Part 2: Keeping Customers: Reducing Churn Through Support and Upgrade Optimization

In the competitive telecommunications market place, business leaders are tasked with reducing customer churn, increasing conversion and boosting customer lifetime revenue. However, retaining and engaging mobile and broadband customers involves more than just optimizing the upgrade and renewal process. Telecoms must support the customer relationship over the lifetime of the contract through top-notch self-service tools.Webinar takeaways:
  • Optimize your website functionality and content for existing customers
  • Improve self-care including account management, help, and site search
  • Learn best practices for mobile applications for the telecom industry

Matt: Hello, my name is Matt Dion and I am the VP of Marketing here at Elastic Path. Today's webinar is the second of a three part series focused on telecommunication providers. In part one we talked about the new customer acquisition experience, simplifying and improving this notoriously complex online experience. Today's part is going to focus on keeping customers, reducing churn support and upgrade optimization; today again we have Linda Bustos who is the author of the #1 E-commerce blog in the world Getelastic. Before I turn things over to Linda, I would like to give a very quick overview of Elastic Path.

Elastic Path provides E-commerce software that allows operators, resellers and other telecommunication service providers to increase market share, reduce churn and respond quickly to competitors. It is the only E-commerce platform flexible enough to meet the very complex needs of integrating in to existing business support systems, specific to the telecommunications industry. We have provided our software and expertise to telecommunication providers such as Virgin Media, Sony Mobile, TeliaSonera and many others and we would love the opportunity to help you as well. Now I'm very happy to turn it over to Linda.

Linda: Thanks Matt, so we've got 30 minutes today, so I'm going to run through fairly quickly; the quick peek at what we are talking about today, we are going to talk about optimizing you web channel for existing customers. If you were with us for our first webinar in this series we were talking about pre-customers so the ones who haven't signed up for a contract or for a plan with you yet. We are also going to look at self-service which is very important in maintaining a really good and strong relationship with your customer throughout the life cycle so they are more likely to come and upgrade and renew through you. And finally we look at mobile tools; this is one of the most exciting but under-served areas of wireless carriers and telecommunication companies that are actually serving customers, so we will look at what is out there today, some examples, but also what customers are asking for that hasn't really been done yet.

So we touched upon targeted selling in the first webinar that's when you take any type of information that you can gather about the visitor. So that will be Geo-location, you might have cookied that visitor to make sure they are returning visitors or they are somebody who has looked at a certain section or responded to a certain promotion. You might also be cooking visitors that have come in and actually logged in to an account and that is how you can identify returning customers. However, Telco homepages are typically tailored towards winning a new customer and we really want to make sure that we are not forgetting about including the call for action, the promotions and offers and the navigational options that the returning customers want to see and putting them up prominently.

So here is an example, as you can see this is a rotating banner that Virgin Mobile is using, but if you were detecting someone who was a returning customer through that cookie, you will be able to learn them by default on something that is tailored specifically to them, whether it is promotion, a loyalty program, a renewal or upgrading offer and such.

But you can't always predict that so as far as home page goes it's always a good idea to have something that will be a call to action if a returning visitor is coming to scan the page. When somebody is coming they are usually not there to look at absolutely everything on your homepage. They already have already got a motive in mind when hitting your site; for returning customers that is going to be more often to get some support, to go in and look at their account and manage their account or to renew or upgrade. You want to make sure that you've got a clear upgrade call to action. AT&T puts it at the top right hand corner which is a nice conventional placement because typically that's where a login box would be for a returning customer; that smart placement. Also having support links that are easy to spot are important, so really large in the navigation menu, not buried amongst 10 or 11 different navigation options is a good idea.

