In a recent article, we compared how telco holds itself accountable to its internally adored five-nine availability standards, yet still has cellar-dwelling customer satisfaction scores.
When you consider the expanse and complexity of the global telco network, and the millions of micro-events that occur on it each day, telco networks are amazingly resilient. Telcos certainly have a customer perception problem despite the great work they do to deliver highly reliable communications services to billions of customers globally. In fact, rather than being in spite of the great work they do, perhaps perceptions are as a result of the great work they do. Perceptions have formed over years as a result of arguably unrealistic expectations. We’re all so dependent upon our comms services that even a few hours without feels like a great indignity.
I’ve been happily using LinkedIn for 15+ years but when my account was disabled for 4 days last week, I felt helpless and frustrated by the lack of transparency from LinkedIn. Given the bigger issues LinkedIn was experiencing, I was the least of their worries.
As a sidebar, I’ve been reading Rory Sutherland’s book “Alchemy: The Surprising Power of Ideas That Don’t Make Sense.” In it, Sutherland explores how unconventional and counterintuitive ideas can lead to innovative solutions in life, business and decision-making. He considers how human behaviour, psychology and irrationality shape our choices and perceptions. The book delves into the art of reframing problems to find unexpected solutions. Sutherland challenges conventional thinking and encourages readers to embrace creative thinking approaches to problem-solving.
So, I thought I’d have a go at mashing these two constructs together – Network resilience perceptions and unconventional approaches.
But first, let’s look at the typical approaches telcos use to control the reputational damage caused by widespread outages:
- Recovery: By emphasising the quick recovery from disruptions, telcos aim to showcase their ability to manage challenges effectively
- Rarity: Positioning disruptions as rare occurrences to highlights the telco’s consistent performance. When outages are infrequent, there’s a perception by telcos (probably incorrectly) that their overall reputation remains strong
- Reliability Guarantees: Offering compensation or benefits in response to outages and SLA breaches demonstrates the telco’s commitment to customer satisfaction attempts to mitigate negative sentiment and build goodwill
- Surpassing Five-Nine Standards: Demonstrating stellar uptime compared to other industries will theoretically position the telco to be a reliable provider. This reliability “should” lessen the impact of occasional outages
- Resilient Architectures: Assisting and encouraging customers to have backup communication methods signals the telco’s proactive stance (although resilience generally comes at a significantly extra cost, thus amplifying customer grievances when an outage occurs that renders main and backup unavailable)
- Operational Change: Framing outages as temporary side effects of network expansion / augmentation / maintenance highlights the telco’s commitment to meeting increasing expectations
However, if I put my skeptical customer hat on, all of these traditional approaches just sound like marketing spin to try to trick you into being less upset with the telco. And the spin arguably does more reputational damage than the outage itself Does it feel that way to you too? Can you think of other techniques used by telco PR departments?
Instead, I’ve tried to put my Rory Sutherland hat on and consider unconventional approaches that might be more palatable (and can be contributed to by our OSS):
- Transparency: The spin approaches attempt to preserve a reputation of infallibility. That might have been acceptable and even viable last century, but times have changed. Open communication about the source of disruptions and the steps taken to address them doesn’t totally negate customer disappointment but it can engender understanding and trust. Transparency can be delivered in multiple ways:
- Rapid and Proactive Communication: Fast observability, service impact analysis (SIA), trouble-ticketing systems, notifications frameworks and next-best action (NBA) recommendation engines (all OSS tools) allow telcos to notify their customers of outages rather than just reacting to customer complaints. They also support ongoing updates on the situation, expected resolution times and steps being taken to fix problems. This form of transparency shows accountability, an understanding of what remedial actions are required and helps manage customer expectations. It was this lack of communication from LinkedIn that caused concerns because I had no idea if or when my account might become available again
- Personalised Communication and Customer Support: Not only do the types of OSS tools mentioned above allow for proactive communications, but with modern dashboarding and reporting tools, they also have the ability to provide personalised support for customers via whichever channel they prefer (eg contact centre agents, emails, text messages, smart-phone apps, portals, etc)
- Post Incident Review (PIR): Telcos will almost always conduct a thorough PIR to identify what went wrong and areas for improvement after major disruptions. However, this information is rarely shared externally by telcos in anything other than vague terms. The hyperscalers are generally far better at sharing simplified versions of PIR results with curious outsiders than telcos. PIRs can be time-consuming, but since OSS collect timestamped telemetry and dependency mappings, they can fast-track the collection and dashboarding of key contributors to disruptions in an automated or semi-atuomated way, reducing manual PIR effort.
- Remedial Activities: Not only should the causes / circumstances be shared via the PIR, but also the steps proposed to prevent the same issue from occurring again. This helps to engender understanding and trust. It also provides leeway in situations where an outwardly similar previous disruption has actually arisen from different conditions. None of us expect complete infallibility, knowing that incidents happen, but none of us like to be impacted by repeated mistakes. Again, the transparency of hyperscalers and their remediation plans engenders greater goodwill than any telcos that attempt to sweep the problems under the carpet with a lack of transparency
- Long-Term Strategy: The OSS tools mentioned above are a key factor in a telco’s awareness of past, current and future situations. Having the early warning, impact analysis and resolution / response mechanisms within an OSS can mitigate outage durations and even prevent outages from occurring, thus limiting reputational damage. By develop strategic plans to enhance network resilience / reliability and communicating them with customers, it assures them of ongoing efforts to prevent future customer impacting events
- Genuine Apologies and Compensation: When an outage occurs, many telcos have a tendency to apologise in a way that doesn’t seem contrite, nor genuinely apologise for the inconvenience caused. OSS tools combined with advanced AI techniques have the ability to offer personalised apologies and compensation packages that uniquely align with each customer’s psychology, preferences and requirements
- Customer / Community Feedback: After an outage is resolved, seek feedback from affected customers and engage in genuine conversations with customers. Customer feedback is an essential element of understanding the customer. However, most customers only seek to communicate with a telco when they have a concern or problem. The best customer service is no customer service (ie customers have no reason to complain or interact with a provider). Therefore it’s essential to use every feedback opportunity to better understand the needs, desires and concerns of customers that have reputational impact, whilst continuously improving service offerings and network reliability. Demonstrating that customer input is valued and acted upon strongly reinforces trust
Not many people think of them this way, but OSS are a massive insurance policy for every telco’s brand (if implemented well). As you see above, they have the potential to be a significant mitigator of reputational damage / risk. Entire OSS transformation business cases can be stood up on the basis of insurance justification… but almost never are. When generating your next OSS business case, I encourage you to take a leaf out of Rory Sutherland’s book and embrace creative thinking – to turn the intangible benefits of OSS into quantifiable numbers that justify commencement of the project.
The examples shown above are barely the tip of the iceberg. I’m sure you have many other ideas about how our OSS can improve customer experiences and perceptions for the telcos we build them for. I’d love to hear your additional thoughts and point out many other factors that are missing. Please leave us a comment below!