How Optus engages the digital telco consumer

The Optus leader of digital consumer talks emerging CX trends and how the telco is meeting the increased demand for digital engagement through the coronavirus pandemic

Seamless and frictionless end-to-end customer journeys through automation and bots is the end game for Optus VP of digital consumer, Vaughan Paul, as he works to respond to customers engaging more online and digitally.

Paul told CMO customer journeys have been an important focus for the digital consumer team at Optus. “There’s a big shift away from us determining the channel for the customers and instead trying to make sure the customer has the choice of the channel, and making it easy for them,” he said.

The Singtel-owned telco was already seeing an increase in digital adoption and like many businesses, that has been put on fast forward during the coronavirus pandemic. Digital service for customers, for instance, has gone from about 60 per cent up to 80 per cent.

“And customers are quite happy to use it, as long as there's not much friction there,” Paul noted.

Industry category transformation

It’s not that many years ago that telcos were the black sheep in the customer service landscape. Bad reports flowing from the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman saw the industry regulator, Australian Communications and Media Authority, launching a wide-scale inquiry into the poor customer service across the board.

Paul said the industry has had to pivot from simply responding to poor customer service reports to managing the entire customer experience; and from too much focus on the activation side and not enough on ongoing service experience. 

“The business is managing not only the front-end and activation, but the complaint end of the business much better, and treating a complaint interaction just as positively as we’d treat a general inquiry,” Paul said.

He noted that when acquisition metrics are given too much weight, it skews the focus towards new customers, giving the onboarding process precedence over customer service and complaint handling and taking away from an end-to-end customer experience approach. This is where the customer journeys approach has changed the telco’s customer service rubric.

“Optus had to figure out which parts of the process needed to be re-engineered so it’s not just about getting the customer and then trying to turn the revenue on,” Paul said.

For example, where the focus was once on wait times for customer service inquiries, there’s now a better understanding that solving the inquiry with the least number of transfers is the point, not simply shortening length times, Paul said. 

Complaint handling metrics, along with churn and looking at worst-case experiences and following up with detractors, are just some of the metrics Optus is actively monitoring. Paul said the business wants to hear about good and the bad experiences because there are learnings and improvement that can be had from both.

“Metrics data goes into how we run the business, around the customers who are happy, but also the customers who are unhappy as well,” he said.

Redefining customer service

One area ripe for improvement for Paul is recognition of customer loyalty. Offering better plans to new customers is a bugbear for many customers who wonder why their current provider takes them for granted.

“While there's a point in time when you will have a need to attract new customers, this can't be just the way you want to live. You have to provide, a lot of the time, as good or better offer for your existing base,” Paul said.

“Customers who have been with you for a long time expect a benefit of loyalty and become increasingly frustrated when they're calling up asking ‘What can you do for me, I've been a customer for 10 years’ and all they’re given is the standard price or plan.”

Beyond doing away with this ‘loyalty tax’ as much as possible, Paul said transforming loyalty is also about recognising customers when they contact the business, knowing what services they have and what problems they may have had. 

“It's not just about the plans, it's about how you recognise me from the service perspective. How you give me more preferential treatment in terms of when I've got an issue. It's going to become a much more holistic approach,” he said.

The bot approach

This is where Paul sees significant automation opportunity as well as further deployment of chatbots.

“I actually think the handoff between the chatbot and the human is better than you calling and going to the agent directly,” Paul said. “As long as the process is seamless, customers are happy to use chatbots.”

It’s the ‘sweet spot’ between the bot and the human and making that as frictionless as possible by carrying over any information and the history of a transaction that goes a long way to making it a painless and productive avenue for customer queries. “It’s the lack of integration that customers don’t like,” Paul continued.

“Ultimately, the digitised version will see a reduction of human agents to things like the chatbot. As much as we can, we want to solve the customer’s challenge through digital,” he said.

But it’s not just bots helping customers. Paul sees bots being able to assist agents to help solve customer queries.

“We're very much looking at how we can leverage some of those automation initiatives to have our agents be faster and for the bots to make it easier because sometimes agents have to toggle between those two systems,” he said. 

While the digital consumer exec agreed there’s still a perception customers won’t be happy using a bot, he predicted an explosion of use cases that will see bots develop in all sorts of ways in coming years.

“Bots can now handle thousands of transactions, and the level of sophistication will only grow. We’re still getting our heads around using bots, but there’s a really big roadmap for them over the next few years,” he said.

Overall, Paul spotted more opportunity to digitise the Optus business and said he’d like to see many more journeys digitised.

“If you want to book an appointment online, you can find it online, you can change it online, you can know when your device is coming and so on,” he said. “And they should be able to do pretty much anything and everything through the app.”

Follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO conversation on LinkedIn: CMO ANZ, follow our regular updates via CMO Australia's Linkedin company page, or join us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CMOAustralia.

 

 

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