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The Human Imperative for Telecom Contact Centers

Delivering superior customer support is arguably tougher than it’s ever been. The bar has been raised through greater communications industry competition and explosive volume in new services, making it difficult for Telecom customer support to keep up. However, today’s customers expect competence and speedy resolution of their issues without compromise. The cost of switching is low—as Telecoms are painfully aware.

Customers want human contact—but they want it on their terms. Customers will evaluate telecom experiences with the contact center based on the amount of effort they must expend to get their issue resolved. This includes factors such as, inability to reach a human; repeated contacts to resolve one issue; lack of follow-up by the agent; and transfers between departments to try and find the right knowledge and authority to get their issue resolved. All of these are considered contributors to unacceptable effort levels.

Unacceptable effort and inconvenience makes customers unhappy. Research by Harris Interactive found that, “82% of respondents are likely to stop spending money with companies as a result of a bad customer experience, with almost half saying that they would be extremely likely to stop.”

However, telecoms that get contact center interactions right stand to reap high gains:

87% of respondents rate the customer service agents’ knowledge of a product or service as important to their ongoing experience with companies, with 68% saying it is very important
83% rate friendly, engaging customer service reps as important to their ongoing interactions and experience with companies, with 33% saying it is very important
Over 75% of respondents stated they are likely to continue spending money as a result of an exceptional customer experience, with 63% indicating they would be extremely likely to continue

Four Simple Words

Establishing empathy with customers is critical to defuse frustration that can get in the way of issue resolution and to reinforce that the telecom recognizes the value of the customer doing business with them. The words that convey this message are simple; just not used enough or in the right context.

  • I’m Sorry.

These two little words have become a big deal with legal teams fearing they expose their companies to liabilities. But the context is what matters. An agent who can empathize with the customer’s situation and says, “I’m sorry you’re experiencing this issue,” can defuse a frustrated situation and form a partnership with the customer in solving the problem much easier than if they act as though it’s just another call during their shift.

  • Thank you.

Unfortunately, these words are seldom used sincerely. Often they come off as a script read at the end of a call as part of closing the case. But an agent who can express their gratitude at the customer’s willingness to work with them to resolve the issue can leave the customer with a happy feeling. And the way they feel at the end of the call is what they’re most likely to remember.
The way your contact center vendor trains agents in soft skills, such as empathy and addressing the customer’s situational context appropriately, will go a long ways toward achieving the happiness that engages customers and encourages them to continue doing business with your company.

If, instead, your contact center agents attempt to engage with customers based on policies and scripts that are difficult to personalize and come across as stilted and rote, that happiness level will be difficult to achieve. It’s akin to trying to talk to a computer that keeps flashing an error message no matter what you try to do. It’s not human and it’s not receptive to context.

The Big Picture of Customer Value

Customer retention is a big deal in mature markets where gaining new customers is generally based on getting them to switch from their current providers. A contact center vendor who can train agents with a competent approach to the happiness component and to clearly understand the big picture of customer value can help the contact center to become a quantifiable contributor to downstream revenues.

  • Lifetime Value:

Rather than focusing on the amount of the subscriber’s current payment, the ability to see the potential lifetime value of the customer can help the agent to quickly determine the appropriateness of actions and offers.

For example, a customer with a $200 per month account who’s been with the Telco for 6 months should be retained to ensure break-even from customer acquisition costs. A customer with a $200 per month account who’s been with the Telco for six years and upgrades their mobile device every two years, renewing a two year contract, is worth much more and may be a good candidate for up or cross sell offers.

  • Referral Value:

Family and friends are highly responsive to recommendations. In today’s digital age, nearly all of a Telco’s customers will have some level of value in relation to their social networks. How many people they can influence and their level of reach across existing customers who may participate on the same social platforms is an important consideration that should be addressed for both retention and switching value. It will also be reflected by your company’s Net Promoter Score (NPS).

  • Reputation Value:

In line with referral value, reputation value is the benefit or loss to your brand integrity that could be caused by social mentions from customers in relation to happy or unhappy experiences with customer support. Sometimes, it’s worth keeping a customer who is only marginally profitable based on the damage he or she could cause or the advantages that are possible due to their inclination to comment about their experiences on social media.

A Little Humanity Can Reap Big Rewards

Your contact center provider should be able to demonstrate how they would recommend that you create customer retention programs—driven by happiness and low effort—to reinforce the lifetime value of each customer appropriately. Additionally, the vendor you select should show an understanding of both referral and reputation value and how a customer’s ability to impact both has changed as customers have embraced digital technology and social platforms.

A contact center vendor that can keep pace with the nature of the changing customer environment and create programs focused on engaging your customers in a friendly, knowledgeable and empathetic manner is an asset that drives quantifiable business value. If only being human hadn’t become so complicated.