Alok Kumar, an engineer from IIT Kharagpur, has been instrumental in laying the foundations of Service Delivery organization for leading telecom operators in India – both in the mobile / fixed line & data services. He has behind him 37 years of career spanning sales, ISO 9000 / total quality management including 28 years in Customer Service Delivery, Quality & Enterprise CRM implementation in leading organizations like Xerox, Escotel, Bharti Airtel and now Aircel. In an email interview with Voice&Data, Kumar elaborates about the company’s achievements and plans. Some excerpts:
Voice&Data: How are customer services playing a role in enhancing customer experience and preventing subscriber churn in the competitive telecom landscape?
Alok Kumar: Customer Service is broadening its role and enlarging its play within the organization to cater more efficiently to its customers. It has evolved from being a reactive contributor in terms of efficiently handling customer issues, requests & queries, to a more proactive role and is now leading Customer Experience enhancement for strengthening its brand proposition.
This is being done through a series of initiatives/programs/management practices:
- ‘Customer listening’ programs that involve inter functional leadership teams in constantly engaging with different segments of consumers to understand changing expectations, delivery gaps & opportunities for differentiation.
- Using big data analytics on customer data during usage, interaction history, etc., which leads to identifying specific customer requirements and addressing any underlying concerns they are facing in a proactive manner.
- Keeping a regular pulse on existing customers to assess their brand experience and all customer impacting processes as well measuring impact of brand positioning from customers perspective vis-a-vis competition.
- Benchmarking & imbibing best practices in Customer Experience methods & techniques from across industry segments.
- Improving the experience customers receive at ‘retail point’ where a lot of subscribers go for purchase as well as post-sales support. This is achieved by providing various tools & access points for retailers to support their walk-in to their stores.
The underlying emphasis is that by providing a stellar experience at all touch points through a good ‘listening’ organization, will ensure stickiness to the brand which in turn will lead to reducing churn and keeping us ahead of the competition.
Alok Kumar: Can you highlight the latest trends and insights into customer behaviour and engagement within the telecom sector?
The latest trends in the customer behavior within telecom sector as per our insights are follows:
- The growth of telecom market is taking place more in urban fringes, small towns & villages. Consumers in this segment need a higher level of face-to-face ‘handholding’ for use of voice & data services and this trend results in the retailer becoming the preferred contact point for them.
- With the cost of smartphones and data services going down, the number of consumers engaging with social media platforms has increased. Indian language options becoming available on these platforms have led to a drastic increase in social media adoption. However for other VAS services like entertainment/utility/banking/health etc., - consumers & retailers are still grappling in the absence of structure as well as lack of retailer skills both on handset level 1 handling & VAS education & selling has reduced.
- While web access for a large population is happening on mobile. Data charging is not still clearly understood by consumers & fear of balance deduction is still suppressing adoption of useful VAS services in a big way. Recharge values are also kept small driven by this concern of deduction while consuming data.
Voice&Data: Do you think Indian customers are now comfortable with IVRs/ bots or do they still prefer a human interface?
Alok Kumar : IVRS adoption for product queries, ticket registration and order fulfillment (if customer has balance on his account) has been a rising trend, however, we believe that with improving voice recognition technology, the adoption of this platform will go up in the coming years( & even more once multi lingual options are available to customers). BOTs are currently finding more utility in the backend processing of tickets logged in the CRM system.
Voice&Data: How do you use data analytics to offer customized services? What is the shift that you see in customer experience and cost utilization through data analytics?
Alok Kumar: Aircel has been using Data Analytics to make customized offering to consumers at retail points & call centers. This has resulted in an increase in the value addition at retail/call center touch points and offered a deeper insight into the consumer’s mindset as well as provide a better gain share opportunity to the contact center partner.
Churn prediction models built on data analytics offer a very robust churn propensity rating for consumers and allows the organization to direct its retention efforts in a more precise fashion, bringing down retention costs and improving success rates.
Voice&Data: What are the innovations that Aircel has brought in to its customer services?
