Accessible network data holds the key to better telecoms customer service
The telecoms industry currently faces a perfect storm of challenges that will require radical changes to existing industrial processes and practices. One such challenge, says Peter Batty, CTO of IQGeo, is finding a commercially viable way of extending full-fibre broadband to the remotest reaches of the country and meeting the government’s ambition of reaching every UK home by 2025.
Another that is less widely discussed is the growing need to ensure that customer service keeps pace with technology and changing consumer expectations.
With social and economic growth set to depend on superfast broadband, the continuity of businesses and public services will increasingly depend on responsive and proactive customer service strategies in combination with network coverage. With ever-intensifying competition for network providers and growing consumer choice driven by disintermediation and commoditisation of services, customer service has already become a crucial differentiator. If the quality of customer service fails to match the quality and geographical consistency of connectivity, this will harm brand reputation while also reducing the potential market size for telecom services.
Sea change in customer service
Full-fibre and 5G broadband will require a corresponding sea-change in telecoms customer service. With the introduction of full-fibre, users will justifiably demand that all aspects of the customer journey in all areas match the performance of the technology itself and the expectations set by other online providers. Location data on everything from the position to the condition of customer connections will need to be instantly cognitively available across a telecoms provider to create ’smart’ call centre and engineering services. In the long term, the industry will need to implement predictive, proactive, data-driven customer services similar to that which exists in sectors such as e-retail. It is ironic that the broadband industry’s own customer service model lags behind that of the ‘data economy’ it underpins.
This year alone, telecoms firms paid out £20 million (EUR 22.2 million) in customer compensation for delayed repairs, missed appointments and late installations. Recently, some 250,000 appointments were missed while 1.3 million people were hit by late installations. This has been exacerbated by the recent lockdown, when 53% of customers had difficulty even contacting their Internet Service Provider. The proportion of customer complaints also reflects deeper failings in the management of network assets, as 80% of complaints were driven by slow broadband and intermittent or total loss of service.
A key cause is that lots of critical data is stored in legacy Geospatial Information Systems (GIS), which are complex to use and often accessible only to engineers or GIS specialists, and are not directly accessible to most field technicians, contractors, call centre staff or customers. This means many unnecessary call-outs, repeated truck rolls, customer complaints or call centre requests that could easily be resolved if this data was more accessible. One of our customers reported that almost 40% of engineers’ time was spent answering questions from internal staff about the location of assets or the nature of a customer connection.
To address this fundamental disconnect, it’s essential to transform the legacy, centralised GIS model that creates operational bottlenecks and stifles the sharing of critical network information. A more decentralised and mobile centric approach empowers call centre staff and customers, facilitating faster complaint resolutions and ‘self-service’ access to data.
Customers could even answer certain queries themselves, reducing unnecessary calls and freeing up valuable engineering time. Today most field technicians cannot easily access network data and are often unable to locate the problem or plan to have the correct equipment to resolve a call first time. Inaccessible network data is also more likely to be inaccurate because it cannot easily be corrected by workers in the field with details of recent work or data errors. This creates a vicious circle of inaccurate data, costly delays and cancellations to repairs or installations.
Some pioneering telecoms companies are now reimagining the role that a mobile-first geospatial strategy can play in transforming their business. They are breaking down operational silos by creating and sharing an accurate network view with engineers, field crews, call centre staff and even customers. The data is being made available on mobile apps so that engineers can see the location of everything from a customer connection to a cable and plan repair times just as Google Maps enables people to plan journey times.
This empowers engineers to quickly identify the site and source of problems for speedy repairs or installations and feedback network as-built information. Creating a geospatial view of network data for field workers also enables telecoms to further improve data quality by crowd-sourcing the most current view of network assets. This creates a ‘virtuous circle’ where field technicians benefit from comprehensive, current network data, constantly feeding further updates to continually improve the speed and efficiency of their service.
Predictive monitoring & maintenance
The technology is integrated with Proactive Network Management to enable predictive monitoring and maintenance of services by staff across an organisation. The data is also being opened up to sales and call centre staff to create smarter customer service that can rapidly resolve technical queries, enabling more effective and efficient targeting of engineering resources. Forward-thinking telecoms firms are also beginning to share selected network data up to customers, creating more collaborative customer service through ‘self-service’ data access that reduces call centre demand.
Customers can also be harnessed as valuable data contributors with customer satisfaction and self-service error reporting that overlays with geospatial network data giving an important indicator of the quality of network service and asset information. A high volume of customer complaints and a poor rate of self-service in one area may indicate fundamental network faults that require quick action to prevent more serious network downtime.
A new model of customer service is needed to achieve the vision of full-fibre broadband driving nationwide growth and opening up larger markets. The industry needs to create adaptive, and predictive and open telecoms network strategies that draw on live data from sensors, staff, contractors and customers across their network. Creating a virtuous circle that constantly improves network data quality and sharing this accurate geospatial network view for all stakeholders is key to ensuring the highest possible customer service while leveraging the latest technology and meeting network rollout objectives. The key is for the telecoms industry to open its network data up to more stakeholders than ever before to drive smarter customer service based on an accessible, clear and current view of their network.
The author is Peter Batty, CTO of IQGeo.