Oracle has today released research which is said to show that a lack of integration between departments and business systems is hampering the ability of communications companies to serve and retain customers effectively. The study, entitled "Fostering Customer Intimacy for Communications Service Providers in Europe and the Middle East" and conducted by research house Vanson Bourne, involved a survey of 46 senior customer management executives for various communications service providers (CSPs) and 3,750 consumers across Western and Eastern Europe and the Middle East (EMEA).
Key findings are said to include:
a.. Two-thirds of CSPs (65 percent) admitted that customers are unable to resolve queries by calling just one number
b.. More than three-quarters of CSPs (80 percent) currently don't have the systems and processes to identify and retain customers reaching the end of their contracts
c.. Only one-third of CSPs are able to make context-based recommendations to customers both online and in call centres
d.. CSPs are failing to capitalise on an overwhelming consumer preference for Web-based customer service
Bhaskar Gorti, senior vice president and general manager, Oracle Communications, said "With technology and communications at the heart of their businesses, communications service providers want to be adept at capitalising on new modes of delivering personalised service. What the research shows, however, is that the industry faces a number of challenges in delivering a seamless and consistent experience across its customer service channels."
Fragmented systems and processes
The survey revealed a surprising lack of integration between customer-facing departments and their business systems. Respondents at two-thirds of CSPs (65 percent) admit that customers are unable to resolve queries by calling just one number.
Only one in six (17 percent) respondents stated that all teams work from the same system and are directed to follow the same strategies for customer service, retention and recruitment across all channels. Just a quarter (26 percent) were in the process of developing systems and processes to fulfill this goal. The remaining half (56 percent) simply stated that there was some or little integration between customer-facing teams.
"With this lack of coordination between departments, providing a consistent brand and customer experience across retail, online and call centre channels is extremely difficult," said Gorti. "Today's consumers expect a seamless brand and customer experience irrespective of the channel serving them - whether they browse online before going into a shop or investigate in-store before ordering through a call centre, they expect to be able to pick up where they left off."
Inability to retain customers
Given the intense competition in markets across EMEA, retaining existing customers is widely acknowledged as a key priority for CSPs, especially since the cost of attracting a new customer is five to seven times more than retaining an existing one.
And yet, the survey reveals that the systems in place at the vast majority of CSPs leave them unable to meet this fundamental requirement. Just one-fifth (20 percent) of respondents confirmed that their organisations actively monitor customers reaching the end of their contracts with systems and processes in place to retain them. One-third (30 percent) stated that although they could identify end-of-contract customers, they couldn't actively manage customer retention in this way, while 46 percent were looking to develop this capability as a priority.
This neglect was borne out by the public. More than half (53 percent) of the 2,673 respondents with contracts stated that their mobile providers had never contacted them at the end of their contract to entice them into a new one.
Assuming average revenue per user (ARPU) of €20 each month, the total cost to European CSPs in lost revenue from customer churn could be as much as €46billion per year.
"CSPs spend millions on marketing in a bid to attract new customers, but this does not matter if their existing ones continue to leave," said Tim Vaughan, business development lead for self-service applications, Oracle EMEA. "There are various options available to help CSPs reduce customer churn. One is the ability to empower customers through social CRM tools; another is through technology that flags customers reaching the end of their contracts. These options give CSPs the opportunity to contact customers with new offers."
Inability to meet demand for personalised, interactive services
Across EMEA, the public indicated a clear preference for Web-based customer service. Asked to rank the various service channels in order of preference, 83 percent chose the Internet as their first or second choice, 62 percent chose e-mail, while just 32 percent selected a call centre and 16 percent a visit to a store.
However, the survey reveals that consumers don't only want a static Web page; they want their Internet experience to be personalised and interactive. When customers were asked what would encourage them to use the Internet instead of ringing a call centre:
a.. 47 percent identified the ability to view account trends and ways of saving money
b.. 45 percent selected a personalised online service with tailored offers
c.. 44 percent were keen on access to support services, such as live chats with agents
In comparison, only just under half of CSPs (46 percent) offered the ability to view account trends and ways of saving money online, while a mere 13 percent provided online support agents with instant messaging facilities.
More fundamental than these points however, was the CSPs' basic inability to meet customer demands for a personalised service due to the limitations of their systems: just one-third of CSPs surveyed were able to make recommendations to customers based on the context of each interaction both online and in call centres; 38 percent could only offer this in call centres, 11 percent only on the Web, while almost one-fifth (18 percent) were unable to provide this through either channel.
Gordon Rawling, senior marketing director, EMEA, Oracle, said "Whether we're talking iPhone applications, Facebook or Twitter, the technologies customers use in their personal lives have changed their expectations about how they want to engage with businesses. They want a service that's tailored to their lives, preferences and habits. The vital first step in being able to deliver this level of personalised service is to connect the systems and processes across all the channels."
Excessive call centre resource spent on low value queries
The survey also found that CSPs spent a disproportionate amount of call centre time dealing with queries that brought little value to the business and that they could easily and more cost effectively handle online. Half of the customer management professionals stated that between 40 percent and 80 percent of inbound calls concern billing queries.
However, although CSPs have attempted to drive these calls to the Web, with 96 percent stating that answers to common billing, product and service questions were available online, when they were asked to rate the level of success of their online self-service functionality (1 being unsuccessful and 5 very successful), the average score was 2.65 - demonstrating the failure of online self-service functionality. By providing customers with online, self-service tools, CSPs can also experience immense cost savings, for example, they can reduce a single customer interaction from $4.50 on the phone to $0.10 online.
Gorti concludes, "There is certainly an appetite among the public to deal with these queries online and the advantages delivered to businesses that provide such services are huge. Operators across Europe and the Middle East need to find better ways to draw customers into the Web experience, but this is only possible if customers feel confident that the self-service tools online are able to address and solve their queries appropriately."