Telecoms companies are too focused on the customer experience.

They’d be better allocating their efforts to improving the leadership of their employees. This will result in better customer experience and better financial performance.

Reading the ‘reviews of 2018’ and ‘forecasts for 2019’ in the Telecoms industry press, it’s easy to get wrapped up in all the excitement (or bewilderment) of an ever-connecting world.

Mintel forecasts the sales of communications services in the UK to go from to £21.9 billion in 2018 and to £24.9 billion by 2022. Gartner forecasts that 20.4 billion connected devices will be in use worldwide by 2020

We mashed all these reviews and forecasts into a word cloud to see what the most common words are.

telco words.png

For clarity, the key themes in review/in forecast from those on the inside of the industry are:

·        Landline usage continuing to plummet

·        Streaming services increasing pressure on pay-tv

·        Networks and expanding to support swelling data demand

·        The rise of the Internet of Things and emergence of smart cities

·        The challenge for innovative digital technologies and 5G to save the high street

·        Security: 43% of telco organisations have suffered from DNS-based malware over the previous 12 months

When you juxtapose this insider view with constant news of struggling retailers, Brexit misery and stalling house prices, it’s questionable what the end consumer makes of this all.

In an article published on LinkedIn recently, Mark Evans, the CEO of O2, addresses this point:

“At times like this, consumers want to feel in complete control of their money. We’ve just completed some research with YouGov which shows that 50% of consumers feel they’re getting ripped off by fixed payments, which they feel could see them forced into overpaying for a product or service. On top of that, a quarter of people say they find their bills confusing and aren’t quite sure what they’re paying for.

Overall this paints a picture of a consumer that’s carefully watching their cash, and not fully trusting of the companies they’re spending it with. At times like this, I strongly believe it is the responsibility of businesses to respond to consumer demand, restore trust, and give people products and services that best fit their needs.”

This all sounds very sensible… but how if it was that easy, why isn’t everyone doing it already? BT, one of the bastions of Britain’s corporate landscape, are axing around 13% of its entire global workforce as part of a cost-cutting drive.

Evans touches on a favourite buzzword: trust. The average consumer is not really interested in any of the terminology or industry forecasts. They just want to trust in their telco provider to deliver a quality, reliable and competitive service, meaning value for their hard-earned subscriptions. The competitive advantage for industry players is certainly in cutting edge and reliable technology, but there’s also a more human side that gets forgotten.

Whilst trust is of course vital, most customers are already committed to a long term contract. When things go wrong, it is the empathy that the organisation demonstrates which becomes central. Our touch-points with these service providers – generally either those frustrating phone calls being passed around to 2 or 3 different people, or dealing with an on-site engineer – are crucial in shaping empathy. It makes a huge difference when we deal with a phone operator or engineer who has been well trained and motivated to do the best job they can. It can often be the factor that persuades us to stay loyal to that provider, just as the idea that ‘people leave managers not companies’ shows that the human, emotional interactions often have a far greater impact on us than strategy or process.

Clearly, the personal skills of that employee is a factor here. But most important is the environment created for them to operate in the best possible way, and this is the responsibility of their leaders. That’s why it’s the employee experience, not the customer experience, that Telecoms companies would be best to focus on. It just makes less good PR for them to write about it.

Studies continually show stagnating or declining productivity. We continually hear claims that only 30% of people are working to their full potential. An extensive study by Gallup in 2018 found that only 15% of employees worldwide feel engaged in their work. What would be the reaction if Mark Evans announced they were investing £10 million into improving O2’s leadership and staff performance and wellbeing, rather than a network security upgrade? Silly example perhaps, but if the goal here is to provide great customer experience we need to understand how vital having effective and motivated employees really is. An unhelpful shop assistant or web-chat is far more likely to lose business from the average consumer than a technical hitch. Just look at the support garnered for donating the refunds from O2’s outage in December 2018 to charity.

Research by leadership specialists RiddleBox involving 1.25 million participants worldwide over 10 years has found that employee experience in Telecoms currently scores a mediocre 58 out of 100 on their RBX Index, which uses a values-based assessment from employees to measure the experience their leaders are creating for them. By comparison, another customer-centric sector, Hotels, scores 76. 

Humanics - not mechanics - shapes experience. Measuring call waiting times, service up-time and customer churn can all indicate the customer experience (if not understanding what the customers are actually feeling). These metrics are trusted and used industry-wide. After all, if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it. When it comes to measuring the quality of the leadership, as experienced by the organisation’s employees, Telecoms has a long way to go but the prizes are great for those that do.