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Technology is 'not a silver bullet' for customer experience

Customer experience, rarely the preserve of national attention, has recently reached a peak and cropped up in a pair of revealing news stories.

First up – big six energy provider Scottish Power has fallen foul of regulatory attention. Scottish Power had initially invested £200 million on new technology in order to deliver smarter digital products and services to benefit its customers. However, during the implementation of the new IT system, the company ran into a number of technical issues, resulting in a large increase in the number of customer complaints and an £18m fine by the regulator Ofgem.

In particular, the regulator found call handling, complaint resolution and billing to be inadequate, with customers failing to be treated fairly by the energy provider. The large fine "sends a strong message to all energy companies about the importance of treating consumers well at all times, including while new systems are put in place," according to Ofgem’s statement.

Meanwhile, BT, the market leading converged service provider in the UK, has announced that it is to invest £6 billion in fibre, 4G, and customer experience. The operator will hire 1,000 engineers and deploy fibre broadband to a minimum of 10 million homes and businesses with an ambition to reach 12 million by 2020.

Designed to fail

However, it is the investment in the latter that is the most interesting, given BT’s track record as the service provider with the lowest levels of customer satisfaction. This part of the investment will be made largely in the infrastructure required to meet new commitments such as call handling technology and case management, but also in service quality and reliability. BT’s Consumer arm plans to handle 90 per cent of customer calls in the UK by March 2017, and reduce the standard time to fix line faults by 24 hours. BT will also establish a case management service team to resolve problems for customers who have experienced two or more missed or unsuccessful appointments.

The disparity between the two stories highlights a vital but often missed lesson for customer experience – technology is not a silver bullet. It is, of course, a vital component to any successful CX improvements, but without designing and implementing accurate processes and services around the tools, new platforms are destined to fail – or even make situations worse.

Core pressure

One of the greatest challenges facing telecom and utility companies is how to move Customer Experience (CX) up the scale when more attention is typically paid to network and infrastructure improvements and investments. Understandably the ‘engineering’ response to CX is that the secret to success is simply more availability and capacity – the better the core service, the better the customer relationship.

Consequently, these sectors are inclined to count connections and units as indicators for ROI. However, in free markets this is not enough. In fact, serving a need is the base level of engagement, while emotional connection with customers drives greater revenue. It is consequently little surprise then that internet service providers were among those who received an average rating of “poor” in the 2014 Temkin Experience Ratings. These firms are all too often compromised by the myopic adage that “Uptime is king”.

Whereas in fact, a J.D. Power and Associates study found that when customers’ issues are not resolved on first contact, their satisfaction levels plummet. It is not the fact that an issue occurred that create the greatest risk of churn – it is the inability to fix it promptly. The likelihood that a customer will switch telecom provider jumps from 16 per cent to 30 per cent when the call lasts 15 minutes or more.

Complementary services

So what’s next? It’s important to note that telecom and utility companies are highly engineered service providers, therefore the rigour deployed in service and support processes is still paramount. Availability and capacity remain operationally critical and there are many costly underpinning contracts in play. But relying on technology alone to improve customer experience is not how to keep, grow and retain customers for a lifetime.

The trick is to design complementary services to work with these new technology platforms. Ensuring an enhanced quality of service and improved customer experience is the ultimate goal and must not be forgotten. The technology is simply the tool with which to achieve it – not the end in itself.

Deploying a technology platform will hardly lead to an emotional bond with customers – but processes and services, supported by the insights and speed of service delivery that technology provides, naturally will.

These companies must therefore quickly overcome the engineering culture to focus on building loyalty. There is too much at stake not to. A broken relationship that leads to a defecting customer is not simply a lost contract. Both of these competitive markets of utilities and telecoms focus – even depend – on upselling additional services. The inability to deliver services, identify root causes of issues, measure true sentiment, build customer profiles and appreciate the customer’s use of different channels therefore leads not only to a lost customer, but also leads to losing all the future opportunities that that customer represented.

Steps to CX

True CX begins when feedback is captured after every touchpoint - from surveys, voice, social and text – and, vitally, acted upon. True CX takes nothing for granted. Service availability does not equal satisfaction if frontline delivery is poor. Capturing sentiment mapped to service interactions delivers a single version of CX truth for customer management staff. The identification of poor experience allows companies to case manage any fallout to recover a customer close to churning, while loyal advocates can be identified and rewarded with offers for new services and products.

The good news is that the real engineering in place both at BT and Scottish Power is in HR, as both are increasing their numbers of CX staff. Both are seeing the value of customer-centricity and the potent combination of technology, resources and services.

The mantra is a simple one: CX should delight and not just satisfy a service level. Change this and retention, growth and advocacy will follow.

Image Credit: Igor Zh / Shutterstock

Andrew Smith, Director – EMEA Marketing, MaritzCX