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The uncomfortable conversation that can transform customer service

Allstream president Mike Strople appears at the recent Canadian Telecom Summit to offer some advice on dealing with SLAs and more


Customer Exp Management panel June 17

This week I had to call my credit card provider and was put on hold for an hour and 20 minutes, to the sounds of soothing light jazz. As the minutes ticked away, the soothing light jazz was increasingly ineffective at soothing my increasingly frayed nerves.

Rather than hanging up in frustration, I stayed on hold just so I could rant to the customer service rep about how long I had stayed on hold — and almost forgot why I was calling in the first place. In this day and age where people expect instant gratification, that kind of customer service is unacceptable.

It was an example of an issue that came up amid the usual discussions around regulatory policy and competition at the Canadian Telecom Summit last week, where several speakers, including Allstream president Mike Strople, discussed how customer service in telecom needs to evolve.

We’re not just talking KPIs and scorecards anymore — customer service has to be a more ingrained part of the business, and front-line employees need to be empowered to make decisions that will benefit the customer, rather than escalating a situation to the point where the customer demands to speak to a manager.

And as Strople explained, it’s just as critical for business customers (including those who aren’t paying for preferential treatment), where time is money — if the network goes down, a business can lose thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“Our customer experience toward our customers directly relates to the customer experience that they provide their customers,” said Strople. “So it’s becoming absolutely critical for us.”

A good customer experience is not defined by a collection of systems and processes, but by a culture of putting customer needs first, he said.

“In our industry we have a long (history) of focusing on the reliability of services,” said Strople. But, these days, reliability is an expectation. Listening to the customer — and responding — is a differentiator.

In Allstream’s case, customer feedback has, indeed, resulted in change. One example is notification. “When an SLA has been breached, many of our customers find out at exactly the same time we do — in real time as it happens,” said Strople.

Making that change to the business model came out of an uncomfortable internal conversation. “But you have to get past that and realize this is the customer expectation,” he said. “Changing that mindset in our company is a priority for me.”

Though we’re more mobile than ever, we haven’t stopped evolving. We’re not just talking about the cloud anymore: We’re talking about the cloud of clouds, fog computing and the Internet of Everything. Fog computing, where services are hosted at the edge of the network (or even end devices or access points) can reduce service latency and improve QoS, supporting IoE apps. The game is changing — again.

The same is true for customer service, which used to be regarded (and in many cases still is) as a cost to be minimized. When considering, say, call centre versus email, the discussion was usually around reducing the overall cost per customer interaction.

But smart organizations — whether they service consumers or businesses — are no longer thinking about customer service as a cost to be minimized. “Now it’s a differentiator,” said Strople, “because it’s more valuable to my customer, not does it cost me more to take a call.”

 

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