The traditional customer journey for mobile subscribers is dead. Historically, carriers have had pre-defined rigid journeys and then built channel-specific experiences to support them. Customers had to follow these journeys within one channel (e.g., the retail store) and once they stepped outside of a channel, the journey stopped. When was the last time a rep in customer care knew exactly what had happened to a customer in a retail store? When could a customer start the sales process on the web and then pick up where they left off in a store?
Today’s customers want a journey delivered on their terms, not the carrier’s. Customer expectations (online, mobile, social and physical) are rising, driven by innovative digital and physical retail consumer experiences (e.g., Uber, Amazon, AirBnB, eSurance, etc.). Customers expect to move between all channels seamlessly. Millennials and Gen Z, the next generations of consumers, have only ever known these experiences.
Externally, there are new threats in the market. Digitally-savvy players such as Google and Apple are threatening to disrupt the existing business model by moving to an online-based, customer service-focused model. In the case of Apple, they (and Samsung) have recently announced that they will be selling more directly to consumers. Technology such as soft SIM threatens to place even more control in the hands of the customer. Today’s customers want more flexibility and less reliance on traditional channels. These players are poised to offer just that.
These threats mean mobile operators need to create a truly omni-channel experience. Today’s sales and service strategies rely largely on siloed channels and emphasize physical retail and traditional call centers. The online experience has improved, but has a long way to go to match the digitally-centric experiences consumers expect. There needs to be a change in the model so customers can have a seamless, easy, and personalized experience no matter the channel with which they’re engaging.
The good news is that this battle has been fought – and won – in comparable industries. The victors have been highly digital, omni-channel, and data-savvy. For example, PC manufacturers moved two-thirds of sales online, enabled by a device ecosystem in which customers basically chose an OS and a non-descript box (sound like smart phones?). Insurance companies like eSurance and Progressive, enable customers to move all the way through the sales process or move seamlessly to a live agent at any point during or after the process. In financial services, LendingTree.com (and others) are selling complex products and services digitally, handing off to traditional partners consistently and effectively.
For mobile operators, a five-part, integrated strategy will enable them to win in an omni-channel, digital-centric world:
- Link channels together in a seamless, coherent experience: Customers don’t think in terms of channels – mobile operators do. Customers must have the ability to start and stop anywhere and have their information and processes follow them. 90% of mobile customers start their research online but less than 10% buy online. Carriers also need to have a customer’s complete shopping context - what they clicked on and put in a shopping cart - follow them into the store. If a customer then doesn’t complete their transaction in the store, carriers need to prompt them to complete their transaction online and enable them to pick up online in the part of the sales process where they left off in the store. Consider what Amazon does when you abandon a shopping cart by reminding you to complete your purchase. Mobile operators need to be doing the same – regardless of the channel in which the customer starts and stops their journey.
- Make physical stores smart: Consumers will continue to want a physical retail experience, but it will need to be a combination of digital and physical. Creating smart physical stores will make better use of customers’ time by incorporating digital experiences – both in-store and out – offloading customer activities pre-visit, during visit, or post visit. It will involve the omni-channel capabilities defined above and concepts like in-store self-serve and “shoulder-to-shoulder” sales experiences in which the sales rep and the customer collaboratively move through the process on a tablet together.
- Use digital to enhance the online and advisory experience: The online experience needs to be easy to navigate, but also easy to automate service and sales transactions. Carriers are currently offering online services, but the user experience is poor and needs to be dramatically improved and mobile-centric. The advisory experience must also be enhanced, using historical and real-time data to make intelligent product recommendations and easy for customers to get help.
- Turn the care model upside down: The traditional care model has customers waiting in long call queues, slogging through menus, and talking to reps struggling to access all of their information. The new model will be radically more self-serve, taking its cue from the best online service providers. Additionally, they may complement this with more “out-of-the-box” approaches like open-source care, in which customers solve each other’s problems. Operators such as Giffgaff in the UK are using this model as an effective complement to traditional online care.
- Bring science to sales and service operations: It can be daunting to operationalize terms like “omni-channel” and “smart stores,” but it’s actually very doable with the right, scientific approach. Mobile operators need to bring the same individual, scientific approach that they’ve employed in 1:1 marketing to frontline sales and service operations. This includes varying peak time activities based on real-time traffic, employing outcome-based routing, leveraging structured gamification, and developing self-learning feedback loops.
We need a customer experience revolution, driven by the five-part model defined here and enabled by flexible, agile technology. Using an old model to serve new customers is a house of cards. Operators need a forward-thinking, omni-channel strategy if they expect to maintain and strengthen their customer relationships, and remain relevant.
Series Note: Over the next few months we'll be breaking down this topic into a series, offering insight into how mobile operators can prepare for this revolution.