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Have You Made Your Customers Smile Today?

Sarah Thomas
6/3/2014
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NICE, France -- TM Forum Live! -- When Tuesday's keynote panel with two industry chairmen kicked off discussing "smile moments," I wasn't optimistic. Turned out I needn't have worried: The next 30 minutes had a lot of useful tips on how to be a customer-centric company.

For me, it also brought to mind T-Mobile US Inc. , even though the carrier was never mentioned.

David Moffatt, former CEO of Lebara Group and current board member on Asurion Limited's Asia-Pacific advisory board, and Michael Matthews, former Amdocs Ltd. (NYSE: DOX) CMO and chairman of the board at Archer Mobile, took the stage to talk about what being a company that truly cares about its customers looks like. It seems obvious, but it's not something many telcos have mastered.

Both agreed that it had to start with the leadership and some radically new thinking. Some of the key takeaways included:

  • Allow employees to be individuals and have "spontaneous engagement" with customers. "If you let too much process and system get in the way, then people aren't equipped to deal with people with humanity," Matthews said.
  • Build a culture of transparency and authenticity in leadership, which requires a cultural shift.
  • The CEO needs to spearhead this cultural change by meeting with his or her employees face-to-face (even if there are thousands of them) and speaking with honesty and passion about what the company is doing.
  • Analytics is important, but bear in mind that Steve Jobs never used it. "At best, it allows you to eliminate the things you should perhaps not be concentrating on," Matthews said. And, Moffatt added, data needs to be harnessed in a systematic way. "In most organizations, particularly telco, you need to think about the customer in isolation from all the other noise and systematize it," he said.
  • As the CEO, get your board aligned with your vision and act as a mediator to break down silos, which exist because of the systems and structures for allocating budgets and how people are rewarded, not because of any ill-will between groups.

A lot of this has been said before, of course, but it rings true -- or at least truer than hearing telcos themselves talk about how innovation-driven and customer centric they are. The men never named names, but it is easy to see why T-Mobile came to mind. The self-proclaimed "uncarrier" has spent the last year upending the traditional modus operandi in the telecom industry. It's also done a good job of convincing consumers it truly cares about the customer, even if some of its pricing changes have been policy shifts than deep pricing cuts. (See T-Mobile Petitions Operators to Kill Overages, Look Inside T-Mobile's 'Uncarrier' Transformation, and T-Mobile Shuns Overage Charges.)

I did think it was interesting when Moffatt pointed out that, "it's not about evangelizing or being the hero CEO." Legere, of course, relishes that role. I occasionally doubt the authenticity in his curse-laden keynotes, but you can't deny his attitude and changes are working. His competitors are noticing and customers are flocking to the Magenta brand. (See T-Mobile Sacrifices Costs for Customers and Getting Your Magenta Kicks.)

At any rate, it's the closest example we have within the telco industry of the principles Moffatt and Matthews were extolling, and I think the rest of the industry is wise to take notice and heed the boardmen's advice to change their mindset and their companies.

"We still have a very defensive mindset, added to by regulators who are adding taxes," Moffatt said, adding, however, that blaming regulation is an excuse. "It's about culture. You have to move from being defensive to being offensive and engaging and have 'a big why.' That will drive your innovation."

— Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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Ariella
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Ariella,
User Rank: Light Sabre
6/9/2014 | 9:28:03 AM
Re: smile
@Sarah I agree that employees, in general, should be empowered. But I believe that too many mangers lack faith in their people. I did add the qualifier b/c I've had some bad experiences with employees who should have no power at all. The reason I refuse to ever use T-Mobile is b/c one customer service rep took it upon herself to cancel my service when I didn't order it b/c she thought it was wrong for me to take on a new contract to take advantage of a refund offer. It was all perfectly legal, but she had other ideas and so cut off my phone just when I was going on a trip. I was far from happy, and T-Mobile didn't offer anything to make it up to me. 
sarahthomas1011
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sarahthomas1011,
User Rank: Light Beer
6/4/2014 | 8:24:39 AM
Re: smile
I do find that frustrating. It doesn't always make sense to stick to the script, and a benefit of actually talking to a person should be the ability to genuinely interact. I would add that employees need to be empowered. They are often give a limited number of fixes or discounts they can offer depending on what a customer says, but they need the ability to really think about what makes sense in a particular situation and offer that.
smkinoshita
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smkinoshita,
User Rank: Light Sabre
6/3/2014 | 1:40:02 PM
Re: smile
@Ariella:  Garbage in, garbage out.  We educate people like we program computers.  If we built buildings that way, the first woodpecker would destroy civilization.
Ariella
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Ariella,
User Rank: Light Sabre
6/3/2014 | 1:18:59 PM
Re: smile
"We don't teach people to really think, we teach them to automatically respond to situations a specific way." @smkinoshita you're absolutely right about that. I just scored a writing test given to 8th graders in part of the country. Students could get top marks for writing that showed poor grammar and vocabulary so long as they hit on the definitions for characters that the test wanted. Students who brought in quotes and wrote well but didn't hit that definition would have gotten no credit at all. It really is all about filling in the boxes the way the central authority determined they should be filled. 
smkinoshita
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smkinoshita,
User Rank: Light Sabre
6/3/2014 | 1:06:07 PM
Re: smile
@Ariella:  You're not kidding about that.  I'm not so sure it's just the company training though.  I encounter too many kids who seem to be incapable of analyzing and then reacting proactively to a situation.

The most recent example is when I adopted a cat.  I was the last one there, and brought my own carrier.  I left it in front of the cage of the cat I wanted to adopt.  The kid who brought the cat out ignored the carrier and brought the cat out in a cardboard carrier.  

He gave me the most disconnected expression when I asked "Didn't you see the carrier?".  He was not developmentally challenged, but had that robot-like inability to assess a change in his environment.

I blame our education system -- not the teachers, but how we teach kids.  We don't teach people to really think, we teach them to automatically respond to situations a specific way.

This sort of thing seems to also be a matter of experience, but I was mentored as a young man and taught to act proactively, and it's made a difference in my life.
Ariella
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Ariella,
User Rank: Light Sabre
6/3/2014 | 12:09:04 PM
smile
<Allow employees to be individuals and have "spontaneous engagement" >

Radical idea, at least according to those who train call center personnel. They read off the script and sound like they are doing so. Come to think of it, some cashiers do that, as well. Companies believe that by canning what employees should say, they'll have better control. While that is true, it does detract from the human element of the engagement. 
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