Cutting the cost of poor service in telecoms

Written by
Laurence Cramp

Cutting the cost of poor service in telecoms

Written by
Laurence Cramp

Cutting the cost of poor service in telecoms

Written by
Laurence Cramp

What is the cost of poor service to telecoms sector players? The answer is it depends who you are and at least for broadband providers they are about to be held to account for service standards.

How satisfied are consumers with telecoms operators?

Generally the answer seems to be ‘not very’ but it does vary. In the UK Customer Satisfaction Index published by the Institute of Customer Service, the telecommunications and media sector has the lowest ranking of all the UK industries it surveys (a score of 74.0 compared with 82.2 for the highest ranked out of 100). Even so this marks a 1.1 point increase on 2016 and a 0.4 point increase on the first half of 2017. The detail of the survey suggests that 43% of customer experience for telecoms is through digital channels – above banking, non-food retail and services.

The two organisations listed in the Top 50 are Tesco Mobile (18th) and giffgaff (44th). It’s notable that both of these are Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs) who have led their brand positioning on service, price and customer centricity. A recent survey from Ofcom suggested that 69% of its respondents said they were ‘very’ or ‘fairly’ satisfied with their overall mobile service.

This increases to 71% of users who have access to 4G on their contract. Service performance is a key driver of consumer experience but price, handset, quality of customer service and contract terms are also important.

Ofcom’s most recent review of service quality across broadband fixed and mobile operators suggested nine in ten (89%) landline phone customers reported that they were satisfied with the overall service they received. Ninety-two per cent of mobile phone customers reported to Ofcom that they were satisfied with their service overall with only 4% of mobile users having a reason to complain about their service in 2016.

The challenge is that customer expectations don’t stand still. Customers demand a seamless service that is flexible to meet their needs and available when they want it in the channel of their choice.

Whilst customers may be happy overall with their providers, the ‘moments that matter’ can make or break the service relationship and drive switching behaviour; whether a poor experience of moving house; continuing to bill a deceased relative; poor connection speeds or signal coverage; price rises and so on.

The impact on mobile operators

Success hinges on a company’s ability to deliver a consistent, high quality, multi-channel and personalised service – achieving this is no mean feat. This challenge is further complicated by revenue models being squeezed by companies such as Netflix, Amazon, and Apple. These organisations are leveraging telecoms network capacity to deliver their own services, while billing consumers for those services directly with a slicker digital first customer experience.

As mobile operators increasingly become providers of video content and digital services, they will need to focus more on giving customers a good experience. Where customers (according to Ofcom) have reason to complain regarding their mobile operator these complaints tend to relate to:

  • The service not performing as it should (42%) 

  • A billing, pricing or payment issue (33%) 

  • Dissatisfaction with customer service from a previous occasion or contact (10%) 

  • A problem with a repair to the service (6%) 

  • A problem relating to the installation or set up of your service (2%) 

  • Something else (1%)

Billing was also the biggest driver of complaints to alternative dispute resolution schemes., tending to be a particular concern for mobile operators because mobile bills are more likely to change month by month, and by larger amounts; for example, due to traveling abroad or changing tariff. 

The impact on broadband and fixed line providers

Broadband providers are faced with similar challenges in meeting a multi-faceted customer need. Clearly customers are increasingly price sensitive, able to understand and compare bundled deals for their broadband provision.

Access to broadband remains an issue with Ofcom estimating that around 1.1 million UK premises (4%) cannot access broadband with a connection capable of delivering a download speed of at least 10Mbit/s and an upload speed of at least 1Mbit/s.

When a communications service goes wrong, the outcome for the customer depends particularly on the speed and effectiveness of their provider’s response. Ofcom research on satisfaction with complaints handling finds that around three in five landline phone customers (64%) and just over half (56%) of all broadband customers who complained to their provider in the last six months of 2016 were satisfied with how their complaint was handled.

Nearly across the fixed and broadband providers service quality was the most common complaint, followed by billing or contract issues.

Penalising poor service

To address and improve poor service, Ofcom recently announced a new scheme to make broadband providers pay automatically for slow repairs, missed appointments and delayed installations. It is estimated that broadband and landline customers who suffer poor service will be due to receive more than £140m a year from this scheme. Ofcom proposed these changes back in March 2017, opening a consultation on the scheme until June 2017.

