The Consumer Ombudsman resolves disputes for consumers across a number of industries in the UK, including Telecoms. People use this service as a last resort when their complaint with a company is not resolved directly. Their annual report acts a weather gauge for customer issues and how well companies are able to answer them.
In the Consumer Ombudsman's most recent report the figures relating to the telecommunications industry are striking. 10 years ago, the Ombudsman Service resolved just over 500 complaints in the telecoms industry; this year, it again dealt with over 10,000 with over 70,000 new contacts. This is more than the Energy and Property industries combined. Of these, the most cited cause (at 37%) is customer service. Is this because of the people in customer service or is it caused by those individuals in the front office not have the tools to access all the information they need and the ability to action upon it? With telecoms operators looking to sell a increasingly wide range of services across a number of channels they have to ensure that they have given their staff the right tools to deliver the right level of customer service.
Customer problems are a fact of life in service industries, so alongside taking all practical steps to prevent and fix them quickly, it is vital that any complaints which do arise are dealt with as quickly and efficiently as possible. A complaint is the end result of a provider being unable to action a customer issue or request, and to complain to Ombudsman Services is a sign that the remediation process has failed. As a result every effort needs to be made to ensure that errors are rectified long before this stage is reached and this is where Telecoms providers are letting customers down. This becomes even more significant when you consider that many telecoms operators share networks and infrastructure which obviously results in similar technical performance. So it is how they interact with customers that can really make them stand out from the competition.
In order to do stand out, the process must be faultless to create the right impression and ensure that the customer feels valued. And yet according to the Consumer Ombudsman, many telcos are failing to deliver in this crucial area.
A new generation of complaints
Years ago the complaints to telecoms providers were primarily about dial-up services and landlines. But as the communications industry today offers wider bundles of services, complaints to the Ombudsman are growing in new areas. With costs now capped on mobile data roaming in the EU we have seen complaints fall in that area but the Ombudsman has had to expand to cover Pay TV due to growing involvement in Telecoms packages and complaints. Nowadays businesses and consumers are reliant on broadband, TV and mobiles. These are marketed in a simple and seamless combined package so customers rightly expect a high level of performance and customer service across these modern essentials.
In addition, telecoms providers are bringing products to market quicker than ever and their products are moving further away from traditional telecoms services. This means that the potential for errors to enter sales and billing processes is greater. The rise in social media also gives customers the option to respond instantly (and publicly) to the service they receive. If this feedback is negative, it deters new customers and damages the company's reputation.
Minimising complaints should of course begin by investing in the products and services themselves that are at the route cause of the issue. But it is also essential that companies optimise front office systems to log and manage complaints received via all channels through to resolution. This requires a simple set of tools that the front office can use that connects all of the back office and different services and results in a joined up experience across all products. This should be a key reason for consumers to take a range of services from a single company, not just a price discount. Some telecoms providers are recognising the value in this modern method of customer service and are making the investment in the back office. But more providers need to act - customer service is a genuine differentiator and as such is too important to ignore.
Connecting the dots
The new generation of cloud systems offer the ability to standardise processes like pricing, order capture and order fulfilment across the whole company. This leads to improved setting up of services and more streamlined operations which should reduce complaints of their own accord. These technological advances will enhance the order process as well as the customer's overall experience. With 21% of complaints about telecoms organisations related to billing, it's important that the amount to be charged is both calculated correctly and also clearly communicated to the customer. The importance of this has increased as operators are now offering a larger number of services than ever before. In addition to the home phone, telecoms providers are now offering services as bundled products, adding to complexity in the back office. If these orders are not correct upfront or fulfilled incorrectly the end result is unhappy customers.
Customers should also have the option of speaking to their provider by their preferred method, be it email, telephone, in store or using social media. The businesses need to respond accordingly and consistently irrespective of method. Following this first contact, customers should be able to communicate with the business through any channel they like. The provider should have immediate access to that customer's full record to ensure that the transition between channels is seamless. In order to make this work, telecoms companies must have a single customer view and be able to collect and read customer data on a centralised system, rather than storing data in individual silos based on channel or product throughout the organisation.
Clearly, telecoms providers need to adapt to make sure their customers are happy. Today's expectation of good customer service is a world away from where it was ten years ago. Telecoms operators sell similar services and share their networks and infrastructure with each other. So it is parts of their business such as customer service that genuinely set them apart and deliver on that marketing message we all see. It is those providers which achieve a single customer view and a joined up approach across every product and channel that will lead to satisfied customer interactions and outperform the competition. It is my view that whilst people buy because of the price and features a company offers it is the service they receive that makes them stay.