Competing in the age of people power

Telstra's move to introduce real-time alerts for excess data usage is just the latest symptom of how Australian businesses across the board are navigating the age of the customer.

Telstra’s move to get ahead of the pack with real-time alerts to customers advising them on their mobile data quota will be seen as a step in the right direction for the telco industry.

Curbing bill shock is a noble ambition, although one would hazard a guess that many would have appreciated the move from Telstra a while ago.

Telstra’s rivals may not be up to speed on instant SMS alerts but both Optus and Vodafone have in recent times unveiled their own anti-bill shock measures.

Optus gives customers who go over their allowance to a higher plan for a flat fee. Meanwhile, Vodafone has moved to give customers greater clarity with regard to data usage and its automated data top-up option.

Perhaps what’s really instructive about Telstra’s latest move is its motivation, with the telco’s mobile director Scott McGibbony telling news.com.au that the move to an instant messaging system was predicated by rising customer complaints, with many stung for their appetite for data services.

McGibbony’s words highlight the growing recognition in our boardrooms that keeping the customer happy matters now more than ever before.

Navigating the age of the customer is unfolding as an interesting journey for Australian businesses and a recent survey commissioned by business communications and collaboration systems provider Avaya shows that managing customer experience is now a top priority for most organisations.

According to the survey, 95 per cent of business managers in large companies in Australia say that customer experience management (CEM) is a key area of focus, with 75 per cent of the respondents pointing to initiatives taken in the last 12 months specifically targeted to improve customer experience.

But it’s not all good news. While there’s plenty of will the provisioning of requisite infrastructure is still playing catch-up, with the survey showing that only 51 per cent of Australian organisations have a comprehensive CEM program in place.

That’s on the low side when compared to the global average of 59 per cent and the APAC average of 58 per cent.

And those with comprehensive engagement platforms are still trying to iron out some issues, with the issue of different departments owning different parts of the customer experience the major complaint.

When it comes to the capabilities, the research shows that 77 per cent of organisations can only deliver on certain elements of a personalised customer experience automatically and in real time using the technology systems they have in place.

Avaya’s president of global field operations and senior VP worldwide sales, Pierre-Paul Allard, says that putting customers at the bottom of the equation just doesn’t work anymore.

“It’s not just about the about tools, it’s about business process,” he says.

As the contact centre environment continues to evolve, Allard says that organisations (telcos, banks or retailers) need to expand their horizons when it comes to giving customers an optimum experience.

“Most organisations think that a contact centre is about complaint resolution but there’s a lot of other data that just sits there,” he says.

It’s data that Allard says can be instrumental in creating a “value-based engagement” with a customer.

A simple task like streamlining the customer validation process by leveraging existing data not only aids customer retention but also opens up the potential for pitching value added services.

“While you can't over-measure customer happiness you can overthink it. The number one attribute has to be speed,” Allard says.

“It’s about engaging applications and deployment.”

The misalignment of priorities, highlighted as a key deficiency in the research, isn’t an affliction suffered solely by our telcos, although an incumbent like Telstra has to surmount a much larger hurdle of a silos with different business units that don’t share common objectives.

Unbundling this legacy is a stated objective of Telstra boss David Thodey, who rarely shies away from an opportunity to profess his desire to keep the customer at the centre of "every decision, every action, every opportunity, every day".

The focus is important because the danger of losing consumers is very real. Disgruntled customers have more options at their disposal and the advent of social media means that they can broadcast their discontent far more loudly.

Business across the board are now at least alive to the threat, however, whether they will be able to take the next step remains to be seen. In the telco space, the three major operators are twisting and turning to maintain the status quo with regards to keeping customers engaged and the same applies to the financial sector.

Moving beyond legacy infrastructure and tradition business processes are the key challenges for Australian businesses. In that regard they are no different to their peers in the US and Europe.

However, it’s only now that many of our big corporates seem suitably incentivised to shed the legacy. Australia’s competitive landscape, prone as it is to cosy oligopolies (telcos, banks, retailers), has until now served as a handy insulator.

But the game as changed. No wonder our corporate leaders can’t stop talking about Google, Apple and Amazon.com.     

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