Speed + content = happy and loyal customers

Two recent news stories perfectly capture the road ahead for telcos and broadband providers in 2015. First is the news that Vodafone 4G customers can access NOW TV live and direct from from their handset – allowing access to content including hundreds of new movies.

In other news, the industry analyst Ovum has warned that at least half of all global telco customers are at risk of churn in the next year.

So, it’s getting harder and harder to keep customers loyal and the telcos are exploring content as an answer. These developments capture the balance that the telcos need to strike.

A smart phone is useless if customers cannot use it to browse the Internet quickly and easily. Likewise, fantastic wifi at home is great, but even better if that fast connection can be used to access interesting content.

The various content deals taking place in the market at present point to an increased desire by the telcos to share network costs, but compete on the content they are offering to customers.

I have talked about this several times on the blog recently, but this Ovum data highlights the importance of getting the package right for customers. Every customer now expects more than just access to a network – that’s just the most basic expectation. Customers are now looking to see which telco will add the most value to their subscription with content they can consume using the network.

Nederland beweegt

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I’m getting Emotional! It must be Customer Satisfaction.

There’s a frilled lizard running down the street after the pizza delivery man, getting emotional because his order is cold. Little Frill can’t understand why all customer service can’t be like First Direct. It’s a simple ad that reminds every organisation that when a patron contacts them it’s usually because there is a real demand, a question, a need to change or a need to express dissatisfaction. These needs are universal, regardless of sector or the organisation so why is there such a difference in the levels of satisfaction customers experience and how are these levels linked to our emotions just like Frill’s?

Even before we delve deeper into the potential root causes of satisfaction and dissatisfaction it is important to acknowledge that the latter has significantly higher potential consequences than the former as discussed in my previous blog, which is why the sentiment of the experience is paramount to this discussion.

The UK’s Customer Service Index clearly shows customers are most satisfied when speaking and interacting with Retail (food and non-food) organisations and least satisfied when conversing with Utility companies.  What we eat, what we wear, products that assist us in the home and in relation to our work are both fundamental and necessary aspects of how we live. The time we spend interacting with retail brands’ customer service is usually small for the most routine of these regular purchases when compared with the longevity or use made of the product. Gas, electricity and water (and the 4th utility – broadband) are however perceived as a necessity on a very different level. The correlation between the emotional charge connected with a customer interaction directly reflects how these different ‘necessities’ are perceived, and with utilities in particular this appears to drive a heightened expectation and response when communicating with customer care departments.

Some will say that the Utilities sector is naturally at a disadvantage due to the fact we purchase electricity and gas as a basic essential for life and we are a captive audience for the Utility companies, but parallels can be drawn with Utilities as the food market too is dominated by a number of large suppliers and anyone who has done a Friday night ‘big shop’ is unlikely to disagree that the experience is any more ‘enjoyable’ than selecting who will provide the gas to cook with and the electricity and water necessary to heat and light the home.

No one is oblivious to the psychological and emotional reward that we gain from food or the rewards we get from acquiring the latest gadget and the must-have designer label but we also garner emotional and psychological satisfaction from warmth and light – so what is the difference?

I would argue that the ‘customer outcomes’ we seek when contacting our utility provider are clear to us but are frustrated by the utility sectors indifference to the customer journey, their cost-loyalty equation and the draconian sign-posting to inadequate self-serve channels.

With a growing number of challenger brands in the Utilities sector the big providers must recognise this and strive to provide an emotionally rewarding experience or risk losing customers or retaining customers who are dissatisfied. There is a real cost to the providers in terms of their profits but also to the reputation of their brand and the industry in which they operate.

The Utilities sector can’t revolutionise frustrating aspects of the industry overnight, but change will be seen in due course, such as being required to improve their ability to switch providers.  There are challenges within the sector, like every vertical, for customers and suppliers alike which will always remain; creating a one size fits all tariff which is good for every customer for example. But the customer experience they provide and the journey they take them on is something they can alter and it is something they can revolutionise which is why it has to be a priority if they want to provide emotionally rewarding experiences and leave customers feeling satisfied.

So what should they do to improve customer satisfaction?

In a word the answer is ‘easy’ – be easy to speak with, make yourself easily available, make the choice of channel easy, make bills easy to understand, and make changes, updates and purchasing easy.  The Retail sector is way ahead on this front – Generally speaking they have lived in a more competitive world where customers can switch providers with much more ease and as a result they have prioritised being easy to deal with. It is easy to buy something online or order on the phone, it is easy to return an order or ask for a different size and you will find the vast majority of retailers embracing social media, chat, and YouTube.

