In her role as global head of Salesforce.com for Tata Consultancy Services Ltd., Lisa Hager oversees hundreds of consultants who help major telecom companies address critical customer relationship management (CRM) issues, and what her people see in customer service, even today, goes a long way to explaining why consumers complain so often about their telcos.
In an era when telecom products are becoming more complex for both the consumer and business markets, the customer service reps who support those products are being overwhelmed with information, much of which isn't integrated or processed in a way that can be easily digested.
"Because of things like mergers and acquisitions, and service bundling, the average CSR in a call center may have five screens in front of them at one time," Hager says. When calls come in, whether from customers who are having problems or those seeking information, the CSRs have to go from screen to screen looking for the relevant info.
That's a primary reason why, as Hager points out, "It takes longer to train a customer service rep than a US Marine." And it may go a long way to explaining why, according to the Tata Consultancy Services Ltd. exec, the average CSR turnover is 60% annually.
The immediate result is that CSRs not only can't provide the level of service customers want and expect, but they also miss opportunities to upsell, so the service provider gets a double whammy: higher customer turnover and lower revenue.
That reality is driving more network operators to turn to TCS and other large consultancies to help them more effectively integrate the back office operations. The need is becoming more urgent as they create more service bundles and more complex products (think cloud services and on-demand bandwidth) and try to bring these to market more quickly.
"They need to be able to tell the CSR what is the next best action or offer," Hager says, and that needs to be presented as guided scripting so that the CSR can immediately respond to an anxious customer.
Typically, the consultants look both short-term and long-term at what is needed, starting with incremental changes such as creating a new user interface at the CSR layer that can integrate information from multiple back-end systems, even some legacy systems that ultimately will be phased out.
"This is a journey -- it's not a big bang," Hager says. "We can put things on the front end and create an abstraction layer that hides the back-end complexity."
In fact, she says, there is nothing in the technology itself that is stopping telecom operators from doing a better job of customer service and even moving the majority of the operations to self-service processes. In the era of instant apps on smartphones, many consumers are more open to finding their own answers if the self-service portals are well- esigned.
Getting to that kind of elegant simplicity doesn't happen easily for companies burdened by trying to support literally thousands of service variations, Hager notes.
"Before you innovate, you have to start cutting, and that is always an interesting challenge -- what do you get rid of?" she says.
That's one of the reasons TCS's approach is to start at the front end and work backward to focus on what a telecom operator wants to offer its customers and design the systems that will enable that. It's a business the company has been developing for more than nine years and one in which it is likely to stay highly engaged for some time to come.
— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading