CenturyLink CEO: Automation Key to Improved Customer Experience

Automation of "products, processes and systems" is at the core of CenturyLink's future as it focuses on better customer experience and advanced network products, the company's CEO told the investment community Wednesday on its earnings call.

During a year in which CenturyLink Inc. (NYSE: CTL) closed two major transactions, selling off its data centers and buying Level 3 Communications, the company has seen its stock price tumble, as concerns over the declining legacy business grew. But Glen Post said the focus going forward is on being a "fiber-focused provider of advanced data services [to a] global network and customer base," and he stressed the digitization of services, according to this Seeking Alpha transcript.

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Already, the business unit to which Level 3 was added helped boost 2017 annual revenues to $5.32 billion, a 1% gain for the year. CenturyLink's stock rose more than 10% following the announcement.

"We are focused on creating great customer experiences," Post said in his prepared remarks. "We are simplifying and automating products, processes and systems. We are increasing digitization of end-to-end service delivery platforms, allowing more efficient customer-friendly interactions. And we're improving our managed service delivery and service model to enable us to better meet our customers' needs."

That simplification and automation processes are part of the integration of the two companies and the efficiencies CenturyLink expects to gain, he added. Post also referred twice to disciplined investment to push fiber deeper into the network and expand some "key network capabilities" while making sure capital outlay is "focused on network customer experience and efficiency realizations."

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Post's successor as president (and next year as CEO), Jeff Storey, told investment analysts that the small and medium enterprise group within CenturyLink will benefit the most from the move to digital services, and to a broader on-net footprint. He said the integration of the CenturyLink-Level 3 sales teams is substantially complete and that there are greater opportunities to sell to SMEs outside the legacy CenturyLink footprint, because they are now on the bigger fiber backbone.

Storey added that the two companies' backbone networks have been integrated and that customers are being migrated onto that network, but said that migration would continue for "the next several years" at a pace that makes sense for the customers.

"We'll be deliberate about the migration process and are looking at it from a customer impacting perspective rather than a geographic or CenturyLink-oriented view," he said. "We believe this approach minimizes disruption for our customers and provides a better customer experience."

Storey also seconded Post's comments on automation and improving customer experience, pointing out that if the company is able to improve its processes so that customers are handled more efficiently, that not only makes for happier customers but also reduces costs by eliminating the waste of handling that customer multiple times.

CenturyLink continued to lose broadband customers, shedding 90,000 subscribers net in the fourth quarter and 140,000 customers getting lower-speed services under 20 Mbit/s. Storey said the company's focus going forward is to push harder in areas where it can offer speeds of 100 Mbit/s or higher, and added that the company's simplified Price for Life billing strategy is paying off.

"Prior to this approach, we had various promotions and discounts that would roll off over time," he said. "This was not a very customer-friendly approach as customers viewed the loss of discounts as rate increases. Our new approach improves the customer perception, reduces the need for calling CenturyLink, which also reduces our costs and enhances the overall customer experience."

— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading

Phil_Britt 2/19/2018 | 12:14:25 PM
Automation not a Silver Bullet While automation can certainly help with anything that is routine, too often companies try to automate first rather than fixing any underlying issue. If a process is wrong, automation just enables a company to do wrong things more quickly.

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