It is no secret that consumers believe that cable operators need to improve in the customer-experience department. The latest writing on the wall came earlier this month, when the American Consumer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) survey saw cable ranked toward the bottom of the list.
An overall industry focus on customer experience couldn’t come at a better time. As media and telecom companies race to deliver premium offerings, customer experience will emerge as a key differentiator. New competitors, like Netflix, are already well-positioned as consumer-friendly, earning the reputation, in part, by offering a frictionless customer experience. This is perhaps an easier stance to take when delivering a service that costs customers around $10, and doesn’t require a fleet of installers to make house calls, maintenance of a broad range of networks, oversight of thousands of phone-based, online and social media-focused customer service reps and countless other moving pieces.
The bar has been set high, and operators know it. At INTX last month, Comcast announced a multiyear plan to transform the customer experience across the company. This will happen via increased investments in training and technology, simplified processes, and enhanced communications with customers.
Still, for the overall industry the challenges are numerous, there are several customer experience improvement areas that all operators can start focusing on today to bring perception in line with the innovation being pushed into the market. Many of these strategies are also applicable for programmers, as more continue to enter the direct-to-consumer market.
EMPOWER, CONNECT WITH CUSTOMERS
When Domino’s Pizza analyzed inbound phone calls, it discovered that employees were spending an inordinate amount of time responding to post-sale inquiries about when an order would arrive. The company had previously developed an internal system that tracked this information, but customers had to call, wait on hold, and spend time on the phone to have it relayed to them. Domino’s ultimately cut down on calls and improved the overall experience by providing customers with near real-time access to its tracking system via an intuitive app and website.
Cable has the same opportunity to bring subscribers out of the dark. Operators always know where their trucks are. They know the moment that there’s an outage and generally how long it will take to fix. This info should be easily accessible by subscribers via apps, the Web, or built directly into products. No calling after the fact, trying to find account info, waiting for a rep, or talking with several people about the issue.
Operators should also explore leveraging subscribers as frontline tech support agents. Many subscribers, especially millennials, turn to Google and Web forums before placing a phone call for tech support questions. Incentivizing “power users” to participate in these forums, serve as company ambassadors, and help answer simple questions online via gamification, rewards, and more can help further reduce unnecessary calls.
INCORPORATE PERSONALIZATION, DIFFERENTIATION
Customer preferences are not one-size-fits-all, and cookie-cutter processes can limit the ability to meet customer expectations. Frequent travel programs have long provided loyalty incentives to differentiate experiences for valued customers, but Starwood Hotels recognized the value of providing truly personalized experiences for top tier customers, who account for a large portion of revenue, by providing dedicated representatives to handle all aspects of their travel needs. The company’s high-touch Ambassador program has helped drive both customer acquisition and retention.
Operators tend to have relatively rigid processes for how subscribers are treated and serviced. Depending on expectations, this can frustrate consumers who would rather just receive equipment in the mail and self-install; or those who want premium, white-glove treatment from an experienced and familiar tech that can walk them through every feature of the service; or households where a language other than English is spoken. Operators should focus on understanding customer preferences and tailoring experiences accordingly.
And while every customer should get a great experience, it’s important that customers in different parts of the life cycle get the right treatment. In other words, understanding the total picture of a customer across product mix and usage, lifetime value, tenure, contact history, propensity to churn and more. This can help create tailored and differentiated experiences that impress and delight customers.
For example, subscribers that had a recent increase in likelihood to churn, should always be directed to a top-performing account rep as quickly as possible. If the inquiry demands it, this representative should also have specialized experience to solve an issue quickly. When relatively new customers go online or call, after their issue is addressed, they should proactively be directed to online tutorials for engaging products they may have not used much, such as VOD and TV everywhere.
DELIVER DATA-DRIVEN PROACTIVE RESPONSES
So much data exists around products and services that subscribers are using everyday, issues they might be having, reasons why they’re calling, and much more. Operators must put this data to work to identify patterns that lead to poor experiences or churn — or, on the flip side, to identify what trends and behaviors generate the best experiences.
Companies are utilizing data to proactively identify problems and address issues before they create negative experiences. Amazon’s Instant Video service monitors purchase patterns and real-time product performance to recognize when customers have video streaming issues, and rapidly issues a refund, apology notification, and recommendations on how to resolve the issue before the customer even contacts them to complain. This can effectively turn a negative experience into a positive one.
If a customer has had multiple service outages, operators should be proactive in communicating with the customer about the cause and what’s being done to mitigate future issues. This communication should happen via the customer’s preferred method for receiving messages.
When data trends reveal that a certain subset of subscribers are at risk of churning based on historical events, that is the time to go over the top to make that customer feel special, and reinforce that the experience is not typical and will improve.
EMPOWER EMPLOYEES TO GO THE EXTRA MILE
Customer-service reps can be polite, knowledgeable, good listeners, and have the best training and intentions. But if they don’t have the right tools to create the best experiences for customers, they are hamstrung.
Online shoe retailer Zappos is famous for its focus on creating positive customer experiences. To support that focus, Zappos provides its front-line call center reps with a suite of simple tools and lightly-structured policies for solving customer problems. When a customer calls, reps are provided with complete access to support and shopping histories, have visibility into real-time inventory levels for all products, are measured on problem resolution instead of handle time, and empowered with the ability to create reasonable “wow” moments to help customers solve problems.
Operators should look across the entire customer experience to understand pain points that have been created by inefficient processes or employee tool limitations. For instance, when an installer comes to a subscriber’s house, the subscriber shouldn’t have to stare as the installer waits on hold to activate a new set top box. When services are disrupted, reps should have approval to offer courtesy discounts that don’t require putting the customer on hold to check with a supervisor. If an existing customer visits a local service center, the rep should have easy access to that customer’s purchase history, recent service call and online self-service experiences, current product mix, and if applicable, why they’re there, and what they need.
IMPROVEMENTS MUST PERMEATE THE ENTIRE ORGANIZATION
Enhancements are on the horizon that will bring cable’s customer experience perception on par with the unprecedented technological innovation that it is bringing to the industry right now.
To ensure success, initiatives must be measurable with the right metrics and must connect the loop between identifying the root cause of a negative customer experience, ensuring that there is accountability for resolving and eliminating the core issue, and communicating the resolution to the customer and across the organization. Everyone in the organization should have a sense of ownership over creating great experiences, from call center reps, field techs, network engineers, software developers and product managers to marketing and sales teams, and billing and internal systems engineers. They all contribute to the overall customer experience.
Customer experience can’t be a set it and forget it investment. From here on out, it will need to be a constant, unrelenting focus across the cable industry.
Justin Forer is a principal consultant at IBB Consulting, leading customer experience initiatives for cable operators and programmers. He can be reached at mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org.