By Ramesh Gopalan, President – Healthcare and India Business, Hinduja Global Solutions
It’s been about 10 months since the entry of a certain new player into the Indian telecom sector, and it’s done a fair bit of ‘duniya hiladenge’. Reliance Jio has shaken up the market with its huge investments, unlimited data and free voice plans and no roaming charges strategy. What’s followed this is a sector on overdrive… aggressive M&A consolidation – topped by the Idea-Vodafone merger in March 2017, almost daily announcements of new plans in both voice and data, and the 3Cs – Customer, Cost and Churn – taking center stage.
In this scenario of fewer but bigger telecom operators competing to attract and retain customers in the world’s second-largest telecommunications market, the power is with the customer. Aspects like exceeding customer expectations, reducing customer effort, enhancing loyalty and advocacy thus become essentials.
But how does a telecom operator drive this, especially with today’s enlightened customer. With consumer mindshare switching continuously in the backdrop of market consolidation, the answer lies in enhancing customer experience (CX) or customer managed experience.
THE 5 STEPS TO HIGHER CX
1. Enhance customer experience at all touch points
Present-day customers, especially the Millennials, are used to quality digital customer experience (digi CX) in early adopter industries such as retail and ecommerce. To match this, telecom operators must offer an integrated, omni-channel user experience along with the right plans and value-added services to boost value at all customer touch points.
The rise of the still-nascent Omni-channel model in India has been in response to the absolute necessity to stay connected with customers and the realization that the latter are not restricted to only a single channel of communication. This operating model essentially synchronizes all user channels and is aligned to face the consumer as a single brand. The advantage lies in the consistency in messaging, the look and feel, and the overall experience… this differentiator can be the key to loyalty!
2. Simplify the user experience
Anyone connected to the telecom sector will tell you that it can be complicated – be it for a CXO or Circle Head looking to add subscribers, an industry expert weighing the possibilities of the latest technology or a customer grappling with various new products and plans. The complexity is at various levels - services, technology and organization.
With respect to the user, what if a customer could call the help-desk and the agent offers him a plan with just the rate, number of calls allowed and size of data… no other extraneous information/ conditions or additional billing clauses? That would make customers as happy as with an easy billing service with no long waiting.
In today’s competition-led era, simplifying the entire process for the customer – from ease of contacting the operator, to resolution in the first contact, to cutting down unnecessary maze, and a consistent user experience can make a big difference to customer satisfaction. We have already started to see the simplified plans from telecom operators… we need work on the processes now.
3. Self-Help/ Self-Cure to engage better
The last couple of years have seen telcos focus on offering data services with 4G coming in and content generation partnerships. Added to this are the Self-Help and Self-Cure Apps, which maybe driving down the number of voice-based enquiries (traditional customer support) but have opened up newer opportunities for BPM-led digital engagements – be it web, chat or social media etc.
So you now have a user logging into an app and using a menu-driven logic to get their right answer fast, à la Uber app. The shift from call volumes towards customer-led actions in customer interactions is only set to increase. Gartner predicts that by 2020, a customer will manage 85% of his relationship with an enterprise without interacting with a human. Hence, telecom operators will need a sustained approach on Self-service to engage better with customers.
4. The Retention Key
The conventional outlook of telecom operators in India has been to continuously add as many subscribers as possible. However, today’s scenario of competitive plans has seen quality of customer service gain attention as a key differentiator. In order to increase customer lifetime value, the bouquet of products/ services has been enlarged, with targeted upselling and flexible pricing based on type of service.
BPMs, which are often the voice of telcos to their customers, are adopting the same proactive strategy to attracting and retaining their client’s customers. The idea is to evolve to a customer-value-focused approach rather than just drive high volumes.
Take the example of a HGS client – a leading Indian telecom company, for whom we have a team focused on retention. This team handles almost two lakh interactions of customers who generate port out requests per month, with a significant spike in volumes seen since the Jio launch. However, some simple but innovative measures have actually ensured higher levels of customer retention. These include leveraging in-house technology to monitor changing industry and competitor data, sharing analysis with the client to create new plans, customized online campaigns and specialized desks to reach out to different customer segments, and faster contact i.e., within 15 minutes of request generation. Result: retention rate is up from 65% in September 2016 to 85% currently.
5. Personalization – a new customer reality
Global studies suggest that nearly half of telco customers are willing to pay more for a valuable experience. Today, a service is truly valuable only when it is personal… a new reality for businesses. A leader from the telecom industry recently spoke about the need for locking the right ARPU (average revenue per user) customers in the network for revenue market share to grow. In other words, attracting new customers at mass level is good… but retaining the right-value customers is even better. This means that ensuring personalized engagement will be critical.
So how do you make the customer experience personal? You collect the user’s historical data and sentiments, analyze it and share it across channels in the right way… so that this information can then be leveraged by an empowered agent or automated tool to create a unique experience for the individual. A simple use of first name in sales interaction can create a better connection. Or in the case of network disruption, send a proactive email to the customer apologizing for the network hanging for x minutes.
Several Indian telcos have started personalization initiatives targeting customers, using Analytics. However, it seems to be more prevalent on the sales and marketing front. Real-time, context-aware personalization has to shift faster across the customer lifecycle for greater impact.
Indian telcos have begun the CX journey, helped by learnings seen in mature developed markets… but there is still a long way to go. Their success will depend on designing a futuristic strategy that customers will expect three-five years from now… even as they continue to improve on network reach and stability. After all, the shift towards the customer being the center of telecom gravity is almost complete.