Consumer dissatisfaction with service providers lies primarily in a disconnect between price, offerings and service reliability. Operators believe they can alleviate those customer experience ills through technology investment.
After all, if consumers can get speeds of up to 1 Gb/s symmetric upload and download speeds for Internet activities, reliable performance regardless of the number and type of growing devices simultaneously tapping the network, and more immediate fixes for any service issues -- then they'll surely be in a happier state of mind. That, at least, is what operators should not unreasonably expect. (See The CX Journey & UBB: Houston, We Have a Problem.)
In addition to access technologies such as Gfast, XGS-PON, NG-PON2 and DOCSIS 3.1, operators are investigating, if not deploying, integrated analytics and big data solutions to create and fuel predictive analytics, machine learning and automation that will cut costs and improve services -- from delivery to maintenance to repair.
Ultra-broadband's vital role
The obvious entry point, though, is in ultra-broadband technology, since customers need high bandwidth to satisfy growing demand for faster upstream and downstream uses.
"What are the incremental services or the high-bandwidth services that you can enable as a result of the high-bandwidth technologies companies are investing in now, such as XGS or DOCSIS 3.1 or even 5G as an alternate access methodology?" Raghu Puri, managing director in Accenture's Communications, Media & Technology operating group, told UBB2020. "That is one element of customer experience, which is new products, new features, integrated experiences that you can now do, which are really centered now around video because that's the highest bandwidth service that's consuming the network."
Operators also leverage these high-speed networks to fuel predictive analytics, ultimately driving for automation as a source of decreased costs, enhanced customer satisfaction and new services, said George Nazi, managing director at Accenture's Communications, Media & Technology, in an interview.
"[This is] where you go from reacting to a customer experience or incident or request to smartly predicting what the customer might want and trying to make it happen before the customer might ask for it," he said. "This is the new thing that's now taking place across operators and an area that we're seeing with our larger clients."
Multiple technologies come into play. AT&T, for example, uses drones to check out cell towers and other sites, reducing manpower needs, improving employee safety and giving proactive capabilities to its repair teams, Chief Technology Officer Andre Fuetsch told UBB2020. (See AT&T: Using High-Speed Broadband to Boost Customer Service.)
Some technicians are donning wearables such as Google Glass, connecting them to a central office, so they can access additional knowledge -- and resolve a site visit in one session, said Puri. In other cases, consumers give permission to grant a centrally located service center staffer access to their device in order to remotely and collaboratively diagnose the problem, he added.
"Today, in an average house you've got 25 to 30 IP addresses. A lot of these devices are connecting to each other across a WiFi network," said Puri, adding that it's a significant value add for consumers to be able to isolate whether it's a device or application performance problem and if there's a simple fix.
Consistency, not content, is king
Cutting rollouts is vital, and live chat, drones and other tools help providers keep revenue up and customers happy. The best approach, of course, is consistent, reliable service that doesn't need calls, something unlikely to occur as residential customers buy more sophisticated bundles and services from providers and place them in sometimes network-unfriendly locations.
"The degree to which that service process can be made more efficient, streamlined and automated, is going to help. It would be hard to imagine that doesn't eventually show up in a little bump in terms of overall satisfaction," said David VanAmburg, managing director of the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), in an interview. "The question becomes how much, because the customer service aspect of any business, regardless of the industry, is important but it's intermittent. It's only used when somebody needs to use it."
"The vast majority of what you experience to evaluate how happy you are with a Comcast or a Spectrum isn't their online chat or even their call center," VanAmburg continued. "It's the Internet service, and it's the television service that you're experiencing day in and day out. So those are they types of things that have to get better in order to really boost long-term and meaningful improvement, because that's what impacts the vast majority of experience."
Behind the curtain
Equally critical are operators' investments in internal solutions that drive improved support at lower cost and ongoing reliability, steps that address consumers' price sensitivity and relationships with providers -- and may curtail providers' need to increase rates to maintain profitability in the long-term. That's crucial if operators want rankings to improve, cautioned VanAmburg.
"Now, how are they going to pay for it? Probably by raising our prices. Again. You may get better quality service from these providers, but it's going be blunted -- and the question then becomes how much is it going to be blunted -- by the fact they're going to charge us even more for it," he said. "We may see, five years from now or even less, they spent billions of dollars to do all these wonderful things; why did customer satisfaction only move up by only a point or two over the last five years, if that ends up happening?"
"We're seeing the value element of our model decline, even as the quality improves, because the only way companies can pay for all these investments is to make the customers pay," he added. "So they're essentially saying, 'You gave me more, but you charged me for it so we're pretty much back where we started.' "
Technology costs tend to be on providers' side, especially long-term, said Accenture's Nazi. Storage and computing prices have dropped, operators' ongoing adoption of standards-based applications and access technologies eliminate some interoperability overhead, software-defined networks and virtualization use grow, and many operators' big data silo integration and data cleanup projects are underway.
"It's technology not just to enhance the customer experience but also to impact the cost of operations and the time to resolve an issue because all of that links together in terms of financial impact to the service provider as well as perception impact as it relates to the client's view of and working with somebody who's got leading edge technology and cares about delivering the best service experience," Nazi said.
— Alison Diana, Editor, UBB2020. Follow us on Twitter @UBB2020 or @alisoncdiana.