Once you get somebody on your site and they are ready to log in, the authentication piece could often be our major point of friction so when you are signing up your customer; if you have a wireless relationship with them using the phone number as a primary key as the data base or as the user name is a good idea. Of course that is not always possible if you are selling mobile broadband or other services only, so if you have to use an email address do that but I encourage you to use a wireless number. However when you ask for the email and password combination especially if you are on contract with someone for one to three years and somebody is just coming back after a long extended period of time most people have way too many passwords and email user name combination to keep track of. In fact, Amazon itself has some customers that have up to 10 records for the single customer because they come back and they need to make purchase but they don't remember the password combination have to sign up with a brand new account. That doesn't work with the Telco relationship because that is all the account data you need to have and you need to access. So if you do ask for a strong password which is obviously that is going to be something important in you IT team, one of the things to help produce that friction for somebody coming back is upon sign up state the rules if you need to include a number or a special character, then when they come back remind them of that rule right next to the field, so it can help jog their memory to say, “okay it's not my regular password that I use it's the other password that I use that has a number or a special character in it”. Password hints are really common, one thing that I would recommend is you stay away from kind of open-ended, bad first-date kind of questions, like if you could go anywhere in the world what it would be or if you could be any animal what would you be. And I have seen that in a lot of Telco sites asking these really creative questions but the problem with that is if they don't have one clear concrete answer like a mother's maiden name or the city that you were born in; they could be hard to recall and then what happens is somebody calls in to your call center and gets frustrated after not being able to authenticate themselves.

Social sign-on is really hard, it's an emerging authentication technology for web services but also it is picking up a lot in retail, so what are some of the benefits to Telco? It would definitely eliminate the need for the username password and it would also auto-authenticate and most people have their Facebook account logged in all the time even when they are at work so this nice auto-authentication would be able to log them in, saving them time and it would also help you identify exactly who that customer is. So you could target a homepage or an offer specifically related to that exact individual. Now of course that becomes problematic when there's a family or multiple people living in a home or an office where somebody doesn't log out of Facebook where you get auto-authenticated, so there are some cautions there as well as benefits. A lot of Telco's they have a forum where people can ask and answer questions amongst each other so having Facebook connected allows to auto-populate their users avatar, their city ,their name and any other information without them having to supply that to you themselves. If you want to do advanced things socially like perhaps through this new Facebook open draft, Facebook connect kind of features where somebody comes and leaves a device review or they download ringtones or a piece of digital content on to their device that could be shared seamlessly back through in to their Facebook feed, social gifting and that kind of thing. It just opens up the possibilities to do that with a lot less friction. But probably the best benefit on the business side is to be able to access the rich profile information that exists through the Facebook open graph so you are not just harping in to your own customers' information but also their friends' interests and their friends' data; if you put that back in to your customers' relationship management you can use that data to analyze and craft it in to a specific tailored one-to-one relationship based on what you know about that users and you can turn that into marketing campaigns.

Now let's look at some of the downsides because as a Telco you need to consider all these very carefully. Is it secure? Short answer yes, it follows the O-oath protocol, but you definitely want your IT team to do a full investigation and to make sure that what you want to do is not going to compromise any of your own security requirements. Another common question is just Facebook on consumer data; you actually have control on what you share with Facebook it is not like it works the opposite way where they can pull everything out of your system, but you definitely want to make sure that you have thought through everything that you want to protect when you are developing your solution so that you can make sure all those doors are closed. What if Facebook goes down? It is not going to go out of business anytime soon even though its IPO kind of looks like it might go that way. Facebook is very much like Google and Tweeter, they have got a lot of servers and invest a lot of time on not going down but the reality is that if it does go down, that could cause your user not being able to authenticate. Will it work on mobile? Yes it will; it uses just a username and password so when somebody comes through on the mobile phone they would just be presented with connect through Facebook and they would have to enter in their credentials that way. And can it be reversed? This is probably the point that you need to consider most is that if you ever decide to stop using Facebook connect or if the customers themselves decide they want to kill off their Facebook account there's a problem. The user or all of your users that have connected that way have to reset up an account and that might mean losing some date which is not good. So I'm predicting that some Telco's will eventually move in to adding more social sign on features but definitely make sure that you have thought through all of these points.

