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By Neil Blagden, Director of Digital & Commercial Operations, Vodafone UK

Delivering an excellent customer and digital service is crucial for banks and telcos alike, yet both sectors are typically some way behind the top performers when assessed by customers. This is partly due to the nature of our industries – supplying complex services over multi-year contracts inevitably compares less favourably to businesses that deliver services one transaction at a time. Nevertheless, we all want to improve, and we should be ready to share experiences between our sectors, given their similarities. So, how can banks and telcos learn from one another to turn things around?

Vodafone works with some of the world’s largest banks, providing technology that can help them deliver faster, more responsive customer communications. At a time when a host of challengers are starting to disrupt the way things are done, it’s more important than ever to ensure that customers feel valued, and have a positive experience at every touchpoint.

At Vodafone UK, we’ve been working towards that very goal. Over the last 18 months, we’ve been driving a customer contact transformation programme that’s significantly reduced the volume of calls our service centres receive and improved our ability to resolve queries the first time around. We’ve also introduced new digital channels, including 24-hour customer care on Twitter. While we have further to go, we’re making steady progress. Recently, we recorded our highest ever customer satisfaction score, and we’re determined to keep getting better.

I believe the lessons we’ve learned along the way could apply to many industries working to provide excellent customer care, whether it’s banking or telecoms. Below, I’d like to share four insights based on our experiences. 

Create agile working groups to find and resolve customer concerns

Opening up multiple customer channels makes it easier for people to get in touch. But if there are broken processes or underlying systems issues, adding more channels can add complexity to an already confused situation.

The focus instead should be on setting up an agile transformation programme. This means creating small working groups, made up of frontline operatives and subject matter experts, who can identify, prioritise and fix the issues causing problems for customers.

That’s exactly what we’ve done at Vodafone.To determine what the main issues for customers were, we set up small groups that brought together employees who are our customers’ main points of contact, and we empowered our staff to solve these problems at pace.Over the course of 18months, we implemented over 2,000 improvements to our underlying systems, processes and training.All these improvements were based on direct feedback from colleagues who are on the frontlines every day, helping to resolve customer queries.

Deploy digital innovations to make it easy for customers to get tasks done

From fintech start-ups to the industry’s biggest players, more and more banks are introducing chatbots as part of their customer service.Chatbots can play a useful role in providing fast, efficient responses to frequently asked questions. Vodafone launched  TOBi, the UK telco industry’s first artificial intelligence (AI) chatbot, in 2017. From our experience, it’s essential to engage closely with customers and frontline colleagues to ensure that the technology we provide meets their needs.

Based on the feedback we received, we know that our customers see the benefits of using a chatbot for some services. They just want us to make it clear when they’re talking to a chatbot rather than a human agent.Thanks to customer feedback we’ve continued to improve TOBi, and it’s made a big difference. Recently, when asked how user-friendly TOBi is, customers gave our chatbot a rating of 89/100,a top of the range result.

Another innovation that’s increasingly popular is the voice-activated digital assistant, such as Alexa and Google Home. We’ve found that customers really like the convenience of using a digital assistant to interact with us, whether it’s to request billing information or to get answers to the most frequently asked questions. As was the case with TOBi, we’ve learned that feedback is absolutely key to delivering better service.

Join up every customer touchpoint to provide a personalised experience

Customers today expect to be able to contact businesses across a variety of channels, whether it’s by phone, email, live chat, instant message or social media. Even if they move from one channel to another, they expect agents to know the history of their queries and where they are in the customer journey.

To join up multiple channels and provide personalised customer service, getting the technology right is critical. Businesses need contact centre infrastructure that links up all the ways a customer might get in touch. A joined-up approach includes the right technology for retail stores as well. At Vodafone, we gave front-line employees the tools they needed to offer customers the best possible in-store experience. Armed with tablets connected to in-store WiFi, our retail staff were able to work more efficiently, which boosted the number of walk-ins and reduced demand for appointments.

Human interaction is vital to customer contact transformation

Whether we’re talking about a bank or a telco, providing a gold standard in customer service requires a fresh approach.Customer contact transformation means big changes in how we operate, so that we can offer more and better ways for customers to get in touch.

Technology is only part of the solution, of course. In fact, human interaction is very much the cornerstone of customer satisfaction. Over three-quarters (76%) of British consumers say they prefer to speak to a person to solve customer service issues, according to Accenture’s Global Consumer Pulse Survey. That’s why I believe that blending technology and human interaction is key to delivering exceptional service.

Contact transformation is about making use of new innovations, but it’s also about hiring the best people. From banks to telcos, every UK business needs a team of support staff ready to resolve customer issues quickly and efficiently, all while delivering a caring service every step of the way.

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