My bad. My really bad! Telco customer service is as awful as ever

via Flickr ©  alanclarkdesign (CC BY-ND 2.0)

via Flickr © alanclarkdesign (CC BY-ND 2.0)

  • New report surveys Top 1000 global telecoms service providers
  • Telco sector worse than any other industry on the planet
  • Voice call answering times increasing. Covid blamed for pre-existing problems
  • 65 per cent of telcos never respond to subscriber emails

Published this week, the Customer Service Benchmark Report on the telecommunications industry for September 2020 by Netomi, the San Francisco-based AI company and developer of human-computer interaction technologies such as intelligent conversational chatbots, shows that, globally, telcos and CSPs continue routinely to deliver some of the worst 'customer service experiences' of any industry on the planet.

After long years of promises, pledges and countless expensive PR efforts to convince telco subscribers that their suppliers are totally customer-oriented and utterly devoted to providing the very best of empathetic service and problem resolution, the simple re-proven fact is that telcos are as bad as ever. So bad in fact that even the reviled and despised ISP sector does better than them. Well done chaps.

Even today, while telephone support remains the predominant channel for telco customer service interaction, the waiting times for a customer to be connected to an agent are the longest amongst all industrial sectors - and they are getting even longer! Telephone hold-time is actually increasing and subscribers are more frustrated and angry than ever. That's why they would much prefer to save time and keep their blood-pressure within healthy parameters by using email, but the study shows that just 53 per cent of telcos worldwide provide an easily accessible email address for customer interaction.

What's even more remarkable, but not all that surprising given the abysmal levels of telco customer service, an astonishing 65 per cent completely ignore the customer emails they do get. Indeed, they don't even bother to send an automated message acknowledging that an email has been received, never mind going to the fuss and bother of actually attempting to answer subscriber questions or resolve problems. 

As the Netomi report points out, the provision of a positive customer experience by telcos should be more important than ever because it is intimately linked to customer retention. Many's the time and oft has it been proven that subscribers have no brand loyalty where operators are concerned. There is no emotional or any other kind of attachment to a carrier for the manifestly evident reasons that this report reinforces.

There is no wonder the great majority of users have no regard for their suppliers. Grim experience over many years has shown them that there's little to choose between telcos in terms of services, quality or price and so they churn away to a perceived better deal and then churn away again when they find they have jumped from the frying pan into the fire.

Promises, promises…

Telcos are always promising to improve their customer services because a happy, or, at least a moderately contented subscriber is less likely to enter the byzantine maze of hellish traps set before them by Kafka and Son of the subscriber retention team as they try to negotiate the cancellation of a subscription. I can't count the number of times I have been at press conferences where telco CEOs have promised to tackle the issue because they have been told that first rate customer interaction and "personalisation" genuinely are a brand differentiators. But then nothing happens. It's the same every time. As the wise men have it,  "fine words butter no parsnips" - whatever that means. Doesn't sound like good news though.

The new Netomi research analyses not only telcos response time, email support, quality of interaction with the customer and personalisation but also "empathy". Yes, empathy! Well, don't expect it and don't go looking for it from telcos, to them they are mutually exclusive concepts. With the outbreak of Covid-19, telcos could have and should have risen to occasion and demonstrated empathy as their subscribers buckled under the ravages of the pandemic and, in many cases struggled to pay bills. They didn't. The Netomi report shows that just four per cent of telcos in the survey made any attempts to help out customers either proactively or reactively. 

Indeed, TelecomTV has received many reports that telcos have been and still are blaming Covid-19 for customer relationship problems that existed long before the virus began to spread and are using the pandemic as an excuse for the steadily worsening services they now offer.

The survey also shows that even when a subscriber does receive a timely response to a problem or query, it may not be relevant or meaningful. Basically, a quick response often results in an incomplete or misleading answer that forces the subscriber either to give up in despair (and when that happens it's one more open ticket ticked off the a support team list and one step closer to achieving management goals) or to use email and thus enter the miserable system again via another and almost equally frustrating and ultimately often  useless route.

Unsurprisingly, telcos in the Asia-Pacific region had the best customer service and outperformed the rest of the world.

Of course, Netomi is not a disinterested observer. The company has its own drum to bang and duly does so, pointing out that customer service solutions provide tools, integrations and automation across a wide range of agent desk platforms, including the likes of Zendesk, Salesforce, Freshworks and Gladly and these can be instrumental in increasing customer satisfaction.​

That said, the new report adduces yet more new empirical evidence to add to the already existing mountain of testimony amply illustrating that telco customer service manuals still owe more to the 1950 customer service handbook of national telephone of the Soviet Union than to all the emollient corporate bugle oil that has been expended to date in the 21st Century. 

The fact is that sophisticated new AI platforms can be trained - and can even train themselves - properly and very quickly to use historical data to accurately resolve over 70 per cent of emails without human intervention. Such systems permit human agents to use their time much more effectively and focus on more complex problems, reduce resolution time and ensure customer satisfaction.

The differentiator is real and it's still there. The Netomi report shows yet again that it is high time telcos stopped paying smug lip service to a worsening problem and do something genuinely constructive about it - for at least the hundredth time of asking. But will they? Nah. The road is wide open for other players to march down and take the high ground. When they do there'll be some wailing and gnashing of teeth at telcos, but it will be too late.

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