IBM exec says customer service, not just network, should be top of mind for telcos

Broadband providers the world over are scrambling to upgrade their networks with the latest cable and fiber technology. But one IBM executive warned a flashy new network won’t get them very far without stellar customer service to match, especially with plenty of new competition flooding the market.

Steve Goetz is VP and senior partner at IBM and serves as the global industry leader of telco and media for IBM Consulting. He told Fierce transformation of legacy BSS and customer service systems with cloud capabilities, artificial intelligence and automation will be necessary for any telco looking to stay competitive in the future. These, he said, can help operators reinvent the relationship they have with existing customers, transform cost structures and infuse speed into their operations.

“Customers expect the best experience that they receive regardless of who provides it to them, and every day the standard of great customer experience, the bar goes higher and the gap gets wider for those who haven’t done it,” he said of digital transformation. “As the telecommunications providers’ customers evolve within that continuum, they will also at the same time have more and more choice…I see it as an absolute requirement regardless of what environment you’re in.”

Telecom operators today have notoriously low net promoter scores, which measure customer satisfaction and loyalty on a scale of -100 to 100. The latest report from CustomerGauge showed the telecom industry has an average NPS of 31, the lowest of any in the company’s NPS Benchmark report.

According to Goetz, operators are looking to improve their NPS rankings by speeding time to resolution when customers call in, eliminating the pain points that cause call-ins in the first place and enabling self-care.

“It’s really around what typically we’d call in the industry first contact resolution. It’s about the quality of that resolution, whether or not subsequent contacts are required. Kind of a do it right the first time theme around that…And of course it’s all about self-care as well,” he said. “There are very, very large opportunities for efficiency using artificial intelligence, intelligent workflows and automation within those processes.”

He noted new entrants are flocking to the broadband market and bringing with them a much more digital focus than incumbents. That’s in part because they are operating in true greenfield environments rather than trying to manage a collection on brownfield systems.

Thus, overhauling legacy systems is critical for those looking to stay relevant.

“These things are not done because they’re nice things to do, although they are. They’re being done to address the issues of competitive advantage that our clients need to maintain and grow given the current competitive landscape,” Goetz concluded.