Customer service in telecoms: it’s all about better connections – by Rob Sawle

Customer service in telecoms: it’s all about better connections – by Rob Sawle

Humanity has made huge leaps in what we can do with technology, but for some jobs, you still need a real person. For instance, when it comes to customer service, 75% of customers say they’d prefer to interact with a real person even as technology improves. The reason for this overwhelming preference is simple — while automation has definite advantages, technology can’t yet replicate the level of assistance a real human with strong customer service skills can provide.

Why human-centric customer service is important

Back in 2020, the Covid pandemic forced customers to use digital services and channels for their everyday purchases, even those who didn’t normally shop that way. Small businesses had to set themselves up online to survive and we all got more used to a digital life. And on the whole, many people stayed there, resulting in a more permanent shift towards digital adoption. This also extended to an increasing acceptance of automation in customer service – digital self-service rather than in-person service. Not just in retail, but in all sectors. In some ways, this is positive – self-service reduces call volume, and allows businesses to focus on more complex work. And software tools like chatbots provide huge benefits to users, such as improved efficiency and 24/7 availability for customers in need. However, automation and an increased focus on digital channels does not sit well with everyone and is not always the answer. The Salesforce State of the Connected Customer report 2022 found that while 65% of customers said they prefer self-service for resolving simple matters, a sizeable 83% of customers still expect immediate interaction with a human agent when they need to actually get in touch with a company.

Customer service in the telecoms industry

The recent cost of living crisis has highlighted the need for human interaction and understanding in customer services like never before. And there is seemingly no industry untouched by its effects. Ofcom’s 2022 annual affordability study found that nearly a third (29%) of telecoms customers – around 8 million households – were having problems paying for their phone, broadband, pay-TV and streaming bills. That’s double the number of the year before  (from 15% in April 2021) and the  highest level since Ofcom’s records began. One in seven (14%) respondents said they had cut back on other spending, such food and clothing, to afford their communications services, while 9% said they had decided to cancel a service. And when a customer is upset or worried, or the situation  is complex, a machine is not going to give them what they need. Only real people can provide more thorough explanations of solutions, and deliver that vital ingredient, unique to humans: empathy. So how do you find the right balance? Here’s our advice

1.     Invest in omnichannel customer service

Companies with extremely strong omnichannel customer engagement retain 89% of their customers on average, compared to 33% for companies with weak omnichannel customer engagement. So, when determining a contact strategy, you may want to consider a varied approach to customer service. To make the absolute most of your employees’ strong customer service skills, try to ensure that customers can engage with people who can provide expert service whatever it’s messenger, live chat, email, or phone. An omnichannel interaction will often continue across many channels, so by having expert staff available at each customer touchpoint, interactions will be both seamless and enjoyable for the customer. Omnichannel strategies are also easily combined with automation: while real people deal with more complex topics on phone lines, software tools can provide round the clock support and convenient online solutions. Automation is especially helpful in light of the UK’s current recruitment challenges. Two in five of employers (42%) report hard-to-fill vacancies, , so companies may need the power of automation to make up for low staffing levels. But digital can not eradicate the need for a human touch in certain parts of the customer journey.

2.     Remember the importance of good training

One of the more popular means of ensuring strong customer service skills in employees is ongoing and thorough training. But it can be difficult for businesses to identify exactly how to create a training programme that meets their needs. Quality assurance is a key factor in ensuring effective staff training. By monitoring employee performance on a regular basis, then looping any salient problems back into training, businesses can ensure continuous development. Furthermore, businesses should try not to limit training to their onboarding process — staff will have stronger skills if training is offered throughout their career.

3.     Consider outsourcing your customer service

For some companies, to guarantee strong customer service skills, outsourcing can be a more attractive option than investing in recruitment and training programmes. Outsourcing means that you’ll have access to a skilled workforce very quickly, whereas training can be time consuming and does not guarantee that every agent will become an expert. When it comes to outsourcing for customer service, a common concern is that you won’t have the same level of control over your workforce and brand identity. To avoid losing control, it’s important to choose an outsourcing partner that can act as a seamless extension of your brand.

4.     Beat the competition with strong customer service skills

Delivering a great customer experience benefits everyone. Customers are happy of course, but it is good for your business too. Over 80% of customers say that a great customer service experience makes them more likely to repurchase even when given a chance to switch to a competitor. And acquiring a new customer can cost five times more than retaining an existing one,  Prioritising quality customer service is therefore a smart goal for businesses that are seeking to improve their retention rates and ensure success through customer loyalty.

Guaranteed expertise with Sigma Connected

Are you trying to improve your customer experience? At Sigma Connected, we offer a range of services to help you achieve this goal, from designing training courses to turn your staff into experts or providing you with expert staff ourselves. We have a proven track record for helping clients meet their goals, and ensuring the best possible experience for their customers. If you’re interested in any of our services, or have any questions about what we can do for you, contact us today.

About the author

Rob Sawle is one of Sigma Connected’s sector directors. With 20 years’ experience in energy retail and 10 years in the water industry, Rob has extensive utilities knowledge across customer service operations, billing, collections, settlements and acquisition, both onshore and offshore. You can connect with Rob on LinkedIn here.
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