The reason telcos stink at customer service

Telecom operators are bad at customer experience because they are an infrastructure-based business, not software-based, which means the key to the success of their revenues and profit is infrastructure, said Globe Telecom COO Peter Bithos.
He said he spends a lot of time at Globe sitting in meetings with people working to optimize a lot of things as well as balance the customer experience.
“That is very hard. We have thousand of engineers working on radio engineering, which is so far removed from the customer experience. As a result, we spend hundreds of millions of dollars on network capex, where we set up processes to ensure that capex is efficient. And that might lead us to invest even more in boxes and equipment.”
This type of environment determines the skill base telcos hire, train and promote, so it’s no surprise telcos lag the OTTs in innovation. “As an industry we’re actually pretty bad at this stuff. Think of MMS vs Viber.”
Speaking at the TM Forum’s CEM event in Kuala Lumpur yesterday, Bithos said infrastructure matters in the early stages, when companies are expanding coverage and penetration is limited. “That hardware drives early success, and the industry is just exiting that phase where hardware matters the most.”
He cited Airtel as his favorite example of a telco in the phase where distribution is a key differentiator. “Like it or not, that’s how we all grew up, particularly in Asia.”
This network focus poses tremendous challenges for the industry. “Our entire business model is built around infrastructure, getting it out there and then optimizing it. The broader world doesn’t think that’s the right way for growth.”
He stated that Globe “is not very good at customer experience, like all telcos,” but is now taking radical steps to change that. He had four recommendations: bring the data up the stack, think customer from the start, with new processes and governance, get the right people (add to your teams since other skill sets are required), and get new partners.
Bithos said they have a long way to go and it’s a journey of experimentation.
Globe also took a radical approach when it overhauled its network. It has just emerged from a major network transformation. He said Globe had equipment from every vendor and 16-year-old base stations. “We had multiple cores, we had multiple INs – it was a kind of a Baskin Robbins telco.”
The company asked the board for $1 billion – its largest investment ever. It wrote off $300 million of equipment – access, transport, packet core -- opting for a clean sheet with entirely new equipment from Huawei. It replaced the old gear in 24 months.