Is the brain the answer to superior telecom customer care?

Industry Marketing Manager - Communications, IBM

Think about these three metrics: $15, 1 million and 43. What is their significance? They tell us why the telecom industry has long needed a different approach to managing customer service

For example, back in 2008, the cost for servicing calls was as much as $15 dollars per call, according to one tier 1 operator in North America. Even today, the cost per inbound call is increasing every year, as the salaries for call center employees and cost of call center facilities are going up with inflation.

An average of 6 percent of customers make service calls to call centers. As a result, a wireless operator with 15 million subscribers gets around 1 million service calls per month. As service providers roll out new technologies such as 4G and fiber to the home (FTTH), the complexity of the network increases and calls from subscribers can be expected to go up as a result.

An American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) survey for 2015 ranked Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and pay TV companies at the very bottom—43 out of 43—across all industries. Wireless service providers did not fare much better, ranking 42 out of 43. Clearly, the telecom industry is not winning over customers.

What do these observations mean? They reveal how the telecommunications industry is addressing customer care; it is largely reactive at this point, meaning that service providers wait for the customer to call in and report a problem before they address it. A better way is available, and the answer lies in millions of years of human evolution and its impact on our brains.

Reactive and proactive intelligence

The amygdala is a tiny area of the brain, about the size of an almond, located behind our ears. It’s also known as the squirrel brain because it is wired for rapid, reactive response based on instincts. For example, when coming upon a snake on the ground while walking in a forest, the amygdala is responsible for the signal telling you to run away from the snake. Because the amygdala is the reactive part of our brain, it has helped us survive millions of years as a species.

The prefrontal cortex, on the other hand, is a large area of the brain situated right behind our foreheads. Think of the prefrontal cortex as the CEO of the brain. It plays a proactive, logical role. While the amygdala may tell you to run away when you see a stick on the ground that looks like a snake, the prefrontal cortex takes control, putting you at ease with the reassurance that it’s a stick, not a snake. The most important function of the prefrontal cortex is that it predicts future events and prepares us for them. The amygdala is essential for survival; the prefrontal cortex is essential for all human progress.

We need both, and we need the proactive part to be in charge of the reactive part to thrive. Much like our brains, customer care organizations need both responses—reactive and proactive—to survive and thrive. To control costs and provide superior customer service, service providers need to be more proactive, detect and anticipate customer problems, and reduce the expensive inbound call volume.

Transforming billing issue management with proactive care 

A large volume of calls to a call center are about bills. One of the top reasons why subscribers call is to find out “why is my bill so high this month?” Another common reason for calls to the call center is to request a few days more to pay a monthly postpaid mobile or broadband bill. Operators can even spend significant amounts of money just answering phone calls from subscribers requesting a few days on their bill payment every month. They would have been much better off giving automatic extensions to those subscribers; the cost would be a fraction of the significant cost to answer these calls. Watson Engagement Advisor for customer care can help lighten this call load, answering some of the questions regarding the bill and allowing subscribers to extend their payment deadline on their own, especially if they have been paying their bills every month. Watson Engagement Advisor reduces the cost of reactive care with cognitive capabilities.

Now, let’s look at how proactive care addresses billing issues. It is designed to address the care needs of all subscribers. To address the top billing issue leading to a call, proactive care creates a list of subscribers who have higher than average monthly bills and communicates proactively by sending an email to these subscribers with detailed explanation of items that are over the usual monthly charge. This approach preempts subscribers calling in and avoids expensive calls into the call center. For bill payment extension calls, proactive care creates a list of subscribers who are likely to pay their bills past the due date, as they typically call in every month or every other month requesting an extension on the payment date. Proactive care communicates with these subscribers, sending them a text, extending their payment due date proactively by a week.

Proactive provider customer care

Proactive customer care transforms telecommunications customer care organizations, enabling them to address the entire spectrum of care needs—from billing queries and network, app or device configuration issues to new device activation and returns. We have just scratched the surface documenting its progress in blogs featuring deployments at Cablevisión Argentina, XO Communications, Eir and NTT plala.

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