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Fixing Telecom’s Bad Reputation for Customer Service

March 7, 2024

Bad customer service is not something for which you want to be known. Unfortunately, most Americans rate telecommunication companies as one of the worst for customer service, second only to airlines and government offices. That’s bad when your phone company’s customer service is slightly better than calling the IRS. So, why is that? What has led to such a negative perception of the industry, and how can telecoms change this? It’s a problem that must be solved, because 1 in 26 customers don’t bother complaining, most of them just leave, and more are leaving for competitors who offer a superior service experience.  

Sorry, Telecoms, Your CX is Rated Poorly 

For anyone in the industry, it probably comes as no surprise that telecoms are rated poorly when it comes to customer service performance. In a 2015 Statista survey, U.S. telecoms were rated the second worst for customer experience, second only to government offices. By 2018, a survey by showed they made it to first place, outranking even airlines and insurance companies, who are notoriously known for long waits and frustrating service experiences.  

Fast forward to 2023, and not much has changed. On the American Customer Satisfaction Index, Americans rated the service experience of the U.S. Postal Service higher than that of telecoms or ISPs (70% CSAT versus telecoms’ 68%). Think about the last time you tried to contact the post office by email or phone, and that tells you a lot…  

So, why are telecoms rated so poorly, even against industries known for bad service? You only have to look through social media to see more than one example of customers waiting sometimes 45 minutes to 1 hour to speak to a live customer service representative. It seems like accessibility and convenience, two of the main things which today’s customers seek, are sadly lacking in the telecom sphere.  

Email is no better. One study by Netomi revealed that only 53% of telecom companies had an easily accessible email address, and even when they replied, more than half provided a poor-quality response. Is anyone paying attention to what that means for a telecom’s bottom line? 

More Churn Since the Pandemic 

Though telecoms have long touted their commitment to delivering exceptional customer service, the proof is in the data. Since 2015, public perceptions seem to have worsened. A 2022 State of Customer Churn Telecom Report showed that loyalty to telecom providers has dipped 22% post-pandemic. One in three customers now reports feeling no loyalty at all to their Phone or Internet service provider, and the reasons why are clear, as you will see below. Challenges range from agents taking too long to resolve an issue to having to repeat information several times. 

So, why are telecoms having such difficulty creating a genuinely helpful and enjoyable customer experience when research shows that 96% of Americans view customer service as one of the highest loyalty factors.  

Often the challenge comes because of mass consolidation across the telecom industry, which puts a strain on creating a seamless, unified approach to service delivery. Many companies have also traditionally focused on product and network improvements rather than meeting customers where they are.  

This, if nothing changes, is unwelcome news for telecoms. As it is, telecommunication companies have difficulties differentiating their products and services, which makes them less likely to drive loyalty just based on their offerings alone. This also makes them more susceptible to customer churn. Nearly half of telecom customers report canceling a phone or internet contract in the past year, and 92% did so because a competitor offered a better service experience.  

Changing the Bad Perception of Telecoms 

So, how can telecoms overcome these challenges? According to surveys, there are three principal areas of customer frustration. If you address these, you can improve both customer satisfaction and retention, without having to make major overhauls to your service delivery framework.  

Customer frustration #1 – Long Wait Times 

Longer waits are sometimes inevitable during peak call times, however, 40% of telecom customers have reported long waits when calling customer care and 34% said they felt it took too long to resolve their issue. When surveyed, customers said they felt their time wasn’t being respected, citing it as one of the key reasons for churn.  

Solution: Expand your customer care team to ensure adequate staffing levels at peak times or use the cost-effective services of a trusted CX partner. You could also look at ways to divert some calls to self-serve options or chatbots, to reduce the demand for live agents. But always leave the option to speak to a human – 88% of customers still prefer a live agent for complex issues

Customer Frustration #2 – Repeating Information 

Though shorter wait times are key, don’t make the mistake of sacrificing quality for speed– a “fast call” isn’t always the best call if customer issues stay unresolved. The #1 frustration of telecom customers is repeating themselves – whether that’s repeating information to multiple reps (44%) or having to make repeated calls to resolve an issue (47%).  

Solution: Telecom billing can be particularly complex. Make sure you empower agents to solve most issues on the first call by ensuring they have sufficient knowledge of products, processes, and systems (so they know where to turn to for help). Comprehensive training programs and ongoing workshops, like those we implement at itel, that focus on skills reinforcement, processes and training simulations, will arm agents with what they need to succeed in first call resolution. 

Customer Frustration #3 – Poor Interactions with Agents 

One of the most fundamental components of great customer service is the way frontline agents interact with customers. It’s not always what you do, but how you do it. Sadly, the second most common reason for telecom customer churn is either agents who weren’t knowledgeable enough (35%), lacked empathy (30%) or who were rude to customers (27%).  

Solution: There’s no excuse for rudeness, but a lack of knowledge or empathy can be overcome through coaching and the right agent tools. There are real benefits to using a real-time performance management system. It allows quality coaches to not only identify problem areas, which they can address in one-on-one coaching, but they can also offer helpful prompts to the agent during a call. Our sentiment analysis tool can even detect customer frustration, notifying the agent, so they can actively diffuse any tension. 

Together, We Can Create a Better Customer Experience 

Telecoms are first and foremost communication companies. Although networks and systems are important, good customer service is a key part of customer retention. It is more costly to try to win a customer back than to keep them in the first place. It is critical that telecoms provide customers with an experience they like to engage with, one that balances efficiency and quality.  

If you need help, itel can partner with you to review, map out and deliver an excellent customer experience. We can help make telecom CX something to rave about not rail against.  

Learn more about itel and how we can support businesses in the Telecommunications & Media industry.

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