Free content – the answer for mobile operators?

My last blog talked about how mobile companies will start working together more often to share the cost of providing a basic network so they can then differentiate themselves on their service offering – which may well include the type of content available.

AT&T is following this strategy with the recent news that they are rolling out a sponsored App store where the App creators – or other sponsors – fund the data use by the end user. For the customers it means that Apps in this separate store can be downloaded and used without any impact on their agreed data plan.

Critics are arguing that it means AT&T can charge customers to use data and sponsors to offer Apps with the data use paid for so they get two bites at the cherry when users download these apps, but some analysts believe that this is an interesting strategy.

Analyst firm Ovum praised the AT&T initiative for encouraging greater mobile data consumption while extending the cost of that additional consumption to others besides the end user. “AT&T is able to encourage more usage on its network, while the sponsoring company is able to promote and encourage the desired customer behaviour on their Website or interaction with their online or mobile service,” said Ovum research analyst Sara Kaufman.

Personally I tend to agree with the Ovum view, but I would go further and suggest that this is the start of increased collaboration with content providers to further encourage customers to join a network – or stay with a network. The networks that win will combine quality content with a great user experience – the network has to be good, but so does the content.

What’s your view on the mobile sector? Do you believe that contracts are still sold on call minutes or have you seen additional services such as free content becoming popular? Leave a comment on the blog or tweet me at @simondillsworth.

$ at&t (David Byrne bike rack design)

 

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More mobile industry collaboration is good news for the operators – and their customers

BT has just announced plans to bundle a 4G mobile service into a complete package for Small to Medium-size Enterprises (SME) that also includes free wi-fi across the country.

This is hard evidence that SME working patterns are changing. More people are working remotely and expecting to do some heavy-duty work on their mobile that is more than just browsing the news headlines and scanning emails.

Data consumption is increasing and the average SME today has a far greater expectation on the data they allowed to use within a standard contract than they would have had even just a year ago. Small businesses need the volume of data these new contracts allow as well as the speed that 4G can offer.

This package has been delivered in collaboration between BT and another mobile company, EE. I have argued before that mobile operators will need to work together more often because their future focus will be the network quality and capacity. If they can share costs between operators on basic services then it helps all the mobile companies.

Bundled services such as this are really just the start. The mobile companies are starting to see that just offering a data package is not enough to create any market differentiation. They are likely to start becoming quite innovative in the services offered in the near future – with more partnership on the basics.

BT Tower From Primrose Hill

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True innovation comes from a deep understanding of the present – and past

One of the challenges faced by the Teleperformance team when they go out to meet prospective clients is that our competitors have argued that Teleperformance is ‘too big’ … the implication being that a smaller rival will be more agile and able to treat the customer as more important than a larger company could.

Of course, we have a large group of clients that are really pleased with the work we do for them and we often refer those who are thinking about working with us to this existing group of reference clients, but I think there is a bigger picture worth exploring.

When industry analysts and other key influencers hand out awards, there are generally two important measures of success; who is operationally the best at delivering a great service day after day and who is the most innovative and exploring where customer service is heading in future?

What’s exciting about Teleperformance is that we are often awarded the highest honours for both. Just look at the recent European Outsourcing Association awards last month where we won the overall title of the best provider of the year for our service, but our CX Lab in Portugal earned us the pan-European innovation award too.

We invest a lot in looking at how customer service will function in future. The debate on blogs – such as this – is just one part of that exploration, but all of our research into the future is based on a solid body of knowledge about how customer service really works today – and we operate in 62 countries so this can span various cultures too.

The idea for this blog came to me last night when I was talking to some younger team members who had never heard of Skylab, the first NASA Space Station. Other NASA success stories, such as the Space Shuttle, didn’t just come from a research centre; they were born from experience and knowledge of what works in the field. Without Skylab there would never have been a shuttle or the present-day ISS.

I believe that innovation and research at our CX Lab can be considered in the same way. Customer service has changed more in the past decade than in the previous fifty years – or more. We have many competitors that can offer a similar level of service today, but I don’t think anyone is looking as far ahead at the future of customer service as we are and this offers a great advantage to our clients when they are planning how to compete in their own markets.

What’s your view on the way customer service is changing? Leave a comment here or get in touch via my LinkedIn.

Skylab in Orbit (NASA Archive, 11/16/73)

 

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Getting Customer Service right is the strategic future for your business

The customer service function is the most important part of your business today – full stop. With companies like Ford and Jaguar Land Rover now declaring themselves ‘retailers’ first and foremost, this is not just some motivational mantra aimed at boosting the ego of customer service managers, I truly believe that we are witnessing a fundamental shift in the way companies are structured with a focus on customer interaction right at the centre of these changes.

It’s worth taking a step back for a moment to consider how most companies are organised. There are the traditional departments, or silos, that all have an individual function. Think of the marketing department, sales, IT, HR, and operations. Some of these are on the frontline of the business and directly account for the profit (or loss) of the company – like the sales team. Some of them are supporting functions, such as HR, that ensure the operational teams can function well.

