Editor’s note: This story first appeared in the latest issue of Field Service, a quarterly print magazine from Field Service Digital and ServiceMax. Check out the full magazine in print or online

While it’s no secret that telecommunications companies perennially end up at the bottom of customer satisfaction reports, a survey this summer by the Institute of Customer Service shows signs of significant improvement in the space.

Not exactly time to break out the Dom Perignon, but any improvement is worth holding onto — although it must be put into perspective. So-called challenger brands, such as Tesco Mobile and giffgaff, have apparently skewed the scores, so there is still clearly room for improvement.

And according to a more recent report from Vanson Bourne, it’s not a wish that is exclusive to the telecom industry. The report shows that nearly half of IT and field service decision makers surveyed across all types of organizations peg improving customer service as a priority area for investment. For IT decision makers, ­field services fall below the popular categories of security, big data and analytics, but it’s still significant.

To a certain extent, it is unfair to compare telecom with other sectors. Customer quantities and types of product vary, but certainly telecom has to keep working on improving service quality. The Institute of Customer Service notes, “telecoms continues to generate the highest number of complaints, with 20 percent of customers having experienced a problem.”

I shouldn’t complain. After all, the fact that most operators are struggling to execute high customer service themselves gives us an in to winning new business. (My company, QubeGB, provides field engineering and managed services to all of the UK’s major tier-one carriers, including BT, Talk Talk, Sky, EE, and Virgin Media, as well as smaller aggregators, such as the Post Office, housing associations, and electrical retailers.)

In my experience, the industry doesn’t suffer from lack of experience, but more often a lack of critical fundamentals, such as modern service tools, processes, training and front line service engineers to uphold customer service standards. Without investing properly in these areas, the industry as a whole will continue to struggle with high levels of complaints.

In our own business, we deployed the ServiceMax field service management platform to formally manage our service teams in the field, and get insight into products, history, scheduled maintenance, and cases and work orders to streamline customer interaction. Having the right tools and process in place can lead to transformational change.

So what does this mean for telecom customer service? Change is certainly necessary, and this change is as much about perception of customer service as it is the processes and methodologies in making customer service and support more efficient. Empowering field service engineers and support staff to improve communication, response times and repair times (as well as increase transparency and efficiencies) is important for modern support teams.

The key is for telecoms to recognize the true value of field service, not just as something that can impact customer satisfaction, but can also provide data and intelligence on customer trends, product deficiencies, new product ideas and the potential for upselling. Unfortunately, according to the Vanson Bourne study, in the majority of cases, organizations and board members are missing the link between ­field services and customer satisfaction, let alone everything else. This means that boards are reluctant to support an increase in field service projects and that improvements in customer satisfaction are slow.

In fact, the telecom sector has an opportunity here to make a leap forward. As a third party support supplier for the industry, we have seen huge improvements in the technology that can help us improve service provision for customers. Improved reporting with more granularity, a clear feedback path for recurring product faults and transparent workflows are just some of the benefits we can now pass on.

What does this mean for telecom businesses? Ultimately a time reduction on each job, which increases service capacity and therefore financial savings. We estimate that a 10-minute reduction on each job would increase service capacity by 50,000 jobs a month and earn a potential £6m (US$7.8M) in additional revenue per year.

It’s a strategic step that puts an end to the firefighting approach (chances are your service department has yet to modernize in terms of technology, dedicated service platforms, training or tools). Addressing the gap in field service delivery teams will not only increase customer satisfaction, but also improve employee satisfaction and lead to greater job retention. Telecoms need to accelerate change and embrace the field service renaissance. Customer service, after all, is the new growth strategy for all businesses.

ABOUT Mussy Kurt-Elli

Avatar photoMussy Kurt-Elli is CEO of QubeGB, specialists in field engineering and managed services to the telecoms and ISP industries. With overall responsibility for the company's strategic direction and success, he has deep sector expertise and insights about the challenges and opportunities in the service industry.