In a Mobile World Congress panel session designed to discuss customer centricity, it may seem somewhat out of place that one of the operator participants encouraged the audience to imagine a world with zero, or very little, customer service.

The view of Stephen Stokols, founder and CEO of FreedomPop, is that if your technology is good enough then you shouldn’t need customer services at all.

“Our customer service is pretty terrible,” he said: “We do instead invest in technology and make customer service obsolete.”

FreedomPop provides disruptive mobile services including what it describes as the “world’s first 100 per cent free mobile plan”, along with a suite of devices, digital services, and social sharing. Those services are now available in Mexico, Spain, the UK and the US, and the company has also started to sell its freemium platform to other operators to enable them to roll out their own services while minimising cost and risk.

As things stand, it has launched services with partners in Greece, Italy, Mexico, Spain, the UK and the US.

Tech tools
The other panellists, particularly those representing more traditional operators including MTS in Russia, Saudi Telecom Company’s Jawwy brand, and Kuwait-headquartered Zain may not be quite ready to embrace this approach to customer service, but there was broad agreement operators must embrace tools such as artificial intelligence, big data and personalisation to improve the customer experience.

They also cited the alignment of technology with people as one of the biggest challenges: in other words, changing customer habits and culture to adapt to a more digital world.

Giffgaff, the UK sub-brand of Telefonica, is also one of the relatively new kids on the block which has taken a very different approach to customer service. Indeed, customers are not called customers at all, but members, and talking about customers at the company will earn you a slap on the wrist explained Kim Faura, CCO and founding member.

Faura said the service provider prides itself on not having call centres, instead relying on its members to provide community support. He claims this “virtuous circle” of reward and support also ensures consistently high customer satisfaction scores.

Indeed, figures provided by Jefferson Wang, MD of communications, media and technology at Accenture, clearly demonstrate the importance of ensuring a good customer experience regardless of the industry you work in.

A survey of 25,000 customers in 33 countries conducted in June 2017 found 61 per cent had switched companies in at least one industry in 2017 due to poor service: Accenture valued the global switching economy at $6.6 trillion in 2017.

In the mobile industry, Wang said 5G will drastically change the customer experience as people move from having a single device such as a smartphone to multiple devices. Accenture’s view is AI must be used to improve the customer experience in a 5G world, with virtual agents, identity analytics, cognitive robots, speech analytics, recommendation systems and data visualisation all playing a role.