The customer service function used to exist in that world of supporting players. It was generally unloved and just existed because your products featured a free-phone number and let’s be honest, someone had to handle the complaints and questions that came in after sales had been made.

Now and again a magazine feature would talk about the customer service function becoming a profit centre because happy customers are more likely to be loyal customers, but did we ever really believe these articles? For most companies the contact centre was just an unavoidable cost to the business.

But now, in the multichannel world of customer service, an enormous amount of dialogue between the company and customers all takes place openly online. Customers and potential customers can see the way that you interact with people because it’s all transparent and accessible at all times.

This means that examples of great service can be retweeted or shared on Facebook. How many times have you seen a ‘great service’ post going viral recently liked the Sainsbury’s coffee moment? And the opposite is true – examples of awful service are shared widely – the ‘United breaks guitars’ video being a classic example. Engagement with existing and potential customers has become the best way to market your brand and to generate sales.

So now the sales and marketing teams are interested in customer services because it is where the relationship with customers is created and nurtured. About a month ago I wrote on this blog that marketing directors all over the world are taking a keen interest in their customer service team. Proactive engagement has replaced picking up the phone to answer a complaint. If a Twitter user mentions that he or she is flying with your airline later in the day then why not send a link to the movies that will be available on that flight?

This is exactly the kind of engagement that is now taking place and it has positioned the customer service team at the heart of modern organisations. This will change how many companies operate their entire branding, PR, marketing, and communication strategies as all of this will be led by the way the company interacts directly with customers.

In the near future you can expect plenty of jockeying for position in the boardroom. Marketing directors will be trying to convince the CEO that they should be running the customer service centre even if they have never directly interacted with a customer in their entire career. Sales managers will be asking agents to cross-sell on every support call. And the existing customer service managers will be digging out the marketing books they haven’t at since their MBA. In reality these roles and titles also need to change, the business function closest to supporting and impacting the customer experience is the real deal.

Indeed the times they are a changing, but one thing is clear. The customer service function has become the most important component of any modern company structure. This is a great industry to be in right now and will continue to evolve in ways we can’t yet imagine.

Have you seen any organisations where the customer service centre has started leading on sales and marketing too? Leave a comment here or you can reach me on LinkedIn here.

Land Rover del Ejército del Aire

 

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Putting the ‘app’ into ‘happy’ – technology will provide a great leap forward for customer service

In my last blog I talked about the need for customer service executives to get a grip over the multichannel world that is already with us. The problem is, that even if they do start managing every known channel, the customer will always want more. And better. And faster.

Customers don’t care about the way you organise your contact centre. They don’t care that you might have 1,000 agents taking calls and only 5 handling Twitter enquiries. To the customer the brand needs to answer their enquiry however it is sent – your internal customer service silos are of no interest.

In our business this is called the ‘omnichannel’ and it affects every sector, although retailers appear to be the first to be working really hard to get it right. It’s a simple concept to understand, but to make it work really well is – well – really tough.

Imagine a customer visits a store, buys a product then gets home only to find it’s faulty. On the receipt is a phone number and email address so they quickly send an email from their phone asking what can be done because they are too busy to visit the store again.

After a few hours, and with no answer to the email, the customer starts tweeting angry messages that mention the product, the store it was purchased from, and the terrible customer service because nobody is getting back. After the tweets remain unacknowledged the customer finally calls the helpline and the agent asks for all the information that was sent in the original email. When the customer complains that all the information has already been sent, the agent replies saying ‘the systems are not connected so you have to give me all those details again.’

This is a fairly typical scenario. Now imagine if the agent at the contact centre had responded by apologising and reassured the customer that they were already on the case because they saw the earlier email. This might go a long way to placating an angry customer, who might even tweet a message of thanks for the great service they finally received.

Perhaps the company involved could have answered using a different channel – calling the customer as a response to the email? In most cases it works best to respond using the same channel that the customer chose to use, but now that customers are regularly using at least six channels for support it is important for companies to be able to draw a true likeness of who their customers are and what they are doing on the various channels specific to the customer experience outcomes they require.

This is not simple. The contact centre might not have a lot of information on the customer. How do you match a caller to an email if you don’t have some connecting data? The social channels are even harder because that is all external data – Facebook owns all the data on their users, you can’t include all Facebook users as a part of your internal customer database.

But it does prove that technology is going to be the answer here. We are now building systems that can provide agents with a much better picture of the customers they are interacting with. The omnichannel may still appear to be a distant mirage to some, but with the right systems and agents in place you can amaze your customers and turn them from detractors into supporters in an instant. And there’s always the ‘app’. We expect to see more and more customer service apps as standard to allow customers to connect with their chosen brands and a channel of preference using an app which will help identify them to the customer experience management team immediately.

