When the going gets tough, the tough get going to your nearest competitor
Telecoms operators are more vulnerable today than they have ever been, says Julien Rio, senior director of marketing, RingCentral. As the economic downturn starts to bite, subscribers will seek to pay less and cancel or change contracts in a shopping environment of intense and easily accessible competition.
If the 2008 crash is anything to go by, European telecoms network operators should expect their average revenue per user (ARPU) to dip by more than 15%, with churn rates rising by the same amount, according to McKinsey.
Surviving the recession means working under restricted growth and even tighter budgets. Interestingly, those telecoms operators that not only survived, but thrived, in the last downturn did so by moving early and delivering a set of focused high-impact actions.
Core to this strategy is putting the customer front and centre, dissuading those looking to switch, cross and up-selling to existing customers and seamlessly supplying the right information at the right time for new prospects. Although digital fluency has been on the increase across generations for a while recent Covid-19 related events have brought this to a head. Everyone from Gen-Z to baby boomers have had a 10-week intensive course in how to buy, sell and shop around online.
Before they choose to interact with your company, they will have googled their issues, read competitor reviews and watched self-help videos. And when they do choose to get in touch, they will make contact over WhatsApp, Facebook, the phone, Twitter and email.
Increasingly, contact is now being made in micro-moments, such as between appointments while queuing, on public transport, and so on. This means that when an existing or prospective customer gets in touch, they may begin the conversation on one channel and pick up again on another one entirely.
Although catering to customers in this manner may sound expensive, so-called omni-channel communication will delight customers, increase agent productivity and help keep customers thereby increasing revenue. After all depending on the industry it can cost up to 25 times more to convert a new customer than retain one.
High agent turnover has a number of reasons including stress, monotonous tasks and an inappropriate work environment. On this latter issue, 75% of agents reported being unhappy at work when the tools they use to communicate hinder productivity.
Unifying the management of digital channels into a single interface allows enquiries to be categorised and pushed to the right agent based on urgency and skills. With the merging of customer identities across channels, agents get a complete view of the customer and access to the historical context to better answer their issues.
During this continued period of working from home, internal communication is key to keeping your agents engaged and motivated to keep providing top-level service. Regular team meetings, especially via video conferencing, can increase employee satisfaction and create a community for your agents. Better team communication often leads to more collaboration, allowing agents to share ideas and develop better solutions. Keeping your employees connected can also reduce feelings of isolation created by social distancing, further increasing employee engagement.
Free your agents from monotonous tasks
As we’ve discussed, one common reason for agent burnout is having to field and answer repetitive questions, the answers for which can be found elsewhere. When it comes to costs to the business, savvy telecoms operators are turning to Chatbots to answer routine questions, freeing up agents to help solve more complex issues, which require a personal touch. Chatbots also have the benefit of being contactable 24/7.
Chatbots can make agents’ lives considerably easier, qualifying the request, ascertaining customer information and booking suitable times, during business hours, for a subscriber to get a call-back. Such flexibility will delight your customers and offers your agents flexibility, which will be appreciated and further boost their productivity. Moreover, so-called “smart routing”, a feature similar to Automatic Call Distribution (ACD), automatically assigns messages to those agents with the right competency based on urgency and skill.
While a chatbot, at least in a relatively simple incarnation, can answer only limited questions, for those requiring more depth, they can seamlessly draft in an agent to continue dealing with the customer on the same platform. For some, adding a chatbot to a list of subscriber-facing channels Facebook Messenger, Twitter could feel like the straw that breaks the camel’s back. But looking at it from the subscriber’s perspective, all they see is one brand, not five different channels.
Therefore, the only thing worse, in the eye of the consumer, is sending a message on Facebook Messenger, being referred to an agent and having to start the whole conversation again. The solution lies in an omni-digital platform that allows a company to manage all digital interactions from one unified interface.
Championing your agent
For those interactions that do lend themselves to agent engagement, agents need to be skilfully trained as experts on the products or services you offer. They need to be creative and should be able to come up with workable solutions for any problems thrown their way.
They need to have a “sales” culture and know they can go beyond simple assistance. Honesty can foster loyalty from customers in the long run if their issues are resolved appropriately. Trust gained in this manner can be leveraged into an opportunity to cross or up-sell new products at the right time.
Today’s subscribers are blessed with an abundance of choice. They can pick to whom they give their business and don’t have to put up with a service or a company that’s below their expectations. Excellent subscriber service can be your competitive edge. And a small advantage gained during the slow growth period will turn into a major advantage once the economy grows quickly again.
The author is Julien Rio, senior director of Marketing, RingCentral.