Pegasystems’ Kevin Billings on the steps telcos need to take to avoid losing customers in the time of Covid
Historically, telcos have relied on models that accommodate a high level of customer churn. These attract new consumers with fantastic offers that are too good to refuse, though fall short when it comes to offering sufficient long-term customer service to retain them.
However, Covid-19 has completely disrupted this pattern. Over the past few months, customers have been avoiding upgrades or switching. In fact, global smartphone shipments fell 13 per cent year-on-year in the first quarter of 2020, according to Canalys.
This occurred for a variety of reasons, ranging from people’s increased dependence on connectivity to difficulties getting hold of customer services and financial worries about spending more in a period of uncertainty.
Yet a storm could be brewing, as customer issues have been steadily building – which could lead to telcos experiencing a mass customer exodus.
So how can telcos prepare for a sudden jump in the number of customers abandoning them and jumping ship?
And how should they shift their mindset to provide a better service in the long run?
AI has been part of the customer retention toolkit for a while, but now is the time when telcos really need to take advantage of it.
Using the technology, they must proactively identify the most vulnerable customers who are likely to experience payment difficulties down the line, offering advice and services before it’s too late.
AI can also be used to retain customers by providing more personalised offerings, such as modifying payment plans or specific device propositions.
By using these tools to detect customers who are experiencing issues with their service, telcos can prioritise their retention efforts. Engaging proactively in the provision of empathetic offers to get people through these hard times can help build the relationship and trust required for the long term.
It is also important to remember that where contact centres are still disrupted and customers are less willing to visit retail stores, pre-emptive outbound communication continues to be a primary way to forge long-lasting relationships.
Overhaul Engagement Models
With people relying on digital channels more than ever, it is time for telcos to develop a better engagement model in these channels and optimise use of inbound ones.
For example, they can launch ‘digital experts’ such as web self-service, mobile apps and intelligent assistants in the form of chatbots and email bots to deflect questions from the call centre and automate request completion and fulfilment.
This not only provides customers with a wider choice in how to engage with the telco, but also frees up customer service representatives to deal with those who need help most.
Make Use of Data
Making the most of customer data and putting it to good use is also set to be fundamental to reducing customer churn.
Static customer data is no longer sufficient to personalise engagement in the digital world, so telcos need to collect and analyse customer interaction data from a variety of sources – including owned digital, paid digital, outbound, social media and agent-assisted channels.
Without such an approach, it will be difficult to home in on the pain points and triggers that make customers jump ship. By using customer data to learn each individual’s interests in products and services, it is easier to predict their needs – particularly during periods of extreme uncertainty.
Using this information, telcos can react in a timely way and direct their customer services agents towards taking the right approach for each unique situation.
Assess User Lifetime Value
In times of need, telcos must reassess their retention strategies: instead of simply looking at such plans against sales offers in every scenario, a more considered, next-best-action approach will shift to retention only when a customer shows signs of potentially cancelling their contract.
That type of strategy will help telcos tailor their approach for an individual customer in a specific context and really encourage them to delve into their needs.
By using technology to determine what each next-best-action is worth, telcos can impact the lifetime value of customers by protecting or increasing revenue with retention offers or providing more cost-efficient digital service options.
Telcos that enable technology to judge between the propensity of the customer to accept an offer and its potential value can strike a balance between providing what the user needs and the benefit to the business.
Engage with Empathy
Empathy plays a role in conducting difficult conversations with customers – and for many, conversations have never been more challenging.
To communicate with empathy, telcos must guide service agents and follow journeys that may have commenced via other channels such as the website to build meaningful relationships.
By presenting agents and customers with only the required data to complete that customer journey, it is possible to simplify engagement and deliver meaningful outcomes. With the worry of increased churn as a result of Covid-19, the need to treat customers with the empathy they need has never been more important.
In the long term, telcos also need to reassess their pricing to encourage customers to stay, because consumer spending power is likely to go down as a result of a recession.
Technology can be used to help create economically viable solutions, such as offers of cheaper deals to keep people on. However, any changes must be drip-fed to the market due to the
For telcos to make effective use of all these strategies, they must take advantage of technologies available to them, particularly AI. Only by making such investments can they guarantee creating the right offers and engagement strategies to help customers through this difficult period, ensuring they have access to the products and services they really need.
Kevin Billings is director and communications industry
principal at cloud software company Pegasystems