Without sounding trite, this is how the Utilities sector can look to change to improve customer satisfaction and provide emotionally rewarding experiences, otherwise it risks remaining  an ‘easy’ target for disloyal and emotionally unattached customers and being keel-hauled as the benchmark for poor customer experience against all other sectors And ‘yes’ Frill, she did eat the pepperoni!


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How do you cope with new #custserv channels?

One of the biggest changes to the customer experience in the past half-decade has been the explosion of channels that customers can use to communicate with brands and the freedom of choice. By freedom, I mean that customers will often make a comment or complaint about a product on a public channel – such as Facebook – and expect the company to respond even if there was no message sent directly to the brand.

This is very different to the flow of information that used to exist with customer services in the past. A ‘customer care’ phone number or email address existed so that comments could be directed to the organisation. On receipt, the customer service team could then respond appropriately.

So the entire process flow has changed. Now when a customer has a question, they don’t call a specific phone number, they just Tweet or post the query on Facebook. But even though there has been some stability around Facebook and Twitter as the most popular social networks, new channels are emerging all the time.

This creates two major issues that have to be addressed. How does your organisation deal with new channels? If you don’t adopt new channels quickly then a swell of questions and complaints may be growing and unanswered. Perhaps even giving the impression that your brand doesn’t care about these customers because they are not communicating in the “right” way.

But even if you are flexible and ready to adopt new channels as they grow in popularity, how do you start measuring them? Checks, balances, and performance indicators are always required. You need to know if the team is doing a great job and different channels have different measures.

One thing is certain, this dual question of how to quickly adopt new channels and how to flexibly measure them is a question that will be asked more frequently in the year ahead.

Great Flexibility !

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Making sure your digital customer stays a customer forever

Social networks have changed the customer service industry beyond recognition. The creation of a multichannel environment where the customer chooses the channel, can jump across channels, and most of the interactions are public is a very different type of customer experience to what many in the customer service business have been accustomed to in the past.

But despite all the breathless statistics about the adoption rate for social customer service the fact remains that voice is still where most customer service is done and voice is what most customers prefer. Even when you take into account demographic preferences – younger consumers tend to favour social channels – there is still a lot of life in the voice call yet. Sometimes it is the quickest and most efficient way to deal with a problem.

However, this is not so simple. Customers who choose one channel to send a message usually like to receive a reply using the same channel. For example, if a customer tweets a question, the natural response is to tweet an answer, not to call on the phone and say ‘we are responding to your tweet’ on the phone. But in many cases voice is the final sign-off for many customer enquiries.

A customer may use an email or tweet or Facebook post to raise an issue. It may be responded to and a conversation might even develop, but if any private or sensitive information needs to be exchanged to resolve the question then this will probably be done on a call.

This channel switching is far more common than most customer service commentators appear to recognise and I believe that it is an important trend. An important measure of how good your customer experience is will not be just how good you are at managing individual channels – how quickly you respond to a tweet or answer a call – but how good your team is at managing these interchanges between channels.

This ability to handle the channel switch is going to be a business requirement that everyone is measuring  before long. For now though it is worth reminding people that voice is still a very important channel even for those customers who choose to get in touch on social networks.

my new job at the call center


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Content really is king – for telcos

Several of my recent blogs could be summarised with the expression ‘content is king’. I believe that the telcos are moving beyond their traditional areas of competition, such as network speed, and into an age where what they offer on top of connectivity will be the key differentiator for customers.

The use of ‘white spaces’ in broadcast spectrum plays into this. Both Google and London Zoo have recently undergone trials where they used pockets of unused frequencies between broadcast TV signals to broadcast their own bespoke content.

The zoo is broadcasting pictures of various animals live and network specialist Nominet is using white space to monitor water levels in Oxford. Sky is now exploring how these gaps can be used for smart city projects.

At present this seems like a niche project, but this kind of innovative use of spare spectrum capacity can create many new ideas. We are able to use Wi-Fi Internet now because researchers explored how the radio signals used to open and close garage doors might be developed further.

But the underlying trend of content being a focus for the telcos is the important message. If there is spare capacity and the networks can facilitate free or very low-cost broadcast then what can they offer that will help to attract customers to their network?

