Telecoms companies are facing different challenges right now depending on where they are in the world. In countries like the UK, US, and Japan, telcos are downsizing their physical operations, cutting costs, and trying to move customer interactions from physical stores to (allegedly) cheaper digital channels.
In developing markets, like in Africa, parts of Asia, and the Caribbean, the retail channel is pivotal. These telcos are trying to manage exploding populations and ever-increasing demand for data and services. The result? Busy stores, long queues, and a poor customer experience.
This is not an insignificant problem. In Nigeria for example, it’s not unusual for customer lineups to stretch around the block. Their government is so concerned about customer service standards in the telecoms space that they’re imposing service standards, to ensure customers are attended to within 30 minutes.
Wait times are a tricky thing. You want customers to be serviced quickly, but encouraging dwell time is important too – how else will customers discover, try, and buy if they never spend any time in the store?
In this article, I’ll explore the complex relationship between wait time and dwell time and provide four solutions that expertly walk this line and will turbocharge your customer experience.
In developing markets, the energy in the telecoms sector is palpable, with a young and growing demographic driving demand for smartphones. Last week, I saw this firsthand when I spent some time in Kenya.
In one street, there were over 10 different telecom locations. These were also augmented by sales agents on street corners selling from wooden cabins.
In one store, I saw two things that brought the wait/dwell debate into focus.
Consider the two images below – the first image shows Average Waiting Time (AWT) and Average Service Time (AST) being tracked as KPIs. This is borne out of necessity – this was in one of the largest stores I have ever seen on one floor, holding around 100 humans inside at any one time, with around 50 more waiting patiently to get in!
The second image shows a large TV screen in the same store - an attempt at customer experience via education. The TV played a branded video about the carrier’s efforts at ESG and sustainability. What you cannot get from the picture is that it did its job – it captured the attention of the little girl - not a customer right now, but a future brand advocate you would hope!
My point with showing both pictures? Together, they are a classic oxymoron and lead us to the big question, “what is the point of the retail store?”.
Is it to serve the greatest number of customers in the shortest possible time, reduce queues, and drive efficiency?
Or is it to entertain and educate the customers of today and tomorrow, thereby increasing the time they spend in store?
The simple answer is that telco retailers need to do both (and they can), but the complex answer (as always) is “the devil is in the details”.
There are two main problems I see in developing markets that are struggling with volume:
1. Transaction Times Are Too Long: Legacy systems, such as poorly integrated POS systems, are harming your ability to delight your customers. Simple service transactions are over-engineered and take too long. Telcos have not moved the right transactions onto digital platforms to allow their stores and partners to sell quickly and efficiently.
2. Limited Attention Paid to Brand Education & New Products and Services: Consider the little girl in the second picture. The TV she was looking at is in a lonely part of the store near the entrance and away from the waiting area. It had no sound. Likely, she was bored and was stretching her legs and the moving images at least caught her attention. There were some live devices to play with – but no real brand immersion or experiences.
So, how do we strike the best balance between wait and dwell time? Here are four solutions that will re-invent your customer experience, turbo charge your sales, and slash your waiting times to boot!
Telecoms stores should not resemble a 1980’s delicatessen - it’s not “take a ticket and wait”. If your queue system cannot properly filter customers into different queues and be well managed by the store staff, you are off to a bad start. Queues will build up and the machine itself becomes a barrier.
The Solution: Invest in a multi-layer queue system with multiple entry points: online, carrier app, SMS, physical entry, roving entry into tablet, and QR code scan. This way, you can build workflows and resource plans for people managing service transactions and complaints, as these are different and perhaps a little slower than someone wanting a sale.
The Result: Increases conversions, decreases transaction times, and improves the customer experience.
Most stores I see resemble post offices or banks, with uncomfortable plastic chairs, no amenities to read or watch, and no place to even charge your phone. If the waiting area is grim, the experience will be just as terrible.
The Solution: Some stores NEED a waiting zone. It’s unavoidable in big stores in big cities. So, make them comfortable, and give them access to branded materials that advertise your products and services. All of them. Educate your customers. If you need to deploy TVs, make them engaging, with curated content that talks to customers as well as catching their attention with moving images.
The Result: Decreases waiting times, improves brand cut through, and enhances the customer experience.
Tendering a telco transaction is no simple feat. “Checking out” involves not just the point of sale, but also interacting with complex CRM front ends, billing system applets, and more. This multitude of systems can be cumbersome and are difficult to use and train. They are hardly ever mobile friendly or built for tablet. As a result, transactions are often slow, and CX, AWT, and AST all suffer as a result.
The Solution: Invest in a single-front-end customer transaction system that’s specially built for telco. A true retail management platform. Allow your staff to recall customers quickly with a system that integrates with your CRM. This ensures the right information is presented quickly and provides a 360-degree view of the customer. Visualise the product catalogue and make building an order and discussing the possibilities a visual delight - not just reams of spreadsheets, or worse, spoken jargon that is hard to comprehend. Allow integration to the ERP and the BSS so that inventory and tariff pricing can flow, and activations happen instantaneously. Make things QUICK!
The Result: More transactions per hour = more sales. Enhances upselling and cross-selling. Reduces AWT and AHT. All this leads to increased customer experience. On the employee side, this also translates to more commissions, happier employees, less turnover, and re-training cost savings.
Most telcos are still way too monolithic in their approach to channels. Retail – we have that. Call centre? We have that. Digital – oh yeah, we have an app and a website.
Do they work together? Do your systems enable a customer to explore in one channel, book an appointment in another, start a transaction there and have it tendered, and then have it delivered and fulfilled in another channel altogether? Thought not. It is possible. It’s almost 2024.
The Solution: Invest in a commerce layer above your legacy and fixed IT systems. It’s a fraction of the price of a CRM or a BSS. This single front end approach can delight customers in all channels and make life easy for staff. Which if you do correctly, means they have more time to sell.
The Result: Improves transaction times, increases sales, improves CX.
These four simple, but inter-connected fixes are easily possible in today’s digital age. Yet many telcos persist with their legacy technology, which means they’re unable to build the vision of a future that is pure omnichannel. By making some of the critical changes I’ve described, you will delight your customers, attain accurate inventory levels across all channels, and deliver a sales experience that blows your customers away.
I’ve concentrated on developing markets in my examples – however the themes persist even in seemingly more advanced markets like the UK. See my recent blog on my poor personal experience with a Tier 1 UK carrier.
How do you balance service and experience needs in your store? Are you using any strategies I haven’t mentioned here?