Telcos should use data to improve customer service, says Salesforce

Telecoms firms have some of the worst reputations for customer service, but they have the data to solve the problem.

Mustafa Oyumi, director of product management communications at Salesforce, said too many telcos think they're winning at customer service simply because their customer base isn't openly complaining.

"They think, if nobody's complaining, we're awesome -- but no," he told attendees of Comptel's Nexterday North conference in Helsinki.

"I think telcos have been thinking about customers for a long time, but they're confusing customer experience with customer care," he said.

And that's a problem when mobile customers are shopping not just by price or available devices, but based on the service experience.

"They're going to buy from you not because they care about your products, but because they want a particular type of service," he argued, saying teenagers may spend all their waking hours staring at their mobile device, but "they don't know their operators, they don't care about their operators." Instead, they have positive feelings towards the internet companies, such as social networks or Google, that sit atop telecoms infrastructure. That needs to change in order to win customers from rivals.

Plus, Luca Decarli, general manager for customer lifecycle at Saudi Telecommunications Company, noted it costs seven times more to acquire a new customer than to avoid churn.

Telecoms companies can do better with the clever use of data they already hold, Oyumi suggested.

"Telecommunications providers probably have the best and most useful data bout their customers," Oyumi said. "They're like mini NSAs. I'm not saying they should sell that data, they should deliver the experiences we want, the experiences we expect."

An example of what that could look like was on show with the launch of Comptel's Fastermind, customer engagement software that uses artificial intelligence to personalise communications to customers.

That could include offering a free, short-term data package bump to a sports fan during finals, suggesting a discount on a plan which may better suit their needs based on their specific data use, or letting people know exactly how outages or faults may affect them.

Decarli detailed a project run by the Saudi Telecommunications Company, which invited high-value customers to movie premieres of films they showed an interest in via their browsing. That said, while free films are a welcome perk to any mobile customer, the deep-packet inspection used to uncover cinematic tastes might be seen by many as a step too far in terms of privacy.

Regardless of the data gathering and analytics system used, Oyumi pointed out that the goal isn't to make telcos bother their customers or interrupt their mobile use, but to offer a useful, barely noticed service.

"The best waiter was the one you didn't see. That's kind of where we need to get to," he said. "Why not bring that to telecommunications?"