People may not tune in often to the animals live-stream from the zoo, but it’s an interesting idea and it costs almost nothing to provide the content. Think for a moment of all the sports events and festivals around the country and the opportunities are endless – content that is low cost and could be of value. Imagine if Sky hooked up every non-league football club in the country to their network so every game was available – even just to a relatively small audience?

Network speed really is no longer the argument or marketing proposition, it’s what I can see on a network that makes me want to pay the monthly subscription.

Let me know your views by leaving a comment here or tweet me on @simondillsworth.

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Customer service leading from the front

In my last blog I mentioned some of the most interesting approaches to technology that are changing the way companies – and even governments – are structured. Strategies such as cloud computing and app stores are having an effect on how companies are created and planned that exceeds anything we might have imagined just five years ago.

But the strategic area I am most focused on, customer service, is going to have a similar effect over the next decade. The ‘customer focused organisation’ is going to move from being just a marketing mantra to being a reality – with companies led from the areas where they most interact with customers.

This change can already be seen today. The move to multichannel service means that the customer usually dictates how an interaction takes place and most of the social channels are public, so your interactions with customers are visible to all. Examples of great service are plucked out and shared with friends; likewise the customer service disasters are also shared.

This change has led many marketing directors to realise that the customer service team has direct engagement with customers on a daily basis in a way that potential customers can all see. So customer service is being co-opted into marketing, or marketing is becoming a factor in how customer service is planned… either way, the importance of this customer contact has been noted.

Which means that the sales teams will now be interested, and the operations teams can use this close contact with customers as a channel for feedback. And the R&D or strategy team can use this contact as input into future plans.

In short, company executives are seeing that a great customer service function may well be their best asset. It’s the team that will lead product innovation, sales, and marketing into the future.

Have already you seen companies exploring these changes? Leave a comment here or tweet me on @matt_sims1.

Follow The Leader!


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There is no such thing as bad publicity – except when it’s your customer experience

Oscar Wilde famously once said: “There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.” The implication was that being in the spotlight is always a good thing, no matter what the context. People take note, start to talk about you and raise your profile with potential benefits to be realised in the future.

This idea is supported by a long list of individuals who despite never making any contribution to science, philanthropy, history or the arts, have thrust greatness upon themselves and remain front and centre in the media. It is this relentless media obsession that gives value to their very existence and apparently makes them desirable in some quarters of business and society.

Wilde’s aphorism may have been true for the circles in which he moved, but in the modern business era of customer experience management ‘being talked about’ demands the sentiment of the dialogue to be positive if it is going to be beneficial to the organisation concerned.

I was struck this week to read that a US retailer had tried to back out of a rather embarrassing Twitter gaffe by explaining the abrupt and sarcastic reply posted by one of its employees as a stunt to gain publicity.

This thinly veiled explanation followed a customer complaint, which was handled without compassion, empathy or common sense. The retailers post was soon taken down in an attempt to avoid bad publicity but before that could happen a screen shot was taken by another Twitter user who had seen the earlier rude response and subsequently shared the conversation; of course it soon went viral. Nothing can ever be deleted on the social networks today.

The benefits of first-rate customer service are clear  and include a loyal customer base who will recommend your business to others in their peer network, perpetuating new opportunities to broaden the products your existing customers hold, driving revenue, increasing market share and differentiating you from the competition.

The first of those benefits is powerful and evidence shows that recommendation is a proven model to increase customer acquisition with very little associated cost.  However, it is important to recognise a particular aspect to the human/customer psyche, which is that we tell more than twice the number of people about a bad experience compared to a good experience.  Your business therefore has to work twice as hard to give good experiences if you want the net effect to be positive for your organisation.

Therefore the careful handling and empathy needed to recognise and respond appropriately to the sentiment surrounding customer complaints is critical. Remedial action that falls short of your customer’s expectations today will see them defect while telling double the amount of people about their experience than yesterday’s happy customer will about theirs.

For business there is certainly one thing in life that is much worse than not being talked about and that is when your organisation has failed to respond appropriately to an individual whose customer experience has been found lacking.

Remediation activity is not the arena to test new customer interaction strategies, as loosely claimed by the US retailer – hardly a shock. But what may shock you is that without first-rate customer experience and in particular the right platforms, processes and people supporting your social media customer care programme, you may also become the victim of the power of the channel to highlight those businesses that fall short of the mark.

complaint dept

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