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The Hidden Irony of Customer Service in Telco

I spent 37 minutes on hold last Sunday.

Thirty. Seven. Minutes.

37 minutes when my kids wanted me to join their afternoon Settlers of Catan extravaganza. 37 minutes when I wanted to give them my undivided attention. 37 minutes when I had laundry to do, food to prepare, dogs to walk. 37 minutes I didn’t have to waste.

And yet, after weeks of putting it off, I had no choice but to spend those 37 minutes, on hold, waiting to connect with my cell phone service provider, to upgrade my plan. I tried finding the information online, but my plan is complex, and the self-service options available on the company’s website addressed only very straightforward questions.

And so I waited, as I suspect everyone reading this post has done, at some point, under similar circumstances. In fact, the average person spends 43 days of their life on hold. Think about that – more than 6 weeks of your life, on hold.

What struck me as particularly ironic in this case is the fact that it was the very industry that provided me with on-demand access to mobile conversation that was so terribly ill-equipped to provide support in that same manner. It’s strange that the telecommunication space seems so vastly behind other industries in satisfying customers, given how progressive and innovative they are in other ways.

In 2016, the Institute of Customer Service released its Customer Satisfaction Index, and telecommunications ranked last, behind the likes of utilities and public service. The industry had the highest number of customer complaints, at 20%, compared to the average of 12%.

This is likely related to the fact that telcos rely heavily on voice support, and there is a great deal of data showing that customers favour self-service digital channels to have their needs met. In fact, as demand for fixed voice services has waned, telcos have lost material market share. More worrisome is the fact that this decline has accelerated by 5% (or more) annually, in some markets, as more nimble vendors step in to offer customers digital, self-service, on-demand interactions, along with better problem resolution.

I understand the dilemma, especially given my role at Ada, where I head up the marketing team. The pain is real – we see it every day. Companies are struggling to keep up with the mind-numbing volume of questions coming from customers and it is extremely difficult to break free from legacy support systems that used to be adequate but are no longer so.

But we are seeing some good signals at Ada that the tide is turning. Forward thinking telcos are recognizing that chatbot technology can address customer needs when they want and within the channel of their choice.

Understanding that interactions need to be highly personalized to deliver material value is also critical, as not all chatbots are created equal. Responding simply to frequently asked questions, while it may free live agents of some of their burden, is not as meaningful to a customer as being able to upgrade plans, purchase data or pay a bill.

I don’t believe a chatbot would have necessarily resolved my inquiry last Sunday. However, I absolutely believe that smart virtual assistance like Ada would have resolved 70% or more of the inquiries being handled by the call centre, thus freeing the agent to deal with my more complex inquiry, in perhaps only 5 minutes of hold time.

Wouldn’t that have been nice?

So if you head up customer service at a telecommunications company, and you’d like to give back time to folks like me, check out Ada’s latest white paper.

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