Sprint recently announced an initiative called “Sprint Care Consistency” with the purpose of building a consistent foundation for customer care operations. Now all of the company’s customer care centers speak with “one voice” to increase customer satisfaction with Sprint services. Bob Johnson, Sprint’s chief service officer, eliminated limits on the amount of time customer service representatives (CSRs) can spend on the phone with customers. Now, Sprint is tracking how frequently CSRs can solve problems on the first try, and bonuses are tied to solving a maximum percentage of issues on the first call.
|Bancroft: Customer care for smarter devices can be quite costly.|
Mobile devices continue to evolve from simple voice and text-messaging devices to complex, all-purpose communication, entertainment and business tools. To mobile operators such as Sprint, it’s becoming apparent that a great user experience can make all the difference between customers adopting and using new advanced capabilities and services — generating new incremental revenues — and customers who do not. Equally important, the user experience with both the operator’s mobile services and its customer care centers plays a critical role in customer retention rates.
THE FACE OF THE OPERATOR
Customer care is frequently the only contact point most customers have with their mobile operator after the initial purchase, so the ability to provide quality customer care is of prime importance. According to Current Analysis, 70% of all handsets shipping today require configuration after sale. A negative customer care experience is often the last contact a customer will have with a particular operator. If services don’t work the first time a user tries them, the user will more than likely never try or use the service again.
At the same time, the cost of providing quality customer care is increasing rapidly. Customer service calls for basic voice problems take, on average, only a few minutes — and a few dollars — to resolve. But calls for problems with smartphones and the advanced data applications on them can take 10 times as long to resolve at a cost of up to $100 per call. Strategy Analytics estimates that compared to a 5-minute support call that costs the operator $7 for voice phones, customer care tends to spend 20 minutes on average ($30-$40) on support calls for feature phones and upward of 45-minutes ($60-$70) on support calls for smart devices. In addition, many problems with more complex mobile devices and services are not resolved in a single call, compounding the problem and elevating support costs even further.
It appears that we’re at a turning point in the U.S. wireless industry. Verizon Wireless announced that it will be opening up access to its network this year, introducing an option for its customers that will enable them to use devices, software and applications not offered by the company on its network. AT&T announced that customers can run any device or application from any maker on its network. With major operators planning to provide open access to their mobile networks, it will be that much easier for less-than-satisfied customers to switch providers. This new open-access model will drive competition based more on service offerings, network quality and customer support and service experience rather than on phone capabilities and price.
The transition to these models is not easy; however, many European operators have been able to capitalize on the opportunity, increasing ARPU and margins, especially from data revenues. Forward-looking U.S. operators will manage this change and find ways to capitalize on more open commercial models that can deliver higher revenues and margins. Handsets and services tailored to subscriber needs will naturally lead to improvements in ARPU, customer satisfaction, and ultimately, customer retention.
ENHANCING THE CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE
Mobile data services and applications expand the relationship between the operator and customers, while driving new revenues. But revenues from these services depend on customers actually adopting and using them. With mobile customers increasingly attempting to adopt more complex mobile services and applications, mobile operators will find that their customer-care strategies and tools will be put to the test in the ongoing battle to improve the customer experience, and thereby improve customer satisfaction and retention.
First, management of mobile devices over-the-air can prevent many calls to customer care by ensuring that the customers’ devices and services work properly right out of the box. The shortest service call is, after all, the one that never happens. When new services work properly out of the box, many more customers will use them, generating significant additional revenues.
Second, when a subscriber calls customer care because something is not working properly, mobile device management systems provide an agent with real-time access to information on the device, enabling the agent to tell, at a glance, whether or not the service settings are correct, or the customer has the correct version of a misbehaving application, or the firmware is out of date. The agent can send corrections over the air then and there, resolving the problem in seconds. Some device management systems can monitor voice and data service quality on the device, enabling the operator to determine exactly what a customer is experiencing with voice and data services, and to proactively contact customers who are experiencing problems with their device or a specific service.
THE SERVICE EXPERIENCE CHALLENGE
Sprint is not the only mobile operator to realize that providing a superior customer care experience is a key part of attracting and retaining new customers. Managing mobile devices, services and applications over-the-air to ensure that they work properly out of the box and throughout their lifecycles is a critical element in alleviating customer-care issues before they become something worse — lost revenue or even lost customers.
Bancroft is chief marketing officer for Mformation Technologies.