Why can’t telcos get customer experience right?

The telecoms industry as a whole typically performs poorly when it comes to customer experience. So where does it need to change?

This will probably come as a surprise to no-one reading this blog, but wireless carriers, ISPs and TV service providers are among the worst performing industries in terms of customer experience, according to a report issued last year.

The Temkin Experience Ratings rank companies on how they are perceived by that most important of demographics when it comes to experience – the customers themselves.

And the results are not great. Virgin Mobile is the first telecoms firm to appear on Temkin’s annual list of the most customer-centric companies – at number 128, with a Temkin Experience Rating of 67%. T-Mobile, TracFone, US Cellular and Verizon all come stumbling after with equally mediocre experience ratings, but other than those named, no other telco, ISP or TV provider made the top 200.

Retailers, supermarkets, restaurants, banks, credit card companies, hotels, airlines, insurers, parcel delivery services and utilities: all scored higher.

Overall, the wireless industry averaged a 61% rating in the 2015 Temkin Experience Ratings and came in 14th place out of 20 industries. It also decreased its average rating, dropping by 1.4 percentage points over its performance in the previous year. So things are getting worse.

Meanwhile, ISPs and TV service providers received the lowest average customer experience ratings out of the 20 industries covered in the survey. “Internet and TV service providers are awful to consumers. The lack of competition continues to fuel this bad experience epidemic,” said Bruce Temkin, managing partner of Temkin Group, when the report was released.

And while it’s a pretty US-centric look at the industry, the same issues run deep across all geographies. So why is this?

I put that question to a number of telco executives on a recent Meet the Boss roundtable looking at what the industry needs to do to become more customer-centric – and the answers were illuminating.

“Telcos are not good at customer-centricity – it’s not in the culture”

“As a rule, telcos are not good at customer-centricity – it’s just not in the culture,” said one telecoms exec, head of consumer innovation for a major European operator. “One of the biggest challenges telcos face as an industry is how to become more customer-centric – and we’re not set up very well for this at the moment. Our organisation still has a yearly budgeting process, which means top-down defined systems. We’re not really set-up to incorporate bottom-up feedback into products, processes or systems.”

It’s a common challenge across the industry: how do you organise to be more responsive, and more attuned to the needs of the customer? “Being a telco operator is no longer about building a network in the hope that people will come,” said the CIO for a leading Middle East-headquartered telcos. “It’s about getting closer to the customer so we can better meet their needs.”

It’s certainly a problem that needs addressing. In Deloitte’s 2015 Global Contact Center Survey, customer experience is cited as the only real significant brand differentiator in an industry where technology and service are similar across all providers. And with increased competition – not just between the major players themselves, but from over-the-top service providers, too – the need to find a point of difference is only going to become more pressing.

“We need to think differently – not just about customer-centricity, but about agility-centricity,” argued one telecoms exec, head of IT architecture and strategy for one of the world’s largest mobile operators. “We are increasingly moving into the age of the shared customer, so we need to think beyond just being customer-centric. We need to look at how agile we are, versus the OTT players. Can we respond quickly to changing demands from customers, competitor offers, etc.?”

“This industry has come to be defined by the race to the bottom”

Perhaps part of the challenge is that this is an industry that has come to be defined by the race to the bottom. Cost is seen as everything, and thus the key metrics for many – despite lip-service as to the importance of customer experience – centre around operational efficiencies, revenue optimisation and how to squeeze more out of each potential opportunity.

But speaking as a consumer, I feel I’ve reached the stage where I’d happily trade a marginally cheaper contract for better experience. I may be in the minority, but the best way to prevent me from switching to another provider is to give me good reasons not to – in other words to make the experience better. That might mean ensuring I’m always getting the best deal possible, but equally it could mean better coverage, an increased range of services, faster issue resolution or just a general sense that the provider has my best interests at heart.

The Temkin Group rankings for 2016 are due out shortly, and it’ll be interesting to see how the telco-related industries fare this year. Will customer experience finally emerge from the shadows as a genuine area of focus for telcos? Let’s hope so – because whoever gets it right could not only gain a significant advantage over their rivals, but hopefully drag the rest of the laggards along with them.


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