I’m looking forward to more discussions with our clients on the topics that will enhance their business.  Why are their customers getting in contact?  Is this a good or a bad thing?  For those that do have to make contact, how can we make that contact really count for their brand?  What processes should they change to enable them to sell more to their customers?  What practices should they change to enhance their brand image?  What should they pay to deliver the level of service that is right for their brand and their customers?

All other metrics are interesting and of course provide a benchmark for continuous improvement.  All of those metrics have an ‘optimum’ level though.  A long call isn’t necessarily a good call, but the average length of the calls handled by the advisors who achieve the highest sales or customer satisfaction scores is usually the best benchmark for the right target.  I’ve rarely been asked what this is.

This is a brave discussion for the wo(man) on the ground who is usually tasked with reducing the costs of the service.  Reductions at what real cost to brand and business?  Some measures of success are one-dimensional and entirely damaging over time.  There is a balance to be had but it is shifting the paradigm and engaging in debate that is truly enlightening and can, in its own right, be transformational.

What’s your view? Leave a comment here or get in touch via my LinkedIn.

Call centre worker

 

Photo by Alan Clark licensed under Creative Commons

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Time to stop talking about call centres

Is it finally time to stop talking about ‘call centres’? Even the broader term ‘contact centre’ fails to acknowledge the strategic role that customer service teams now occupy. But how should we start referring to call centres instead? Perhaps the customer experience centre?

Perhaps it is just going to be too difficult to enforce a change on the industry, but I foresee that the focus on customer experience we already see today will gradually change the terms we use.

Forward-thinking organisations today have realised that their marketing, sales, and customer service functions do need to work more closely together. The connection to the customer is being redefined. Companies need an holistic view of each customer, they need to know the entire history of their interaction with each customer across all channels, and they need to know which channels each customer prefers using. All this requires analysis and insight.

In many organisations this has been complicated because the area that took the lead on social media interactions has so far been marketing. Now these functions and customer interactions are blurring together. Customers are now seeking engagement before, during, and after a purchase. They are asking for a much richer engagement with organisations – not just advertising as the only pre-sale way that they might have interacted with the brand.

The customer experience is not just developing because of the introduction of social media. The entire process of buying has changed. The way customers seek out prices and information on products in addition to the way that they make a purchase ha all changed.

This combination of multiple communication channels, mobile Internet, price comparison, and instant search has entirely reshaped the way customers behave. All this has happened in the past decade.

Yet the people who manage all of this experience for millions of customers each day are still referred to as the call centre. Let’s see how far we can push the industry commentators towards using customer experience centre instead?

Caribbean call-centre

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