By Kevin Meltzer, Business Development Director at Consology
Just a few weeks ago, Cell C launched a massive brand campaign where they admitted what every telecommunications subscriber in South Africa already knows: the country’s cellular industry has a real problem with customer service.
Consumers in South Africa are crying out for a customer service champion who will finally do something about the service issues that plague the telecommunications industry. Whatever reservations one may have about the actual execution of the campaign, publically recognising the problem and promising to do something about it was a great idea on Cell C’s part.
Inconsistent and even poor customer service is perhaps the single biggest issue that South African telecommunications operators face in a market where it has become difficult to compete on price, network coverage or technology. It’s a problem that isn’t just limited to one of the country’s mobile operators. Indeed, it isn’t a uniquely South African problem.
Across the globe, mobile operators face the same challenge: efficiently servicing a massive customer base as their average revenue per user (ARPU) comes under increasing pressure. Their call centres are struggling to keep pace with the flood of calls they get from customers querying bills, looking for technical support or reporting faulty handsets.
Often, the call centres are understaffed for the call volumes they handle and are backed by legacy systems and fragmented processes. Added to the mix is the complexity of providing standard service levels for complex telecommunications products. Most networks face a stark choice: make unsustainably large investments in call centre infrastructure and staff, or let service levels slip.
As customers keep holding on for an attendant, their anger and resentment towards their providers grows. The problem is compounded by the fact that a customer who is calling into the call centre is generally doing so because he or she already has a problem, be it a dispute about an amount on the bill for the month or a service that is not working as advertised. It’s the one direct, human interaction the customer may have with the operator in a year, and it is seldom a great customer experience.
One of the ways that telecommunications operators and service providers should be looking at solving this problem is by introducing online Self-Service into their mix of channels. Self-Service systems could be used to allow subscribers to pay bills, research product and service offerings, apply for handset upgrades, activate services such as international roaming, check and change account information, initiate and track bill disputes, and more.
A Self-Service system can take a lot of the pressure off the call centre, freeing agents up to deal more efficiently with complex queries that the Self-Service system can’t address or to help customers who don’t have access to the Web. Most customers would love Self–Service from their Telco providers because it could spare them from visiting a dealer or holding for a call centre agent to carry out a transaction. Instead, they would be able to interact with their providers whenever they want to. And many customers now have direct experience of better service levels and 24/7 access from companies that employ Self-Service such as those in the banking industry.
With Self-Service options, customers wouldn’t need to wait for someone to post or fax them an account – they could pull up invoices online and print them. They could initiate and track a bill dispute or activate international roaming from their desks at home or work. That level of customer empowerment would make for a far happier relationship between subscribers and cellular networks. Self-Service portals are also great for engaging in customer relationship management applications, for example cross–and–up–selling. Telecommunications operators could use them to inform customers that they are eligible for an upgrade, market new services or advise subscribers to migrate to new contract packages.
Of course, there are massive cost-savings to be achieved by automating customer service processes. But the real potential lies in using Self-Service to take customer intimacy and satisfaction to a whole new level. Self-Service won’t solve all the challenges in the cellular industry but it’s certainly a big step in the right direction and could help to bring about the customer service revolution the industry needs so badly.