How the pandemic changed customer experience standards for telecommunications providers — for good
Customer expectations, in particular, rose sharply in the past year as more people work from home. Before the global pandemic, the share of employees working from home was only 4%. During the first lockdown in April 2020, that share increased to around 30%. At the end of January 2021, high levels of infections made almost a quarter of the workforce hunker down at home for much or all of the time.
Time spent working from home made many people reconsider their options. Previously, internet access was needed for only a few hours per day. After, all-day demand driven by the home office meant that the telcos' performance would now be in the spotlight for the entire day.
In light of rising expectations, the digital customer experience (CX) in telecommunications took on an outsized role. Temporary closings of sales and service centers caused the emphasis on digital CX to grow further.
High churn rate
A study conducted by Aspect clearly demonstrates the importance of customer experience in the telecom industry. Between retail, telecommunications, travel, financial services and big-box retailers, the telecommunications industry had the second-highest churn rate (27%) due to poor customer service — a rise from 23% the previous year.
In addition to the high churn rate, it is also striking that German telecommunication providers sometimes lag far behind other countries in terms of customer satisfaction. A survey conducted by Trustpilot in North America and Europe found that German telecommunications providers achieved a score of 1.7 in customer satisfaction on a standardized scale from 1 to 10. The United States rated 2.1, while Switzerland scored markedly higher at 5.9. This begs the question: How can telecommunications providers show customers they're serious about providing a positive service experience?
Improving customer experience in the telecom industry
As a first step, telecommunications providers should adopt a two-pronged, user-centric approach. Aside new products and services, the focus must be on network quality. Poor network coverage is one of primary issues plaguing customer experience in the telecom industry. If the customer experience lens reveals that a product doesn't meet basic customer expectations, it might be doomed to fail from the outset. By providing good network quality and satisfying basic expectations in a reliable manner, telecommunications companies establish a stable operation from which to expand their services.
Adding simplicity and clarity to all services and products is another step that leads to customer satisfaction and growth. Rather than adding more elements that increase the complexity of the product and service portfolio, providers should simplify their service and application structure. For instance, providers could automate their service ticket management to save costs and reduce the processing time of requests. Simplifying billing or reducing service errors are also good options. While these are complex solutions for a better customer experience in the telecom industry, it’s worth the challenge of implementation. In the long run, these effort will pay dividends in customer satisfaction and business growth.
Additionally, telecommunications companies should invest in analyzing their vast troves of data. Whether it's data from health, entertainment, fitness, finance and social media apps; insights pulled from customer interactions at physical touchpoints; or sociodemographic data, telecommunications providers are sitting on reams of data. Advanced analytics, among other methods, can provide excellent insights into peak usage times. This allows providers to take proactive action against network congestion. Similarly, the regular capturing of individual customer data can help operators distinguish between high-priority customers and those willing to switch. To prevent loss of revenue, it makes sense for telecommunications providers to focus their resources on top-priority customers.
From the perspective of customer experience, telecom providers should not only offer products with flawless functionality, but also add value to existing services. The pandemic made digital touchpoints even more important. That's why existing digital channels including websites, mobile apps and dedicated social media channels should be expanded.
After the crisis
The pandemic resulted in drastic changes for businesses and consumers alike, but the importance of customer experience in the telecom industry might never revert to pre-pandemic levels. Still, telecom providers should ask themselves some key questions:
Will expectations be lowered again?
Will some standards become more entrenched, even as people return to work in offices?
Will consumers turn away en masse from some providers because of poor support during the pandemic?
Time may provide some answers to these questions. But, to be safe and relevant in a changing telecom industry, the customer experience must be a high priority for all providers.
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