Alok Kumar : Aircel has been extremely innovative in its customer service offerings & approach. We have rolled out a number of ‘industry first’ innovations like:
- Developing a Retail Service model based on ‘Zero’ payout to retailers, called Aircel Seva Kendra (ASK). This models aims at extending a physical face-to-face presence for consumers in urban fringes, small towns & rural markets. Currently, we have over 17,000 such ASKs around the country. This model works on supporting the retailer and enabling him in providing a higher level of support to his catchment Aircel users through dedicated support lines & backend teams at Aircel. This leads to an increase in retailer shop walkins and allows them to earn more from higher footfalls through upsell & cross sell once the customer is on his premise.
- Creating Live Customer Listening posts on the office & in the office– allowing remote barge in to any Call Center call from a mobile or from a Kiosk in office to hear customer feedback and quality of handling by an agent.
- Ensuring a Customer on roaming continues to have access to his home state call center so that his connectivity and touchpoint with Aircel remains seamless.
- Creating an extremely robust ‘maker & checker’ process to ensure consistency in standards for all touchpoint processes delivered over 6,000 service delivery front-liners and over 2 million interactions every month.
- Creating an ‘outward –in’ CRM framework that enables agents in capturing customer queries & tickets more accurately and for SLAs’ alignment to customers priority.
- Creating an ‘online Customer Listening’ platform for all management teams to be able to visit a fixed number of consumers per month and record their feedback
- Creating a new metrics within the Contact Centers – CHAT (Call Handled in Appropriate Time) to ensure that agents give proper time to a call based on its priority – aligning Customer Experience objectives with Agents KPIs.
Voice&Data: How do you gauge customer feedback? How does the feedback captured translate into the development of your operational strategy?
Alok Kumar: Customer Feedback is gauged from various sources:
- Analytics on tickets logged in the CRM for deeper understanding and plugging various issues/gaps in processes/people.
- Customer Pulse tracking by regularly out calling customers of different segments & operators
- Customer Meets at regular intervals with cross-functional teams to understand and fill in any expectation/delivery gaps.
- Management Field visit program to meet at least 5 customers/retailers to understand market expectations & cross functional coordination gaps.
- Social Media tracking for Customer Feedbacks & conversations around Aircel product & services.
- Retail Helpline & Retailer Feedback system to collect customer/market feedback.
- Marketing team meeting with Call Center agents every month to access feedback on products & services launched in the market & hear customer’s feedback.
Based on all the above ‘listening’ systems, changes in products and processes are taking place continuously. New concepts/segments to better serve the market emerge from such interactions-eg., Aircel Sewa Kendra is the result of such listening - where we understood that traditional models of service (Call Center/Self Help/Co Showrooms) are not delivering the consumer needs and a model which has a low cost of running yet which is very responsive will have to be developed to serve our customers.
Voice&Data: What does Aircel do to address the real-time issues of its customers?
Alok Kumar: For real time issues of customers we have created an Emergency response cell within our Call Centers that possesses a well-defined quick response mechanism to deal with these situations – eg a customer losing his mobile phone can quickly reach an agent for barring his mobile number within the shortest possible time.
In case he has a handset configuration issue and is not able to access the web, a Level 2 specialized data support desk has been created to help the consumers in this case.
If the customer is roaming at an International location – a specialized IR desk with chat/call facility has been created to assist such consumers when they face any trouble of connectivity in a roaming location.
For customers trying to make an online web payment for Aircel services, any problem can be immediately addressed via access to a web chat agent.
If a consumer raises an alert on any social media our online trawlers pick up the voice and we reach out to the consumer and extend support to resolve the issues faced by them.
Voice&Data: While all telecom players are focused on data, do you still feel there is a scope of growth in voice? If yes, then how can customer services play a role in it?
Alok Kumar: Voice as a standalone service is fairly evolved. The next stage of technology evolution will integrate Voice & Data due to maturing of Voice Recognition systems eg., SMS through voice texting, web browsing & e-commerce fulfillment on voice commands & VAS services operated on voice commands. Here big data is helping build robust voice recognition libraries & once we have major Indian language on Voice Recognition systems, the big boost will come. We see Customer Service role here moving to support rollout of these platforms through Retail support/ engagement with Voice Recognition vendors & Product Development teams.