T-Mobile Netherlands has come a long way since 2009, when an influential customer used social media to denounce the company’s treatment of its customers, resulting in a serious PR crisis for the Dutch wireless carrier.
When the company, a subsidiary of Deutsche Telekom, responded to the complaint, its defense backfired, and Holland’s third-largest mobile phone operator was suddenly embroiled in a public relations crisis. “We became the billboard for bad service,” says Marieke Snoep, the company’s chief operating officer.
Edouard Leeuwenburg, manager of e-service and knowledge management at T-Mobile Netherlands, encouraged staff to challenge the status quo.
Following the incident, the company began challenging everything it thought it knew about customer service. Starting by reorganizing its service department, the company abandoned many of its traditional business practices—including the way it measured performance—and adopted a service model that helped customers help themselves, and each other, through customer forums.
“We encouraged our service staff to break every convention and challenge the status quo in any way possible,” says Edouard Leeuwenburg, manager of e-service and knowledge management at T-Mobile Netherlands.
Among the first conventions the service team broke was the way the company captured knowledge from its retail shops, its call centers, and its website and social pages. Until May 2013, T-Mobile Netherlands service agents used spreadsheets and email to capture feedback about customer service issues. During their shifts, agents would use feedback buttons to email their feedback to knowledge managers who would review, approve, and then enter the new knowledge items into the company’s homegrown knowledge management system.
As myriad versions of spreadsheets proliferated and too many users could edit information, “the knowledge base became filled with massive amounts of incoherent and polluted information that was scattered, out of date, and difficult to work with,” says company knowledge manager Daniel Hereijgers.
Today, the company uses Oracle Service Cloud as its knowledge base, helping agents across all customer-facing departments capture and share feedback from the company’s product pages, social pages, and contact center.
“Because the agent feedback loops and knowledge workflows are available in the cloud, our entire organization can continuously learn,” says Hereijgers.
In addition to overhauling its knowledge base, the company began putting customers on its service delivery team. Customers with extensive support knowledge were identified as experts and invited to lead online forums and host moderated discussions to help other customers solve problems ranging from the company’s networks and rate plans to product configurations and billing issues.
While not on the payroll, customer moderators are compensated by attending company strategy sessions, leading user workshops, and testing the latest products and services before they hit the market.
“Our new, largely millennial generation of customers are motivated less by financial compensation and more by meaningful work, subject mastery, and the opportunity to help others,” says Rogier Schmit, director of digital service.
The company has also changed its KPIs, such as average handling times, as indicators of customer satisfaction and company performance.
Instead, it uses total customer happiness as an important indicator of success. This is measured through the analysis of customer satisfaction (CSAT) surveys, renewals, referrals, service inquiry volumes, and costs to manage each service channel.
According to Snoep, “Happiness is our winning strategy.” But, she admits, making customers happy is a discipline, and one that requires consistent, direct, and thorough communication.
The company can gauge the customer’s level of happiness at various touch points, and respond with a solution appropriate for the customer’s need. This omnichannel approach has played a key role in boosting the company’s CSAT ratings by almost 600% since 2011.
While the cloud-based surveys are insightful, Leeuwenburg believes that the best way to make customers happy is to get out of their way entirely. “We are now asking ourselves, how can we make ourselves useless?” he says.
The knowledge base, running on Oracle Service Cloud, allows customers to have direct access to the company’s FAQs. This has played a key role in beating down call volumes by 90% since 2010. And, on the very day that the company launched Oracle Service Cloud Chat, the number of emails—its most expensive service channel—dropped by 50%.
While the results of the company’s new happiness metrics are impressive, Snoep believes traditional metrics are unhelpful because they underestimate the impact of complaints in an age where social media can amplify what in former times would have seemed like a very modest problem.
According to Snoep, an average of just 0.1% complaints can be a very significant number when that 0.1% is on Facebook and Twitter. “Amplifying their complaints to their followers, the damage to the brand can be extreme,” she says.
And in 2009, you could say the company experienced the ultimate stress test. When an influential customer with a substantial number of Twitter followers tweeted about a poor service experience his son had with the mobile carrier’s call center, over half a million of his Twitter followers piled on. According to Buzzcapture, a research bureau that monitors social media trends, negative sentiment about T-Mobile Netherlands rose 20% in one week.
Learning from its past mistakes, T-Mobile Netherlands now uses various cloud-based social monitoring tools to help manage customer communications on its website and social pages. In fact, when a major network outage dropped nearly a third of the company’s customers during a weekend last year, T-Mobile Netherlands was able to provide customers with status updates every 30 minutes.
Relying on the service updates that were captured and disseminated from its knowledge base in Oracle Service Cloud, “we were able to host a crisis page on our website and worked with our service, knowledge, and social teams to manage all of our customer-facing communications,” says Schmit.
The company’s open and up-to-the-second communications helped create a social swell of empathy, with even some Dutch journalists using their personal Facebook and Twitter accounts to comment on the company’s new social communications strategy and crisis mitigation efforts.
As coincidence would have it, a quad-play (broadband internet access, television, and telephone with wireless) service provider suffered a nationwide outage just a week later. The provider tried to keep quiet about it, and, ironically, the Dutch community started baiting it to emulate the more open communication style demonstrated by T-Mobile.
Schmit says his team is helping make T-Mobile Netherlands a complete, social entity. “We are integrating our people into social networks, not the brand. We don’t want to commercialize the platform. We want to use it as a tool to listen to our customers and respond immediately to whatever it is they need to feel happy about their relationship with us,” he says.
Sasha Banks-Louie is a brand journalist for Oracle and chief architect of Oracle’s “voice of the customer” story development program. She holds a bachelor’s degree, Cum Laude, in Business Management from Pepperdine University in Malibu, California, and currently resides in Kansas City, Missouri.