When the COVID-19 crisis sent millions of people home early in 2020, major telecom providers didn’t let them down. Comcast, the largest provider of broadband in the U.S., handled a 32% spike in internet usage, including a 212% increase in bandwidth-hogging videoconferencing. Despite historic, overnight spikes in demand as the world shelters in place, most of the world’s telecoms have adjusted without missing a beat.
How did they pull it off? In recent years, most major carriers have overhauled their networks to meet the needs of an increasingly digital world. They replaced old routers and switches with new, software-based infrastructure that allows them to add features or shift capacity on the fly.Just as important, they are making similar investments in digital technology to improve customer support operations and enable better customer experience.
“Recent events have proven how critical and reliant the world has become on connectivity,” says Chris Bauschka, general manager and area VP of telecommunications at ServiceNow. “It’s more important than ever for communication service providers to utilize the right technology to become more responsive to their customers’ needs.”
Staging a comeback with customers
Most telecoms aren’t there yet. According to the American Customer Satisfaction Index, the industry ranked second to last in customer satisfaction in 2019.
“Most communications markets are getting awfully saturated, so telecoms are realizing they can’t just focus on getting new customers,” says Gregg Johnson, CEO of Invoca, which sells call-tracking software used by marketers and call center reps. “They need to make their existing customers happier.”
Many telecoms could start by offering different tiers of service, says Thomas Davenport, a professor of information technology and management at Babson College. Very few, for example, offer premium experiences to their best customers, or higher-value offerings for the most price-conscious. “You can spend as much as you want with a telecom, and you’ll get the same lousy service,” he says.
AI will be a crucial part of meeting this challenge. Invoca’s software, for example, listens in to service reps’ calls with customers to flag possible service congestion or delays in a neighborhood so they can be resolved proactively. Comcast uses data it collects from devices in the homes of its customers to troubleshoot and identify opportunities to upsell new products.
The telecom industry has sidestepped major obstacles over the years. Wi-Fi, once seen as a threat, became a way to offload soaring cellular traffic. Streaming services like Netflix went from a scourge that was going to bring the internet to its knees to a partner for many carriers. And while the cloud remains a threat to carriers’ once-lucrative sales of corporate IT services, many telecoms have exited the data center business and found new ways to add value.
“In the future, carriers should be reaching out to make sure people are happy,” says Johnson. That means creating a more seamless omni-channel approach that balances effective self-service options with the occasional proactive outreach when the customer has a problem or need that’s not being addressed. “It preempts problems and creates sales opportunities.”