Ofcom cited 7.2 million instances where landline or broadband customers suffered delayed repairs, missed appointments or delays to new installations in 2017. Financial compensation, totalling around £16.3m, is currently paid out in 1.1m of these cases. The new scheme which BT, Sky, TalkTalk, Virgin Media and Zen Internet have signed up to will support around 90% of landline and broadband customers in the UK. Plusnet and EE have also indicated they will join the scheme.

Ofcom is also introducing new rules to ensure all SMEs are given clearer, more detailed information upfront about what service quality to expect and highlight how to claim compensation.

Ofcom’s research shows that 5.7 million consumers experience a loss of landline or broadband service each year. Engineers fail to turn up to around 250,000 appointments a year and about 1.3 million people are affected by late installations. There are likely to be a range of reasons why these appointments are missed by the broadband engineer, whether due to poor internal scheduling systems; missed customer commitments; technical issues; access and wayleaves or the lack of spares and parts required.

Either way, very long installation or repair times cause frustration and inconvenience for customers even if their expectations have been managed by their provider. In 2016 for example, 6% of orders took more than 30 days to be completed and 1% of orders took more than 60 days.

More than one in ten landline phone and broadband orders are not completed on the date agreed with the customer according to Ofcom. When a customer waits in for an installation but no one arrives in the agreed timeslot, not only will the customer not get the new service as expected but they may suffer from wasted time waiting in and having to reschedule the appointment.

What can be done from an operator perspective?

Placing a deep understanding of customers and their needs at the heart of business operation is a fundamental. Mapping the customer journey and other inputs is part of this process but it will only be successful if the business believes it and every part of the value chain pulls together to deliver the seamless service.

Scheduling can often be improved and optimised. Modern cloud-based systems allow for delivery efficiency and effectiveness and build better customer relationships. They are typically highly configurable, mobile and easily integrated, with the ability to self-learn from historical performance to improve accuracy.

Telling the customer what is going on and setting their expectation can make a massive difference. Leadent’s ‘Where’s My Tech?’ is a web app that allows businesses to deliver real- time appointment and technician information direct to customers. It allows customers to see all the essential information about their appointment, including the location of the technician in real time via their desktop or mobile device. It plugs into scheduling systems to retrieve appointment and technician data directly and present this information to the end customer in a user-friendly display with a single click.

Enabling customers to book and update their own appointments can also make a difference. Leadent’s uBook enables customers to book and reschedule their own appointments via a businesses’ website. Again, this fully integrates with good practice scheduling systems so that the booking process is managed to business requirements, available capacity and service level agreements.

Understanding and evaluating field performance is critical to driving improvement. Leadent has developed a growing suite of Field Service Analytics tools that provide the capability to examine job distribution and density alongside engineer coverage to understand where organisations too much resource coverage, and make smart, informed decisions on recruitment and temporary relocation. Isochrone analysis can also determine how far a resource can travel at various times of the day to enable an enduring focus on improving productivity and customer experience.

Making enduring change to align to your customer’s needs

Let’s not pretend. True customer experience transformation can be really challenging.

It’s all too easy to pay lip service in a workshop without making any sustained changes in your business. Crafting a great customer experience requires significant collaboration across different parts of your company.

It can require a shift in your strategy to deliver products, services and processes that are based on meeting customer needs. It can require a culture shift so that employees reflect customer-centric values and are motivated to deepen customer relationships. It can also require organisational change to break down siloes and allow your business to work cross-functionality in teams or task forces that live and breathe your customer needs and are change agents to make them a reality.

Most customer experience programmes are initially positioned as strategic (driven by a Board member or Chief Executive), but quickly uncouple from business objectives and outcomes, and shift to tactical measurement of customer metrics and net promoter score. As for any change programme a customer experience programme needs:

  • The right approach from the outset – ideas, innovation and transformation are essential
  • Real business benefit – the outcomes are what matter
  • The right commitment – in a sustained way with shared empowerment across the team!
  • Cross-business engagement – breaking down the silos through facilitated collaboration and the right expertise in place
  • Momentum to make them happen and keep making it happen

There are substantial awards waiting for telecoms organisations who continue to innovate and reflect a customer-centric approach throughout their organisation. As Ofcom’s latest proposals evidence, there are also significant financial penalties on the horizon for some of those who don’t and routinely deliver poor levels of service. We can help you to get it right.