Communication service providers (CSPs) exist in a fast-paced, technology-driven world. It’s not even about getting ahead. It’s a matter of keeping up. According to Gartner, the telecommunications industry spent over $163B on IT last year, on a prolific number of transformation programs. Yet, even with this investment, the CSP sector is at the bottom of customer satisfaction indexes. Why might that be?

Scan the room at your next transformation meeting. Inevitably, you’ll see technology partners—IT, vendors, and system integrators. Alongside them are business partners, giving a voice to the impacted organizations. In the corner, the engineering delegate is fighting to stay awake. Corporate finance is buzzing in the background, crunching numbers and eyeing the budget. And all the while, the PMO is trying to run the show.

Now look around again. Where are the people footing the bill? Who’s voicing their demands and needs? Where are your customers–the people who pay your bill every month? Who represents them?

Given that CSP customers are some of the least loyal in any industry, according to Net Promoter Score (NPS) indexes, it seems obvious that the customer is neither adequately nor consistently represented.

Customers aren’t purposefully being excluded. Transformation program charters usually reference improving customer experience or NPS. The project team isn’t entirely ignoring the customer, either. Somewhere along the way, someone will throw in a “send customer a notification” requirement. During testing, someone might ask, “Would a customer understand this?” But it’s haphazard. And it’s not working.

Understand the Customer Perspective

CSPs operate in a highly complex ecosystem, and change is not easy. Example: For one client’s ordering transformation project, the team devoted a full week just capturing current-state ordering systems and processes. After a morning stepping through a single scenario (a new residential customer ordering voice service in the southeast region), we all groaned when we realized just how many variations of scenarios were left to cover and how different they all were.

One of the many ordering subject-matter experts in the room joked, “Listen, people. We’re not selling shoes here!”

Not shoes. There are a lot of variables, and the complexities of piecing together physical and virtual connections for the myriad of services and products, while accommodating regional requirements, can be mind-boggling. While getting functions to, well, simply function, the customer can easily be forgotten. Each organization and application must be laser-focused on ensuring that its own piece of the puzzle works. But the customer who has to traverse across organizations and applications, can end up with a disjointed or confusing experience. And this has a real bottom-line impact. In Cognizant’s annual Communications Service Provider Survey, the third edition of which we will publish this summer, we’ve noted a steady increase in customer churn. In our first survey in 2013, 10% of consumers reported switching carriers in the previous six months. In 2014, this rate increased to 13%. In 2015, it rose again, to 17%.

Younger age groups are fueling this change. Roughly half of millennials switched carriers in the last six months.

Time since switching providers by age, December 2015 (Cognizant CSP Survey data)

Who's Missing From Your Transformation.

Counteracting Consumer Churn: What To Do

How to address this high rate of churn? Simple: Care more for the customer, and make them a priority. A few suggestions:

  • Create a plan to care for the customer in all phases of your transformation.
  • Just as you would for impacted applications and organizations, identify the customer impact points.
  • Define project team roles and deliverables to make sure the customer perspective is represented.
  • Use techniques like customer journey-mapping to write requirements on behalf of the customer.
  • Use scenarios from the journey-mapping during testing, and check for the clarity of content as well as function.

Once you define in what ways your transformation program represents the customer, you have included them in the program. Now you can make the most of this opportunity by embedding customer-centric improvements in your transformation.

Get the basics

Identify the most common customer journeys in your transformation, and make sure they are from a customer perspective, not specific to an internal department or application. Then use a few common personas to trace the journey all the way through. What looks hard? Confusing? Potentially frustrating? Examine how to make it clearer, simpler, and easier.

Get personal

Show that you know your customers: their services, their preferences, their past complaints and issues. Use this knowledge to tailor digital experiences and communications. If you’re not ready to use the information, at a minimum look for ways to capture customer data so you can use it in future.

Get proactive

Every day, customers tell you things by their behavior. You just need to listen, react, and anticipate. If customers have rebooted their routers every day for the past week, run automated health checks of the equipment and the lines. Let customers know you see the issue and are working on it. Notify tech-savvy customers with XXL data plans and top-of-the-line routers when your network supports the next-generation wireless protocol.

The Pay Off

The bottom line is that never-ending technology transformations at CSPs are affecting the customer. This holds true even for efforts focused on operational efficiency. Recognize this potential impact, plan for it, and make the most of it. Put customers back at your team’s project table. Give them a voice and seek out the opportunity to make your next—or better yet—your current transformation a true customer transformation.

Are you integrating your customers’ voices into your transformation programs? Want to think it through? Let’s talk.

Sara Mihan

Sara Mihan

Sara Mihan is a Senior Manager within Cognizant Business Consulting’s Communication and Technology Practice. Sara has over 17 years of experience as... Read more