It’s O2 so quiet – how CSPs can handle outages effectively
“We’re very sorry for Thursday’s network issues. We understand how important it is to stay connected, especially at this time of year. You’ll receive a credit for two days of your subscription by the end of January.”
That was the message customers received from O2 two days after a major network outage made phones across the UK considerably less smart. This message was also received up to four days after the incident – a lacklustre response from a company – and industry – whose purpose is to keep us instantaneously connected and up-to-date.
But of course, it isn’t just O2, writes Richard Knox, the telecoms sector manager at Rant & Rave. All telecoms, internet and utilities providers are subject to major outages. It’s a fact of life that, sometimes, things just go wrong. But where these providers can improve is in how they communicate with their customers when things don’t work. O2 is a good case in point; leaving it until four days after an outage to let customers know about compensation, as well as not keeping them updated during the outage, is not best practice!
So what should they be doing?
First, acknowledge the issue. Hiding from it only creates negativity. Customers know that the service is down and want to be able to manage their lives accordingly. They can only do this if the service provider has opened up about what’s going on and then advises accordingly. To be fair to O2, this is not the easiest thing to do; customers couldn’t receive emails on their phone and some were also not receiving messages, but plans should have been put in place for comms to get through in other ways.
Second, be proactive with such outbound communications. Customer’s aren’t unreasonable, they simply want advice about how to work around a network outage. Engaging in an informative, constructive dialogue from the off can only generate good will.
Third, such proactive messaging should be about more than just announcing a problem. Providers need to keep their customers in the loop by telling them how the issue will be resolved, when it will be resolved and how they can receive further updates. BBC coverage of the O2 outage showed why this is so important; small businesses, such as plumbers or carers, struggled to communicate easily, making it harder for them to do their jobs. Clarity on the problem and how long it will take to fix would have helped in contingency planning. Add to this the soft skills required to deliver this message with empathy and understanding, and customers will be more forgiving and look kindly upon a brand. After all, people want to talk to people.
Lastly, and most importantly, this type of communication is only possible if the capability for real-time feedback is in place, allowing for a more responsive and reactive dialogue. A one-way communications platform will not only disenfranchise customers, but also stop companies from getting the crucial information they need about satisfaction and service status. Can they capture the thoughts and feelings of the customer accurately? Is this being actioned? Are frontline staff prepared and engaged enough to drive this positive conversation? Service providers need to consider how their technological set-up and employee engagement strategies can answer these questions if they are to create a successful real-time conversation with their customers.
Incidents happen to all companies. Their ability to bounce back from them is determined by how close they are to their customers. By building this strong link between company and customer, problems can be handled more effectively, customer expectations can be more easily managed, and trust in a brand will be built. And as trust builds, the ability to withstand future problems builds too. Good customer service isn’t just a short-term activity during times of bad service; it impacts the bottom line, so should be top of the boardroom agenda for telcos.
The author is Richard Knox, telecoms sector manager at Rant & Rave.