Industry Solutions: Communication Sector Blog Conventional wisdom tells us that the telecom industry is generally safe from fluctuating consumer demand, but with this current recession, we may have to rethink this rule of thumb.
By Scott Sobers, Program director, Communications sector- Tivoli Software, IBM
This popular notion was initially supported by stating that the wireless data market experienced 7.3 percent quarter-over-quarter growth in the fourth quarter of 2008, an overall 38.7 percent increase from the fourth quarter of 2007. However, according to Chetan Sharma Consulting, this growth cannot be sustained in a continually deteriorating economy.
During these times, both businesses and consumers are scrutinizing costs, which leaves telecom service providers vulnerable to losing customers looking to cut household and business spending. Customers will be quick to drop services that don’t meet their standards, so providers need to go above and beyond to prove their value. Subscribers have many carriers to choose from, and for some customers, the deal-breaker may be differing qualities of service, both at the network layer and call center level. According to Stratecast analyst Karl Whitelock, service providers lose a large percentage of customers because of service issues. For some carriers, the number of lost customers exceeded 10 percent of their customer base.
Proper customer care is positioned to be a game-changer for wireless providers as it builds trust and drives satisfaction. Service providers are aware that maintaining a high quality of customer service is a key factor in customer retention, but reaching this metric is always a challenge. The inhibitors to superior customer care include weak communication between call centers and network operations and poor network intelligence. By being more proactive about identifying service issues, service providers can empower their customer care representatives with the tools to improve customer experience and help grow business.
Providers can employ a number of best practices to improve customer service. These relate to boosting visibility across the network, monitoring communications capabilities and prioritizing problem resolution.
Visualizing service quality
Understanding when a service impact occurs, determining who it affects and how it impacts the business enables providers to pinpoint and resolve those issues before a customer has a chance to complain about them. This can be done by collecting key data from different systems and from multiple vendors, which can then be used to simulate relationships across the network, applications and databases in order to determine which factors are most critical to the service. With this information, service providers can more effectively oversee the health, quality and availability of their networks and, when issues do occur, providers can quickly identify the problem, its cause and easily “link” the service to the system running the affected components. By streamlining end-to-end network management, service providers can prioritize their responses and communicate the relevant information to all parties.
Monitoring the customer experience
Besides keeping their eyes on the internal network, service providers will benefit from maintaining a real-time view into customers’ experiences. For example, being aware of how many customers are using a particular service lets service providers see how many subscribers are being impacted by service issues, which is valuable during the trouble reporting process.
Improving internal communications
Improving communications between customer care and network operations also helps providers solve network issues faster and more strategically. By providing the right intelligence to those who need it – operations, IT and customer care – snags can be resolved faster and with minimal impact to customers. For example, if a network supervisor can recognize an issue’s root cause, customer care can be better prepared by knowing why a customer is calling even before they describe the problem, thereby having a solution ready for the customer when she calls.
Prioritizing problem resolution
In the event that glitches occur, service providers have to make strategic decisions – which will they respond to first? What will each issue’s financial impact be? By linking their network and customer intelligence, providers can identify which issues affect the business most and respond to those calls accordingly. As a result, companies can prioritize efforts that offer the greatest value to the business and customer.
Beyond resolving service issues, managing the customer experience provides other assets beyond consistent customer satisfaction. By studying the data collected day-to-day during the experience monitoring process, providers gain knowledge about how customers use different offerings, which will be useful during business planning.
We are witnessing the telecommunications market migrate from a strictly voice-based industry to one that sells Web access, rich media content and business applications on cell phones. As this evolution continues, service providers will have to deal with the added responsibility of fielding service questions about data issues, which according to Stratecast take three times longer to resolve than regular voice service issues. Faced with this challenge, customer experience management is a valuable tool that providers can use to deliver positive customer satisfaction, high service quality and gain competitive advantage.
Scott Sobers is the program director for the communications sector for Tivoli Software at IBM. In this role, he manages the strategy and planning for IBM's solutions for communications service providers.