It’s been said that the eyes are the window to the soul. After conducting more than 25 interviews about Web portals with business customers of large telecom carriers, ATLANTIC-ACM found that end-users view customer-facing Web portals as windows into the internal workings of their carriers. For a few of those carriers it may be time to do some soul searching.
While ATLANTIC-ACM’s research shows that Web-portal capabilities do not rank as a high priority when it comes to purchasing decisions, once a customer has signed on for service, the portal becomes a key touch point directly influencing that customer’s experience. While a carrier Web portal may not help sell your services, it can create efficiencies for both the carrier and the customer, and directly impact overall customer satisfaction.
To this end, portals have the potential to influence customer satisfaction in other touch points. For example, ATLANTIC-ACM just concluded its annual Business Connectivity Report Card — a study of enterprise customer satisfaction with telecom service providers. This year’s edition is based on approximately 4,000 carrier ratings. When asked to rate the relative importance of 14 drivers of telecom-service purchasing, respondents ranked Web Portal as dead last; however, respondents ranked Ease of Doing Business as the fourth most important driver, just behind Price. This is noteworthy because, when looking at correlations between carrier operations ratings for Web Portal and other points of assessment, the strongest correlation was with Ease of Doing Business at 0.67 (p<0.01). This suggests that portal operations influence other important factors when existing customers are deciding whether or not to re-up their services. In other words, if portal functionality is tied to the perception of how easy it is to do business with a carrier – a high ranking driver of purchase – a poorly performing portal can contribute to churn.
In this year’s Business Connectivity study, the operations ratings for Customer Portal were derived from respondents rating each carrier’s portal in quality, reliability, ease of use, efficiency and effectiveness. Rated on a scale of 1 (terrible) to 10 (superior), the top-three performing large carriers (those with more than $1B in annual business services revenue) were Sprint (with a score of 7.41), tw telecom (7.35) and Level 3 (7.05). Additionally, both tw telecom and Sprint rated in the top three slots for Ease of Doing Business. It’s noteworthy that tw telecom leads its portal-advertising efforts by pointing out that it was designed with customer input. In discussions with many carriers about their portals, ATLANTIC-ACM found that this focused customer-feedback approach to development is used by some, but not all. Carriers not employing this approach are missing out on valuable insights that customers are more than ready to share.
Moreover, in ATLANTIC-ACM’s interviews with portal end-users spanning functions from Account Management and Network Monitoring to Billing and Ticketing, two distinct themes emerged. First, end-users were able to quickly hone in on the one place where they wanted to see improvement. Better search functionality, more details on everything and improved menu structure each represented 20 percent of responses to questions on improvement, followed by better account self-management tools (at 12 percent). Second, almost all large-enterprise respondents preferred to speak with their account managers as opposed to handling administrative issues and billing disputes via the portal, citing portal limitations with respect to managing the needs of large customers with multiple locations, accounts and users. Users repeatedly emphasized that they often found it too difficult to use to the portal to accomplish the tasks they set out to complete — a sentiment exposing that customers were not finding it easy to do business with their carriers.
The bottom line on the Web portal front is that, in many cases, they are coming up short for carriers as well as their customers. Carriers that deploy Web portals as cost-saving measures instead of customer-service tools are failing to meet customer needs, driving customers to contact customer support personnel anyway, which in turn means potential portal-driven cost savings are largely unrealized. Further, even though we currently see the strongest purchasing driver correlation between Web portals and Ease of Doing Business, we know from anecdotal discussions with customers that they would like to use Web portals reliably for billing, ticketing, network monitoring and the like – all areas that impact customer retention. In the end, it’s in every carrier’s best interest to actively solicit customer feedback to ensure that when end-users gaze deep into the portal, they like what they see.
This analysis by Leah Field was originally published at B/OSS.