Delivering Differentiation

How to stand out in a crowded and cost-conscious market

Under pressure from investors, communications service providers (CSPs) face a tough call. As competition ramps up, many CSPs are in danger of seeing their revenues and profits squeezed. Should they pursue market share or cut costs? Or can they do both?


The traditional way to retain and attract customers – secure exclusive content or create innovative new services – is becoming an expensive and, sometimes, futile exercise. The proliferation of “over-the-top” players is making it difficult for a CSP to maintain a highly distinctive suite of services and content.


But there are other ways to innovate. Retailers, in particular, have long realized that the overall customer experience can matter as much as the products and the services they sell. When you walk into an Apple store, for example, it is the plentiful and knowledgeable staff, as much as the shiny technology, which creates the distinctive Apple experience.  


Customer experience isn’t a woolly, theoretical concept. It is real and it can be measured. A CSP’s net promoter score (the percentage of customers who are advocates minus the percentage who are antagonists) should be a key performance indicator. Advocates will bring in new customers, while antagonists will defect to competitors and may take friends and colleagues with them.


Valuable face-to-face time

As it gets harder to differentiate at a product or service level, the interactions between the CSP and its customers are becoming a crucial element of the customer experience. These interactions now play a major role in shaping the reputation of the company and its brand. In particular, face-to-face interactions, which can be few and far between, need to be handled with care.  If the first one goes badly, a CSP may not get a second chance.


In most cases, face-to-face encounters happen when a CSP’s technician needs to visit a customer to either install equipment for a new service or fix existing equipment. Although it may seem counter-intuitive, there is scope to raise the quality of these interactions, while also cutting costs.


CSPs tend to think of the field workforce as a cost centre. But they need to broaden their view. The field workforce can actually lift the top line by delivering meaningful, memorable experiences for customers that turn them into long-term advocates for the CSP.  It costs less to maintain an existing customer than to obtain a new one, and the field workforce is a direct contributor to making sure customers that choose a CSP stay with that CSP.


What makes for a good customer experience in the field? Firstly, a narrow appointment window (ideally no more than two hours), so the customer doesn’t have to wait in for half a day or more. Secondly, punctuality and communication – clearly the technician needs to arrive during the pre-designated appointment window, and communicate along the way should the schedule change at any point. Finally, capability – the technician needs to have the knowledge, the tools and the mandate to fix all the customers’ issues during that one visit.


All three of those factors are also well aligned with the cost-cutting agenda. If a CSP’s field workforce can stick to schedule and avoid return visits, efficiency will rise and operational costs will fall.  


Punctual, well equipped, empowered

Virgin Media in the U.K. is a good example of a CSP that has managed to both increase efficiency and raise the quality of the customer experience. Virgin’s philosophy is to empower its people in the field so that both employees and customers have a better experience. The key here is set up the field technicians for success, ensuring that their schedules are realistic and they have all the information they might need.


Virgin is using TOA’s ETA direct solution to manage all of the logistics behind its field workforce. The software can analyse historical performance patterns, overlay skill set, job history and customer proximity to accurately predict the amount of time each engineer will take to complete an appointment and then personalize his or her schedule accordingly.


This evidence-based approach ensures employees can effectively get to appointments on-time, almost every time – Virgin says that its field workforce now arrive on time for between 97% and 98% of appointments. The productivity of its technicians has risen by 15%.


But instead of adding another job to a field technician's day, Virgin Media decided to add 10 minutes to most appointment slots – time that field technicians are trained to spend with customers, making sure they know how to use Virgin’s products and services and that they have everything they need. The combination of a punctual, well-equipped and empowered field workforce has lifted Virgin Media’s customer satisfaction rating to an all-time high.


All of this information suggests that the field workforce can play a pivotal role in a CSP’s customer engagement strategy. If they are sufficiently well informed and empowered, a field engineer can be a technician, an educational handyman, a customer service representative and even a salesperson all in one. The key is to create a foundation through the right people and technology that ensures the employees and contractors in the field have the time and the information they need to deliver a great customer experience.


For CSPs looking to raise their game by improving the customer experience, there is no better place to start than in the field.