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In times of need, can telcos be there for their customers?

Kenneth Benner,
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Telcos haven’t been known to be the friendliest organizations. They lock you into two-year contracts. They surprise you with overage charges. They allow telemarketers to ruin your dinner. However, during the coronavirus epidemic they have stepped up. As a group, their networks are operating well and connectivity has been solid. They signed a pledge to not disconnect anyone for 60 days, as broadband is essential. Some are giving their front-line employees raises to handle the onslaught of customer requests. Some are providing mobile security free of charge to customers to help protect against increased cyber security attacks during this time.

I applaud them for their recent measures. But can they apply empathy to every single interaction and build long lasting “valuable brand relationships” with their customers? I think they can, but they will need change their DNA to be simple and be empathetic.

How to add simplicity and empathy into your telco DNA

For telcos, the coronavirus era has already created a massive opportunity to add value to customers’ lives. Your customers are going through hardships. They will have challenges paying their bills and they will need their connectivity to find a new job and to continue to support their kids’ virtual education classes.

Here are three ideas for telcos that I believe help simplify customer interactions and embrace empathy:

  • Digitally schedule deferred payments: Help your customers and respond to government mandates for 60-day payment deferrals without adding burdens to your already-taxed call center staff. Create a self-contained digital workflow that lets customers self-assess and request a modified payment plan that fits them in this time of need.

  • Improve service with digital solutions: Call centers are under pressure, response times are slow, making customers uncomfortable and nervous. Relieve stress, increase satisfaction, and reduce churn by providing customers with a web-based and mobile-app problem-solving experience. Quickly launch “digital experts” such as web self-service, mobile apps, and intelligent assistants (e.g., chatbots, email bots) to deflect questions from the call center and automate request completion and fulfillment.

  • Retain customers with personalized, empathetic offers: Use AI to identify customers that are experiencing issues with their service. Customers may need to choose which bills to pay. Engage proactively with empathetic, suitable retention offers that get them through these hard times.

Start now … build a foundation for sustained transformation

Solutions to help respond to the coronavirus crisis don’t need to be a massive undertaking. I’ve seen a client’s entire call center get completely shut down. But their response was brilliant. They responded by launching a web-based form on their site to respond to customer inquiries and requests in just days. Customers were happier because they could track the response online and could go back to their lives while their problem was being solved. They didn’t need to navigate an automated phone system, explain the problem to an agent and wait while they solved it. In the same vein, I’ve talked to other clients that were able to launch empathetic offers to help their customers right-size service plans, offer free calling to highly-impacted regions, and drop fees. Overnight, these clients became simpler and more empathetic.

Other clients who are taking a simplified, empathetic, and digital-first approach are seeing results. A large retail bank adapted to the coronavirus with instant, personalized communications designed to help their customers in a time of real need and uncertainty. They activated this program within two days across multiple channels. And even before this crisis began, Sprint reduced their postpaid churn by 15%. These organizations are solving problems now while providing a foundation for empathy, simplicity, and a sustained transformation to their organization’s DNA. They’re also optimizing cost-effectiveness. A Forester Total Economic Impact study highlighted that incremental revenue increased significantly across three years for organizations that take an empathetic, next-best-experience approach. In fact, four organizations from three different industries averaged $226 million a year in incremental revenue.

What I have learned over the last 45 days – connecting matters

The novel coronavirus has upended my life like everyone else. But there have been a few silver linings in this dark cloud that I will remember and even cherish. I’ve spent more time with my wife and kids – helping my kids with their homework, and my daughter is teaching me to be a star on TikTok (not really!). And I’ve reconnected with old friends. Some are having a difficult time caring for an elderly parent. Some have lost their jobs. Some are trying to figure out how to keep their business open. Each person’s situation is unique. Reaching out, connecting, and really listening matters.

There’s a quote from Theodore Roosevelt that I appreciate more these days, “No one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.” This is true in business and in life. Take care of yourselves and take advantage of this time to connect with your family, friends, and customers. They will remember you for it.

Learn more:


  • Challenge: 1-to-1 Marketing
  • Challenge: Customer Service
  • Industry: Communications Service Providers
  • Product Area: Customer Service
  • Topic: Personalized Customer Experiences
  • Topic: Marketing Automation
  • Topic: Operational Excellence

About the Author

In his role as Pega’s Global Industry Market Leader for Communications, Media, and Consumer Services, Kenneth Benner applies his more than 20 years of experience building world-class CRM and OSS products to advise clients on the best way to drive new business and provide outstanding customer experiences.