Also once someone has authenticated, you want to have targeted and tailored content that is going to be different from what you are showing brand new visitors and pre-customers. One of those most important things that you can show is actually to promote your app and we are going to talk about apps in a few minutes but definitely making that on the welcome screen, making people aware of your app and making it a one click to be able to download that is very important because the app for most people, the advantages of having the app is it's obviously a lot quicker to walk around and find things and that is customer feedback as well of many of the Telco apps that are out there, that's the biggest benefit is just the speed and the organization of a mobile app, always on and always there. And for many people who like to use the app it will completely replace your website for self-service. So making people aware of that is really important but the second thing is also looking ahead and already getting people thinking about renewing with you and every time that they log-in maybe telling them and the CPU is through the Duceppe API for example, being able to pull that customer information and understand how many months or how many days are left in their contractual period with you before they are eligible for an upgrade. Now with technology doubling, tripling, every year and the devices just getting cooler and cooler, that is probably one of the most exciting things. Let's face it Telco's typically carry the same products across each other and competition is really strong, so being able to send personalized offers and being able to have your returning customers browse and look at which offers and prices and combinations are suited for them. You might have different pricing and better pricing for existing customers, so that is definitely a call to action that should be on a landing page when somebody comes in. The second thing to note is when somebody is ready to do a renewal and upgrade, we talked about in the first webinar, the importance of having comparison mixture and guiding selling tools, product finders, plan finders and that kind of thing. Now that you've owned that customer relationship for some time and you've got some data on them as an individual; their use and habits, what device they have now and that kind of thing you can actually use that to recommend certain plans and devices and also give them an opportunity to actually plan and configure that upgrade within the self-service section.

You also don't want to assume that somebody that is using a certain device now is going to want to upgrade to the next generation of that device and that is why we want to have this comparison tools and that kind of thing.

Two other customers prefer self-service to speaking to a live representative and of those 75% find it convenient to actually go through and use search boxes and browse through menus and that kind of thing to talking to a live rep. And with mobile carriers and with telecommunications companies the wait times can be very long, there are IVR menus that are difficult to navigate through and that kind of history is what is pushing people to want to use the web. However, self-service tools as they are right now are just as complex and can be just as disappointing to customers so it's important that we spend a lot of time optimizing self-service so that that builds good customer relationship so that they will be just as likely to come back and renew and upgrade with you.

So some usability points here, navigating support is really important so what we know about both shopping behavior and information seeking behavior; if someone is coming to your site with a problem in their mind, they are not interested in browsing common support topics, they are not interested in reading everything that you have, they want to be able to either find you really quickly through your navigation menu or they want to go to a search box and have the most relevant option shown first. This is not always the case on the website itself, so here is an example where people are going to scan for their trigger watts and when you are using really long examples and snippets of the content that you have, the user has to read word for word and they don't want to do that; it's hard to scan, nothing stands out to them. So avoid long menu items and, as I said, nobody cares about common support topics. So something like this what ATT&T is doing is they have chucked out there menus into very neat and clear categories. They have got really short labels and short links on there and they are easy to scan.

Here is another way to do things. What I recommend if you are going to show a list of most coming questions is user analytics and the clicks through analytics and see what percentage of your entire learning page or this section and actually measure if anybody is clicking on that and if you are not getting a good percentage of clicks there, you are better off to replace that section with a really bold search box or with an interactive “click here to chat with the representative” or that kind of thing. So now when menu's fail or when somebody is just not going to trust menus they are going to go straight to a search box. So make sure that you have got a bold search box that is easy to find you might have a global one for all of your sight or you might have it on the help and support landing page. You can also mention your social channel but really getting answers to questions through 144 characters it is quite limited; you can promote it and say that you will have it but it is going to be a small percentage of your customers that actually prefer to do business that way. So big bold boxes this is a scooped search so you know that if you are typing in this question box you are not going to get results from the shop section or from any other section on the global web page.