Have you personally experienced a great omnichannel moment where a brand offered some great insight that helped you? Leave a comment here or tweet me on @matt_sims1.

Best Shop Ever

 

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Multichannel customer service isn’t innovation; it’s simply what customers expect today

How many blogs or articles have been written recently that talk about multichannel customer service as if it is the next big thing? Really? It’s not what the board should be talking about in strategy meetings that are designing a future agenda because its already here, right now.

In my opinion companies running any kind of customer service function should consider that customers are already comfortable using at least six different channels. This may sound like a lot, but we are only just getting started.

Let’s start with the simple ones. The voice call, email, and chat, probably launched from the corporate website. But then add to this the two most popular social channels, Twitter and Facebook, and then the review sites or forums. If you work in hospitality then what customers say on Tripadvisor can trigger sweet dreams or nightmares.

That’s half a dozen channels that most customers will now be familiar with and already using when they need help. Of course there are many other social networks and specialist forums that often offer a way for knowledgeable customers to directly help others. The landscape is continuously evolving.

Google just retired their Orkut social network recently and Facebook is applying their expertise to the Oculus Rift virtual reality system. The Project Glass videos that demonstrated the concept of Google Glass before it was a product were only published in 2012. Things are moving fast. It doesn’t take a great leap of the imagination to see a world beyond smart phones, where wearable technologies similar to Glass can transport the user to a new world.

Consumers will almost certainly use these new tools to contact brands. They will be asking for information, making complaints, and buying products. In a couple of years the executives managing customer service will be trying to include virtual environments in their multichannel strategy and wondering how to make it work – in the same way that many brands couldn’t understand why a consumer would ask a question on Twitter rather than just calling the toll-free number.

Anyone with a customer service responsibility today needs to step back, to stop thinking that multichannel means answering a few tweets with amusing replies that might be retweeted. The way society communicates as a whole is changing and this means that the customer service function needs to consider that the journey to multichannel customer engagement is just the first step on a long road to the future.

Have you seen any organisations that are really excelling at multichannel support for customers? Leave a comment here on the blog or tweet me on @matt_sims1.

Oculus Rift

 

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All I Want For Christmas is Full-On-Sourcing!

Its July 25th and I’m wondering when a particular member of my family will drop me her annual SMS letting me know she’s started her Christmas shopping!

I have diligently refused for many years now to rush my life away and won’t begin to consider what gifts to buy and for whom until December. Assuming I get to the Post Office on time, I will be done and dusted by December 16th!

online_christmas_shopping

I can’t help wondering however what huge numbers we will see reflected in this years statistics illustrating the growth in online shopping. Last year House of Fraser, Debenhams and Amazon reported significant increases in online sales. House of Fraser had the ‘best ever Christmas  sales’ according to Econsultancy.com mostly generated by online purchases (up by 57.7%), Debenhams enjoyed a 27% increase and Amazon saw 426 items per second sold on Cyber Monday alone! And it didn’t stop with Christmas, the IBM Digital Analytics Benchmark revealed that on Thursday 26 December 2013, online sales increased by 40.4% compared to Boxing Day 2012. In addition:

  • Sales completed via mobile devices were also strong, growing 63% year over year, and exceeding 45% of total online sales.
  • Smartphones drove 29.9% of all online traffic versus tablets at 28%. When it came to making purchases, tablet users drove 29.4% of online sales, while smartphones users drove 15.8%. 

Its clear the ubiquity of the high-speed, broadband enabled, multi-device consumer environment is undoubtedly going to drive more and more purchases through brand e-commerce sites.

Already this year retailers are planning their strategies to support and optimise this seasonal demand through the introduction and development of omni-channel solutions to meet the order volume increase that begins in late September and rises inexorably to a peak around mid-December. At any other point in the year, maintaining brand reputation through the provision of excellent customer experience management  is pressured enough, but in the run up to Christmas its a huge responsibility.

In our business what we do to help meet such a ‘Dante’s Inferno’ of customer service challenges has been described to me as ‘full-on-sourcing’. It captures perfectly that sense of every business function area operating at full throttle – in HR and training, technology, front and back-end services, operations and logistics, when eight days a week are simply not enough!

I’d like to think the concept of ‘full-on-sourcing’ may in time come to describe not just the power we have in our industry to help ensure seamless and friction-free customer experiences at critical seasons of the year. I believe it may also one day perfectly describe the totality of what we do to ensure brands are able to plug in to any aspect of sourcing they need by accessing with ease ever evolving people, process and platform strategies to maintain efficient and cost-effective business models, drive revenue and sustain growth – all year round.

In short, not every customer is like my sister, in fact if they were some of the most exciting developments in our capabilities and innovations may never have happened! For the rest of us, lets hope our favourite brands are considering their ‘full-on-sourcing’ requirements in plenty of time for the Golden Quarter in 2014.

In anticipation – Merry Christmas!

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