What telecoms are doing right in customer service – Best practices from Telstra, TELUS, and Republic Wireless

Posted September 7, 2016

To avoid major outages, Telstra used an innovative technology solution to inspect its cellular sites and transmission lines for signs of trouble: aerial drones. This allowed technicians to identify and apply a fix faster than before, repairing and maintaining service to its 16 million mobile customers.

Telecommunications companies, like Telstra, have a tough job when it comes to customer service. Nearly every home and business has a phone or internet connection, and an estimated 68 percent of adults in the United States have a smartphone according to a Pew survey. Managing millions of phone lines and internet connections is a major challenge, and despite best efforts, systems can break down or stop working correctly.

When a customer needs help, telecom companies have a variety of response options. Taking advantage of new, innovative technologies and customer service strategies has the potential to revolutionize how these large companies handle customer sales, complaints and inquiries. Here’s a look at three key tactics:

1. Online self-support

When Millennials run into technology problems, their first response is to pick up their phone — but not to make a call. Rather, the device is often used to search for ways to solve the issue online, without having to speak to a customer service representative. In fact, a recent survey conducted by Aspect found that 73 percent of consumers want the ability to solve problems on their own.

Telecommunications companies have taken this feedback from consumers to heart with many offering a range of articles and troubleshooting programs to assist. For example, TELUS, a Canadian telecom provider and parent company of TELUS International, provides customers a variety of info, how-to and troubleshooting documents for its products and services through its online support portal. From this webpage, users can type their issue into a search bar or click through a menu of categories to find the information they need. Everything from step-by-step instructions on app installation, to in-depth user guides on specific cell phones, is available on the site and presented in a simple color-coded format.

Additionally, many companies, including TELUS, are taking advantage of interactive mobile apps where customers can view bills, manage their account and change their service options directly through their smart phone. Mobile apps also allow for proactive customer interaction through push notifications, informing customers of approaching data overage or indicating when a monthly bill is ready for review almost instantaneously.

Empowering customers to manage their accounts and solve issues saves both the customer and the company valuable time and frustration. In the heavily regulated and capital intensive industry of telecommunications, any opportunity to lower costs and increase efficiency is welcome.

2. Improved response systems

The preference for online customer service only appears to be growing, with many telecommunication companies investing in web-based solutions for sales and customer support. Email, social media and live chat options have the ability to improve response times while offering better tracking and data than voice phone calls.

Republic Wireless, a mobile phone service provider, has taken a unique and innovative approach to an online ticketing system. In partnership with Directly, an on-demand customer service app creator, Republic Wireless routes specific types of submitted questions to a small panel of expert customers. These designated experts help troubleshoot common problems and answer non-account specific questions, receiving performance rewards in return.

“Most tickets are about relatively simple things, thus Level 1 tickets are usually handled by real-life Republic customers via our relationship with Directly” says Jonathan Keene, Director of Customer Service at Republic Wireless. “Customers are invited to sign up with Directly, are provided training and tools, and are compensated for each ticket they handle. More complex issues are escalated to a Level 2 ticket, which is handled by the internal support team —the fastest-growing team at the company.”

Close to 30% of Republic Wireless support tickets are answered via this peer-to-peer method with the average customer receiving a response in under three minutes. Most impressively however is the 90% average Customer Satisfaction rating, indicating consumers appreciate this additional means of support.

3. Callback features

As much as the internet is changing customer service, call centers still play a vital role in the customer experience. When it comes to telephone support, customers want the ability to reach a live person with limited time spent on hold. In fact, a survey conducted by software company Velaro found that 60% of consumers believe one minute on hold is too long.

To keep call center costs down, some businesses opt to employ fewer representatives which can create lengthy wait times. To offset this, companies like Comcast offer a callback service, providing customers with the option to select a time window convenient for them to receive a call from an agent.

Cloud callback software provider Fonolo says callback services have resulted in abandon rates falling by 32 percent, with 63 percent of consumers preferring a callback option to waiting on hold.

Streamlining customer service systems

Customers understandably prefer to have their problem solved in the first interaction rather than being transferred around to other departments. Given the common merger and acquisition history of many telecom companies, a number of businesses have taken the necessary steps to create a more optimized Customer Relationship Management (CRM) platform to ensure a smooth customer support.

Multinational backbone and business network provider Level 3 Communications has undergone several acquisitions, including Global Crossing in 2011 and TW Telecom in 2014, leaving it with multiple complex billing and operations systems.

Christine Viera, the company’s VP of strategic marketing and customer service, shared how Level 3 is working to deliver a unified experience to customers calling in for support. “Behind the scenes, we’ve quietly merged some billing systems we acquired as we grew and now, all of our customers are on a single system. That means that our employees no longer have to navigate two different processes depending on the nature of our customers’ questions,” says Viera.

With billing inquiries serving as one of the most common reasons for customers to contact customer service, taking the necessary steps to simplify and combine the systems behind the scenes can play a significant role in improving satisfaction.

Never ignore opportunities when facing challenges

The telecommunications industry faces unique challenges with a wide net of customers, heavy government regulation and increasing demand for fast and reliable data. With these challenges comes new opportunities. Telecom companies are at the forefront of rapidly emerging technologies, and are poised to revolutionize customer service as they move into a new era of increased reliance on data services.

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TELUS International is a subsidiary of TELUS Communications, Canada's fastest-growing national telecommunications company, with $13 billion in annual revenue and 12.8 million subscriber connections.