An increased focus on staff performance could help the telecoms industry escape from its customer satisfaction quagmire, according to speakers at European Communications’ annual customer experience seminar.

The soul-searching is needed in light of figures showing that the telecoms industry is still one of the worst performing sectors for customer satisfaction.

Telcos are living in Fawlty Towers, said Colt Technology’s Harsha Gowda Siddaveere, referencing the iconic British comedy series that centred around a hapless hotel owner (pictured above).

“If not for the damned customer we would be doing our job very well,” he joked.

Jo Causon, CEO of the Institute of Customer Service (ICS), took the industry to task on why it is the worst ranked for customer service out of 13 sectors in the UK, with the industry’s net promoter score at minus 4.9 compared to the UK average of 13.9.

Causon explained customer satisfaction is not all about price: in fact, the competence of staff was ranked as the top customer priority in an ICS survey, followed by staff doing what they say they would do in relation to complaints.

In third place was the competence of staff over the phone, with helpfulness in person in fourth place.

In contrast, price was down in 20th place.

Janne Ohtonen of Openet put this in perspective: “Telcos understand price and features but not relevance, brand and experience - who actually loves a telco brand?”

Luka Baranovic, Director of Customer Experience Management at Hrvatski Telekom, was another speaker who focused on the importance of a “human” approach when dealing with customers.

“We say we are all rational people. In fact our decisions and behaviour are not rational,” said Baranovic.

All customer behaviours are driven by emotion, he noted, with anger or fear for example powering customer complaints.

“This emotion is something you can benefit from or suffer from,” Baranovic said.

Understanding the role of these emotions means getting all teams across the organisation working towards the same overall goal, Baranovic said.

“The experience a customer receives is a sum of all of the decisions made in the company.”

Accordingly, in Hrvatski Telekom, all employees across all job functions are given a framework for how to make decisions based on customer emotions.

“It’s not just communication channels. It’s HR, it’s finance, it’s network, operations, support, technicians, maintenance,” Baranovic said.

“This kind of structure gives employees the right to behave in a certain way. It aligns everybody behind these causes.”

Dan Moross, Director of Customer Experience at stationary website Moo.com, which has won awards for customer service and boasts a NPS of 67, gave a non-telco perspective.

He described the importance of making great agents and said hiring the right people was key.

However, the telecoms industry views network issues as the biggest source of poor customer experience, according to a European Communications survey.

Editor Marc Smith presented other key findings from the research at the seminar, such as the fact that operators expect to focus increased customer experience investment on technology rather than on staff.

Andrew Blake, CTO of SpatialBuzz, agreed that networks remain the core product of telcos and will ultimately have the deciding impact on customer experience.

He explained how the company has worked with O2 UK to help the operator add intelligence to the network, crowdsourcing performance data from customer activity in the area.

This has allowed O2 to pre-empt customer complaints ahead of its standard network alerts, he said.

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