South African telecommunications operators and service providers are increasingly turning to online Self-Service as a central component of their strategies to reduce customer churn.
That is one of the key findings of the Self-Service Strategies 2010 survey, conducted on behalf of Consology by World Wide Worx. The telecommunications firms that participated in the survey highlighted attracting customers and reducing customer churn among the most important strategic drivers of Self-Service in their businesses.
They attached even more importance to churn reduction as a strategic driver than they did in the 2007 Self-Service survey. But telecommunications operators also highlighted cross and up-selling, cost reduction, providing consistent service, speeding up bill payments, and deflection of calls from call centres as important drivers for online Self-Service, says Kevin Meltzer, Business Development Director and co-founder of Consology.
“Self-Service has become an important weapon in the telecommunications companies’ competitive arsenal,” he adds. “Facing saturation in many segments of the telecommunications market as well as more competition and price regulation than ever before, telecommunications companies need to leverage Self-Service to retain customers and drive down their costs.”
Meltzer says that telecom operators have invested in building out vast retail and call centre infrastructure to service their client bases. They cannot completely escape the need for customer service centres to provide handsets, SIM cards and other equipment, but they do want to minimise the costs of the channels as far as possible.
“That is where Self-Service comes into play,” he adds. “Most operators would like to focus their real-world channels on income generation and their call centres on servicing high-value customers and drumming up new business rather than on dealing with mundane tasks such as bill disputes and printing out statements.”
For that reason, many telecommunications operators are trying to entice customers to use the Internet for routine billing and account management tasks, such as looking up and printing out statements or changing address details. “They can also achieve significant cost-savings by removing some of the paper from their businesses – multiply paper and postage costs across millions of customers and the expense of posting accounts each month is enormous,” Meltzer says.
Meltzer says that telecommunications operators are struggling to scale up already sprawling retail and call centre infrastructure to cater for their millions of customers. The big attraction of online Self-Service is that they can give customers a better service experience while reducing their customer service costs.
One complexity that telecommunications companies face as they shift towards Self-Service is that many of their retail stores are owned by franchisees and resellers, who are eager to protect their businesses, says Meltzer. But Self-Service is actually helping rather than harming these businesses.
Some telecommunications companies have rolled out Self-Service systems that help dealer stores and service centres to help their customers more efficiently. Many dealers also welcome Self-Service solutions that absorb billing queries and support issues so that they can focus on sales and value-added service.
Meltzer says that one major challenge for telecommunications operators will be to leverage their Self-Service offerings more effectively as electronic commerce platforms for handset and contract sales. The functionality that most offer at the moment is fairly basic.
They will also need to look at integrating their loyalty programmes with their Self-Service systems. Another major opportunity lies in providing Self-Service functionality that allows consumers to report a phone as broken, check spares inventory and track the repair of their device online.
“Telecommunications operators were among the first South African companies to adopt Self-Service, and we can expect to see them be among the innovators of this market in the future,” says Meltzer. “With huge customer bases, spiralling support costs and complex bills to manage, they are among the companies that have the most to gain from aggressive adoption of Self-Service.”