Evolution of a customer-centric culture in the era of digital transformation

Spotlight Series Article

By Janet Watkin, Managing Director, Zenith Choice

Telcos are not making enough money from their networks, and this, coupled with the continued uncertainty about the source of future revenues, has resulted in major headcount reductions. The rollout of AI-enabled process automation is already underway, aimed at replacing manual tasks and serving customers more efficiently. This has been cited as a contributing factor to the large numbers of layoffs announced during 2023.

The theme of customer-centric evolution among telecoms service providers continues as a major topic of conversation but with little, if any, causal evidence of becoming real any time soon.

Tolerated not loved

Historically, incumbent telcos dominated home markets for years, with few competitive threats and few incentives to change from a supplier-focused culture (inward looking) to a customer-focused culture (outward looking). Network access was provisioned, often in weeks rather than days, and the network proved largely reliable and available, so in that sense customers declared themselves ‘satisfied’ when asked.

Once equipment was installed on the customer premises and connected to the network, it usually worked well, its primary purpose being to connect devices over wide areas allowing communication and exchange of information.

Customers were dissatisfied, however, with high prices; slow responsiveness; slow speeds; poor integration and lack of compatibility with other services; poor internal organisational coordination; lack of agility and flexibility; hard-to-access and helpdesks; and few alternative options.

Continuous improvement

Over the last thirty years, or more, customer-centricity has been talked about in terms of listening to and acting on ‘the voice of the customer’, which is not unreasonable. Customer satisfaction indices sought to capture the effectiveness of programmes aimed at providing an outstanding customer experience, or through mapping customer journeys or by developing trusted partnerships for digital transformation.

In response programmes of continuous improvement were set-up to adjust processes or programmes to help address the incessant negative feedback in highlighted areas, with varying degrees of success.

Out of the box thinking

However, little changed until everything changed. The root cause of major change was not the declared intent of telcos to be customer-focused but the ‘disruptive competition’ such as that seen by the launch and success of the internet, Google, the iPhone, and social media, for example. Competent entrepreneurs saw the opportunity gap and filled it with truly dramatic consequences.

“The electric light did not come from the continuous improvement of the candle,” as Oren Harari famously said.

A notable consequence of this disruptive thinking is the striking emergence of an entirely new competitive landscape. The networks supporting the prolific new era of competitive offers is owned and operated by the telcos. Coupled with the dual tasks of supporting the explosion of growth in network traffic volumes and at the same time finding ways to make money to survive, the telcos are now forced to either adapt or die. Network operators have been too slow to transition to the nimbler service organisations they aspire to become.

Time to flourish not flounder

The world has changed, not just technologically, but environmentally, economically, regulatory and politically, and at these boundaries of change the telcos ought to position themselves to flourish not flounder. Adapting to a changing environment underpins evolutionary change. The closer the fit to the environment the more successful the organisation. When the environment changes so must those organisations who find themselves negatively impacted, so they can claim, reclaim, or retain an advantage over competitors.

Heedless of pending threats for too long and blindsided by the myriad of emergent newcomers, the telcos have remained largely risk averse, technology-centric, process-orientated, and hierarchical in the way they are managed.

Transformation through reinvention

Consequently, they are reinventing themselves under the banner of telecoms reimagined. If others can so successfully add value to customers from the provision of new innovative equipment and over-the-top services, why can’t the telecoms providers do the same?

Many now define themselves as systems integrators or service organisations. The term telecom, largely, has been lost completely from the company brand name.

As the competitive landscape continues to evolve so does the fate of the incumbent and challenger telecoms providers, whatever their evolving names. It is time for them to evaluate what it really means to evolve towards a customer-centric culture. It is far more than a name or logo modification, or digital transformation initiative poorly done. Further, disruptive change stemming from cloud computing, artificial intelligence, and data analytics accelerates daily, challenging the industry once more to step-up and do better to capture the hearts and minds of customers.

By working more collaboratively with customers, prospective customers, and third-party partners, as well as with its own workforce, more tailored innovative solutions are expected to emerge and, potentially, catalyse transformation.

Integration of employee experience with customer experience

Customer expectations and preferences evolve continuously. New services that offer a compelling value proposition, from a trusted name, are usually the first to be embraced, but too often the telcos are still seen as pricey and pushy rather than responsive and caring. The employee experience, as well as the customer experience, must be measured, integrated, and enhanced.

It is only employees who can deliver the customer value proposition, even if the vehicle of delivery these days is, in part, a robot. A robot has intelligent design behind it.

By giving a voice to employees’ leaders create culture change

An empowered, engaged workforce working together as a team is transformative.

Aligning employees in the direction the business expects to travel is a leadership task. People resist change, it is human nature. Yet it is essential that employees align to meet the evolving strategic objectives of the company, as set-out by top-level leaders. Leaders must point everyone in the direction of customer-centricity for sustainable profitable growth. In the telecom industry silo, maintenance gets in the way. It reduces cooperation and encourages intransigence. It is the cultural barriers that hold back an organisation from transforming to outfox competitors, rarely a technological one.

Correlation is not causation

Current customer and employee experience and satisfaction metrics are vastly inadequate to capture the evolution of an organisation towards a customer-centric culture. It is time to depart from the heavy emphasis placed on correlated measures of satisfaction as a means of identifying priorities for improvement, and from the simplistic thinking that a single metric on ‘willingness to recommend’ a supplier or an ‘overall satisfaction’ rating can capture what is needed for transformative change.

Metrics that identify the causal links between customer experiences and sustainable profitable growth are required and must be fully integrated with the employee experience.

It is only by accurately monitoring the willingness and ability of the entire workforce, to be fully engaged and empowered, on behalf of the customer, that a customer-centric culture emerges.

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