Know your customer: Get consistent to get ahead

Top of the table for customer service is an enviable place to be for telecoms providers. In a sector plagued with low customer trust, being placed alongside top companies for customer service across all sectors is no mean feat. In the mobile market, traditional providers are now competing with smaller, newer companies to retain their market share

Several newer mobile providers have beaten the odds to get consistently great feedback from customers. Giffgaff, Asda Mobile and Tesco Mobile topped a customer satisfaction survey by Which? earlier this year (with scores of 79%, 72% and 70%). EE and Vodafone were in the bottom three, both with scores of 49%. These levels of satisfaction are particularly surprising given the limited customer service that some newer telecoms companies offer, and the fact that their coverage is no different from the main providers. Giffgaff’s model is particularly lean - with no call centres or shops, advice and support is only given through member-run online forums.

How have newer brands made this work? And what can larger existing companies learn from these differences?

Challenger brands know their customers

Customer service model alone is not the only reason challenger telecoms companies have higher customer service ratings. Their small size and ability to target a specific customer base from the off give newer brands a head start in customer service. With an online-only support service, giffgaff isn’t for everyone. But with online-only sign up, customers know the expectation and can use this as their baseline when they assess whether their needs have been met.

The ultimate goal – channel consistency

One area that challenger brands can focus on – and succeed in – is channel consistency. The ways in which customers interact with brands are becoming more diverse over time. Larger telecoms companies are now expected to offer support over the phone, via social media, on their website and in shops. The ultimate aim for companies is to be able to offer a consistently good customer experience to all customers, regardless of how they contacted the company.

It’s hard. And existing brands will find it difficult to provide consistent service due to broad customer bases, legacy systems and M&A integrations. In a way, giffgaff has cheated – channel consistency is a lot easier when you only have one channel. Tesco Mobile, however, has high levels of customer satisfaction despite having multiple customer service channels. Being part of a large national chain with many centralised systems helps Tesco Mobile punch above its weight in the TMT sector – and shows there may be opportunities for TMT to learn from the retail sector when it comes to customer service. They’ve also kept up to date with changes in customer needs since their inception in 2003 - their focus on creating the right tone and level of interaction for their Twitter channel has not gone unnoticed.

Embedding customer within the strategy for success

Moving from a siloed, separate customer service model to an omnichannel approach (one that is consistent and integrated across all channels) won’t be easy and won’t come cheap. But getting it right will be worth every penny. Customers will start to trust channels they wouldn’t have previously used and more queries will be resolved first time round due to consistency of information.

To drive consistency across multiple customer service channels, telecoms companies need to understand their customer base and ensure customers know what to expect. Customer touch points need to provide personalised and relevant information, and companies should work to understand which customers use particular channels and when they use them to target training needs. For example, if customers only tend to phone when they need an issue fixed urgently, training for call centres should focus on issue resolution and delivering positive outcomes. Understanding customer expectations for each channel will help companies focus investment and see the biggest improvements in customer service outcomes.

The road ahead

Channel consistency is key to customer service. Although it may not be wise for established brands to copy the lean models challenger brands have in place, they can still learn a lot from their approach. Understanding how to effectively engage customers and how they use products, services and channels will support alignment and consistency across customer interfaces. Lowering or simplifying expectations is not an option for existing companies. Instead, they will need to learn to be smarter and embrace omnichannel interactions. Get ready for a challenging but rewarding road ahead.

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Author

Cheryl Pilbeam Senior Consultant