So some just back tracking to some best practices for search in general you want to use natural language especially for problem solving there are going to be longer queries, there are going to be stated and framed problems the way that the customer is thinking about them. So if you just write out your support pages you are going to chose away to describe the problem if you don’t have the alternatives and the variations and the synonyms and even the cultural synonyms in there somebody is going to get a zero results found or a sub optimal in terms of relevance. This is really with Telco especially because there is a lot of variations of the way that things are described that are not necessarily in a dictionary or the resource; so for example tariffs in North America we don’t use that term we use you will find a plan find a plan to match with your phone. Across the pond it is going to be different; same with prepaid and postpaid to describe pay as you go or contract prices. Researching, visiting your competitors and other Telco sites around the web that serves the rest of the world will help you pick up on some of those things because you never know if your customers want to be a visitor to that country and needs a cell phone plan or might describe things a different way; especially if you run multiple divisions across the world, misspellings are given and you also want to look at the different ways to describe problems. So I might say renew minutes you might say top up minutes someone else might consider adding more minutes or reloading that kind of thing. Also, using your search logs finding out when people found no results and banking that into other either your data or into the description itself and making sure that this don’t appear as “no results found” in the future. And again, minding your own forums, minding your competitor's forums and really seeing how people are describing their problems, and actually your live chat logs and your recorded transcripts can also give you that information.

Once somebody has entered in a search it is important to be able to scope because here is one of the largest wireless carriers in the united states and when I type in upgrade “Iphone 4” in my mind I am looking for support and actually the results are support but they are laid out in a way that they look like products and unless I am reading really, really carefully, I might bounce right off this page because I am like “this isn’t give what I want” and this is confusing even more by having the refinements tools there that are clearly for a store catalogue and a branding by type, color, brand accessory and category price, mixed in with support. So it is really important to have a clear distinction between what is your support and your other content verses the product catalogue. As you can see another problem that happens here not only is support mixed in with accessories as you see in the bottom corner, but all of the content troubleshooting and self-help; it is difficult to read even the entire question; so here I am seeing a truncated version of the actual question and a user is not going to be able to actually understand what is going on here, it is very confusing. So another way to this is actually when you have your help and support section make it clear if you are searching you’re FAQ's or you are searching the support by putting the label right inside of the techs field. Virgin mobiles are actually using something kind of cool, where you can speak your question in there and it was actually quite accurate.

So here a great example of how to lay out your search results, I can see the entire problem, I can see a really rich description of it and they are ranked according to relevant and I also see some video content thrown in there which is really helpful as well.

Scooping search is another way to do it is actually to make a drop down menu however this is user ability tasks and that kind of thing has shown that this hasn’t get used as much because we are so used to typing in query, hitting search getting results that it is going to be a smaller percentage of people who actually use this controls.

Another thing to avoid is having your landing page design looking to much like a promotion; so this as you can see by the bright chrome is actually the IPhone 4S support section, but it really looks like they are trying to sell me an upgrade even in the call to action is go to AT&T upgrader. So this is very difficult to navigate and would have a high bounce rate if somebody is looking for something specific in their mind and they are presented with something that looks like something that looks like something else.

Another great way to increase the usability and just help your customers more is to include visual instructions whether they are video or whether they are images. This can go a long way rather than reading step by step texts, read the support page go into new browser, try to execute that step, go back and forth and step that way. Now if you do have forums and support pages as is also important especially for stuff like “hey when is iPhone 5 coming out?” because that is going to end up in search engines. A second thing that you don’t want to do is leave questions unanswered; so this has been over a month and nobody has really jumped and helped with this question. So getting yourself answering questions also gives you an opportunity to sell. So what if the representative from this particular Telco came in and said “nobody really knows when iPhone is coming, but here is a link to our preorder page when it is ready and you can sign up and be notified when it is ready”; that would be away to take advantage of both the SEO and the customer service and selling all in one, two, three punch. Then, you also want to get feedback because we always think that we are doing a good job serving somebody's needs but if we gather feedback on whether we are really executing on what we are set out to do it will help you improve in the long range.

Now we get to the fun stuff let's look at the mobile tools. You can use mobile tools for SMS marketing programs, renewals and upgrade notices, account management utilities it is really, really important, and then there are some extras that we will look at.

So standard, looking at your current billing cycle seeing how much time you have left, how close you are to reaching your maximum, that is really important if somebody is on a prepaid plan rather than a monthly deal. Viewing and paying bills is also important and there are other things that you can do.

