Customer Service Still Lagging

Customer experience varies widely in the prepaid mobile telecoms industry, with the level of service differing significantly across channels and locations, according to the results of a ‘mystery shopping’ study, published by global advisory firm KPMG.

The KPMG study, ‘In Search of a Better Customer Experience’, focuses on the global $US770 billion prepaid market, comparing and testing firsthand the customer experiences across 106 providers of prepaid mobile services in 25 countries. Through 850 store visits, 750 calls to contact centres, 1400 SIMs purchased and over 500 top-ups completed, KPMG’s mystery shopping report uncovers some shortcomings across retail, contact centre and online channels.
The study reveals that countries in the Asia-Pacific region where prepaid represents a significant proportion of the overall market, ranked highest for retail customer experience. China, Indonesia and Singapore were first, second and third respectively.

Telcos playing catch-up with digital

Despite the growth and proliferation of smart phones, many global providers may be failing to reflect these trends in the way they provide services and products. According to the study, only 45 percent of service providers sold prepaid services online. Failing to optimise for user experience, many operators have a long way to go to simplify the order process online. A customer can order a SIM card if they complete as little as 9 fields on some operators’ webpages, while others required as much as 41 fields of information to make a single order. Notably, Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs) – providers who do not own the underlying mobile infrastructure and sell a branded white label product – have been found to be more aligned to customers’ needs, providing a simplified and hassle-free user experience online.

As an attempt to reduce costs, many telcos are presenting online chat as an alternative to contacting the call centre. While 40 percent of telcos surveyed have adopted them, they have the potential to contribute to poor customer service, with technical issues and excessive wait times reported.

Lee Ayling, Partner at KPMG’s telecoms practice commented “Whilst this study benchmarked the prepaid market, the lessons are just as valid for all the other services offered by telcos. In an increasingly competitive industry, where customers use multiple channels, it is crucial that operators consistently provide a best-in-class experience to add and retain customers. If a telco is not performing a task well, many of its competitors will.”

Consistency across channels and locations proves elusive

Many global operators are struggling to maintain consistency of customer service across their locations. The results reveal stark differences in terms of waiting times and how retail stores handle their customers, among other measures detailed in full in the report.

In store waiting: This varied depending on the geographic location of the store; the longest wait times were seen in the United Arab Emirates and New Zealand. Extremely low wait times were recorded in Canada, Indonesia and Nigeria. The average wait time was just under 5 minutes in retail outlets.

Call centre waiting times: The average time on hold after completing the interactive voice response (IVR) prompts was 2 minutes, but mystery shoppers were left waiting longer than five minutes 17 percent of the time. In the UK, where prepaid accounts for 46 percent of the mobile market, the average wait time was less than one minute, although significant variations were observed.

Concierge availability: According to the KPMG report, best practice in a retail outlet is to have a concierge to greet customers, gather their information and to allow them to browse products. On average, 56 percent of retail stores measured had a concierge, but this ranged significantly between countries. In the UK, 40 percent of stores had this service. The presence of a concierge was most common in regions with some of the highest penetrations of prepaid mobile use.

Lee Ayling concludes “Consistency of service for global brands should be a board-level issue, because mobile operators’ competitive advantage lies in providing a superior customer experience. In some cases, we are seeing operators seeking more control over the customer experience, with some operators buying back their franchise and licensee stores.

“Interestingly, in some respects, emerging economies are leading the sector. For instance, e-top ups are more readily available in Kenya, South Africa and Southeast Asia, than in many developed countries. These examples of best practice could be readily replicated by mobile operators in other regions.”

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David Dungay

Editor - Comms Business Magazine
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