Customer Service A Competitive Advantage For Middle East Telecom Operators

Published August 18th, 2010 - 08:01 GMT

As fixed and mobile markets mature and approach saturation, revenue growth for Middle East telecom operators is increasingly sought by maximizing the value of the existing customer base, complementing (or even substituting) gross addition strategies, according to Value Partners, a leading management consultancy in the Middle East. This is leading to trends in continuous improvements in operating efficiency that underpin bottom line enhancements and shareholder returns for Middle East operators.

"Customer care - traditionally perceived as a "necessary cost," - is rapidly becoming a key success factor," said Zoran Vasiljev, Managing Director, Value Partners Dubai. "On the one hand, customer satisfaction is a critical enabler for upselling, cross-selling and retention strategies, and customer service on their key sales channel. On the other hand, effective channel shifting strategies and continuous productivity improvements in call centre operations are essential building blocks of efficiency programs."

Telecom operators have become dissatisfied with the traditional approaches such as Interactive Voice Response (IVRs), which generate diminishing returns and, most importantly, do not produce sustainable competitive advantage. Value Partners representatives/ researches have worked with companies which have seen customer care budgets increase by 15% per year over 2-3 year periods, without any corresponding increase in customer satisfaction relative to competitors.

"Radically innovative models are emerging, achieving considerable success in short timeframes. However, we are now observing and advising on a shift to more innovative and smarter models which enrich the customers experience whilst simultaneously achieving greater cost efficiencies. We have seen clients increase sales by customer care agents by 70%, while concurrently reducing costs by 17%," said Vasiljev.

Value Partners advise that reducing call centre traffic in the Middle East involves reducing the need for customers to make support calls in the first place. "Recaller", customers calling back shortly after having spoken to an agent, or having visited the website, often account for up to 35% of calls. Proactive expectation management, for example with clearer scripts for call closing and corresponding agent incentives, has reduced this in several cases to as little as 15%.

Value Partners summarize the cornerstones of customer care models under three headlines: a "needs-based" and truly personalized approach to channel shifting; a customer-centric redesign of call centre operations; and managing "competitive auctions" between suppliers (internal and/or outsourcers) to achieve highest-quality and lowest-cost sourcing.

Value Partners suggest a phased channel shifting strategy. "First -build a truly multi-channel caring model, with all channels available to all customers and specialize channels by customer need, focusing self caring (IVR and Web) on simpler queries leaving agents to focus on more complex, mission-critical ones. Second - invest in real-time customer profiling, to truly personalize the customer experience on all channels. Third –seek "One Call Solution" when possible, but be obsessed in delivering "solution without recall" always by actively managing the customer experience and resulting expectations. Based on Value Partners' experience with major telecom operators both in mature and emerging markets, we provide a blueprint for successful deployment of these guidelines," added Vasiljev.

Another often-cited example is represented by sales made with little regard to customers' post-sale needs: sales agents do not always explain billing or provisioning details to customers, resulting in inbound calls to resolve issues like scheduling of deliveries or tariff changes. Through intelligent mapping of the customer journey from pre-sale to ongoing post-sale needs, operators can reduce the number of issues the customer needs to raise. In both cases, proactive reporting via email or SMS of the status of outstanding support queries will reduce the need for customers to make follow-up calls themselves.

Operators in the Middle East are moving towards reducing reliance on call centres by encouraging greater customer self-care through alternative media platforms, principally online and mobile portals. Customers expect web-based support services to be as equally comprehensive as telephone channels. Static information such as Frequently Asked Question pages may still be the most common form of online support, but these pages are usually inadequate to resolve many issues. To create a more responsive feel to online support, some leading operators in the world have employed Human Digital Assistant technology. Customers with support queries are greeted by an animated human face which responds to questions and prompts actions in a conversational manner, increasing the personal engagement of the customer with the automated support channel. The use of such avatars may be compelling, particularly in the Middle East where visual technologies via mobile devices are popular:

"Social networking is also increasingly being used to fulfil customer contact needs online. As telcos increasingly move towards converged product offerings, we expect to see increasing numbers of operators differentiate their service through these emerging customer care methods on mobile, fixed and web platforms, particularly given the cost efficiencies which can be achieved as a result," concluded Vasiljev. 

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