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The Customer Experience Journey: What can the telecoms industry learn from other sectors?


The pair described mutually execrable experiences in dealing with their operator, even for the most basic requests, and the sheer waste of time their attempts had engendered. Let’s just suppose that neither would provide a positive NPS for the mobile operator concerned!

This simple anecdote is at the heart of the problem and, unfortunately, is not uncommon. Even businesses that do provide excellent customer experiences, are fully aware that it only takes one negative interaction to significantly damage the relationship.

The experience economy
Customer experience matters and, as one speaker at the summit noted, we have now entered the ‘experience economy’. There are more channels than ever through which to communicate with customers, which simply means that there are more ways for organisations to build – and destroy – customer relationships. Today, reputations can be severely damaged in the flutter of a tweet.

In the context of telecoms, this has been an issue for many years. We can all remember an awful experience from one provider or another, but the question of how they resolved issues and how they compensated for lapses in performance is, as we shall see, of fundamental importance.

Although there were several delegates and speakers from telecoms operators attending the summit, the majority came from other sectors – media, marketing, banking, insurance, high street brands, start-up enterprises and so on. But it struck me that the telecoms industry could learn a lot from customer experience leaders, regardless of the sector in which they operate.

Across the board, every organisation represented at the summit proved to be highly focused on delivering a better experience to their customers, across all channels. Importantly, all of them had the candour to admit that they had got things wrong in the past and are still improving.

People vs. technology
Interestingly, one of the clearest messages that emerged was that, while technology is essential, it is merely the ‘platform’. All participants agreed that it is the customer experience agents and leaders – the people – that are absolutely central to any customer experience strategy. Any such programme is doomed to failure, unless you have the right people – pulling in the same direction – from top to bottom.

But developing a customer-centric approach requires cultural change. One participant at the event, lottery organiser Camelot, described how it considered customer experience to be 80% about people, and just 20% technology. As a result it is undergoing a cultural change programme that involves stakeholders spending time with Camelot customers, from executive level right down through the organisation.

Each stakeholder then becomes a ‘customer champion’ for their department, which is growing ‘customer experience momentum’ throughout the organisation.

Throwing away the script
A more dramatic response was described by online insurance specialist Direct Line, which has completely thrown away the scripts used by customer service reps during customer interactions. While parameters still need to be set through rigorous training, the company has found that it agents feel “liberated” and able to have a real dialogue with customers, rather than a rigid, robotic ‘conversation’.

Automation can help to deal with more basic requests and questions, which is where technology can help, but agents are confident in acting as the ‘touchpoint’ into the organisation, and enjoy dealing with more ‘interesting’ interaction. Of course, noted the speaker, change is slow, but improvements in KPIs are already apparent.

UK operator Talk Talk described the massive investment required to undergo a cultural change, and highlighted how digital transformation should absolutely not be seen as a way to cut operating expenses. Rather it should be viewed as a way of improving the existing experience and, importantly, to enable new revenue streams.

Using data-driven decision making is helping the operator to determine the ‘next best course of action’, for example, to determine which offers and approach would make the customer feel most comfortable?

There was much other meaningful input and insight from speakers. Children’s toy stalwart LEGO described its journey into the digital era. The company explained its cultural transformation, which places the individuality of customers and employees at its core. Like Direct Line, the toy company has thrown away its customer service scripts – and dress codes – in order to allow agents to express their own personality, and create ‘customer stories’ for individuals.

The approach includes meeting stakeholders frequently, an intense 3-week training period for agents, the hiring of multicultural service reps at its UK support centre to better reflect the demographics of its customers, the creation of fan groups, and sticking to its core competencies, rather than extending into areas that might compromise LEGO’s fundamental values.

Daily newspaper The Guardian, meanwhile, has focused on removing customer experience silos within the organisation by creating cross-functional teams that span different disciplines for product development and customer needs. The paper has created sponsors within the organisation to enable experimentation of products and services.

Importantly, the speaker noted that it was essential to give value to stakeholders so that they feel their ideas are given equal value. It again stresses the importance of creating a top-to-bottom approach to the customer experience journey.

Interestingly, summit speakers were asked to name some of the other companies that most impressed them in terms of getting the customer service experience right. Argos, John Lewis, and EasyJet were all highlighted as organisations that had created a joined-up, digital, multi-channel customer experience. No telcos were mentioned during the discussion.

The summit went on to touch upon many aspects of the customer experience journey, from data analysis to pricing and beyond, but what was clear was that the communications industry can gain valuable insight from other sectors, particularly as it’s role is almost as an ambassador, as the technological provider of the multi-channel communications technologies demanded of today’s customers.

Perhaps the day will come when we see telcos being recognised for their leadership in customer experience, but it doesn’t appear to be likely for the time being. There is clearly a lot to learn.