But you also want to be careful if you have third party API. So this particular AT&T, what customers were asking for is we want to see more than just a current cycle, we want to see pass bills and we want to see itemized bills. So a third party developer came along, uses the API and bills that. So what ATNT now has done is lost the ownership of that customer relationship has it has gone through with third party. So you just want to think through what you want to let people do with the API and also make sure that other people's apps that they are building aren’t exceeding the capabilities that you have done with your own app.

And just usability things we want to make sure that all of the calls to action are clear. You want to make sure that taxable areas are large enough, you don’t want to use skinny menu's or just text links that are a bunch close together. You want to make sure that if somebody is using a small iPhone or Android phone or any other tablet phone they will be able to execute that easily. Don’t be afraid to use a home page to promote and to have offers and that kind of thing and if you are using something like the digital commerce API you will be able to tie that into your complex merchandising rules and blend that with information about the customer and be able to maybe update this on a frequent basis or make them personalized and tailor to the user.

Again we want both the cause of action throughout the application, I think this one can be even bolder it could be a different color, or it could be set apart in a way that you get people excited about how long it is until they can upgrade, maybe a countdown, maybe a special upgrade early, that kind of thing. Most apps right now don’t currently support in app upgrade and that is understandable because it is difficult you would have to put the entire check out process and credit check and all of that stuff which is complex enough on the web and pull it into the app. But this is something the customers are really hoping for especially if they are on a tablet it is a lot easier to go through the check out. So being able to do that is really what the digital commerce API can support as well.

Other things like a Wi-Fi finder, maybe this is a double edged sword because the more Wi-Fi your customers use the less data they use. But with utilities such as this you can make your app even more valuable to the customer and have them use it more and frequently and then the more times that they actually log in and use your apps they can see your promotions even more frequently. So, someone might use your Wi-Fi finder three times a week, which means then they are getting your offer three times a week. Another usability feature, is having expanding class menu user, it’s just a good idea to have apps.

So advance moves, smart controls are for family packs parents want to be able to limit their kids text data and voice, they want to see if they are getting close to the limit so that they can take appropriate actions before something goes over the limit and to be able to manage multiple account holders through an application. That goes the same for tablets if there are several people that use the same tablet in one family you want to be able to have account control that is very tight and secure. As we mention before viewing task bills and giving atomized bills is something they want and support from business customers is important, business customers might be on a plan where they don’t actually have access to paying their own bills and that kind of thing, but they want to see what there usage is now or they want to be able to go and enable a travel pack or something like that, or the administrator for the group account can do that. One piece of feedback on the apps that are out there is that over Wi-Fi a business user wants to come in and check their apps but when using over Wi-Fi they are actually seeing everyone's account at all at once. So obviously you don’t want that to happen, so doing a lot of testing before releasing your app and thinking through all of the complex security issues of multiple user management is really important. A couple other extra cool things, T-mobile helps people to gift the payments if they want to, so that is actually the peer-to-peer transactions and micropayments, almost like a virtual good, that is pulled in through the app.

So Sprint TV is actually a customer favorite that is where over Wi-Fi you are able to stream television. So that is something that is great value proposition for keeping customers Because I think that this is not done by the other mobile carriers. you can also shop-able apps where they are actually just pulling things out of your catalogue so you could strip out all of the plans, strip out all of the phones and this is for existing customers who want to easily top-up and get replacement or new accessories. If anything what you can do is have a bill-to-bill to carry your relationship with your own store where it doesn't have to have its own checkout process that can be done by just adding those accessories on to the bill, and as you can see this is like a very typical retail shopping app.

Alright just to wrap things up; keeping customers means supporting the relationship through the contract period, whether it is month to month or over the span of the few years you want to make sure that not only your services that you are selling are top notch but also your support and your communication throughout the life cycle using SMS and merchandising in promotions throughout their life cycle is being maintained. We know that customers prefer to self-serve but the usability challenges make many web sub tools painful. So anything that you can do to optimize that is going to help you in the long-run. When it comes to mobile apps they are replacing web self-serve so make sure that they replicate as much web functionality as possible, but also remove the web functionality that is not relevant to the existing customer. Now I am going to turn it over to Matt for some closing words.

Matt: Thanks Linda, thanks for listening today, please be sure to check to to listen to the other two parts of the series