O2 is the commercial brand of Telefónica UK Limited and is a leading digital communications company with the highest customer satisfaction for any mobile provider, according to UK industry regulator Ofcom. With over 23 million customers and over 450 retail stores, O2 runs 2G, 3G and 4G networks across the UK, as well as operating O2 Wifi and owning half of Tesco Mobile.
As part of its ongoing commitment to make engagement easier for customers, O2 wanted to enlist a partner for an ambitious customer service transformation project. Capita was the natural choice as it has been providing contact centre solutions across O2’s mobile, broadband and home phone product range since 1992. These services ranged from customer service and support to customer retention and upgrades.
In turn, Capita approached Eckoh as one of its own strategic partners, to assist with the self-service technology aspect of the project.
Working together, O2, Capita and Eckoh, have now taken contact centre technology to the next level, providing a true omnichannel environment in which O2 can engage effectively and efficiently with its customers.
Customer service and satisfaction is O2's top priority. For seven consecutive years, the company has held the accolade of being named as the ‘Number 1 Network for Customer Service Satisfaction’ by Ofcom.
Mark Gait, Head of Customer Service at O2 UK, puts this down to an unwavering commitment to raise standards and give customers a consistent service across all channels:
Things can still be easier for our customers, and that’s what we’ve got to concentrate on. Our customers will not compare us to another mobile operator, they will compare us to other experiences that they’ve had on the high street. And that’s our challenge – to be better and easier to do business with.
The initial catalyst for change was the arrival of the iPhone 4 in 2010. At that time, O2 were taking one million voice calls per week — which was not sustainable from a customer service or cost control perspective. O2 owned four large contact centres with 3000 agents and relied on a number of outsourced partners, including Capita.
The company made a big decision to look at customer self-service options to alleviate the pressure on the voice channel — and so launched an app, new website and web chat facility.
Since the launch of the app, website and web chat self-service channels, calls dramatically reduced from one million to 450,000 per week. O2 had to make a decision around what to do with their four big contact centres and multiple outsourced partners. Now they had too many agents standing by for callers.
The phone channel was still hugely important to O2, but the emphasis on how agents were used needed to change. O2 wanted to free up agents for the sole purpose of answering more complex customer queries while introducing automated ways to handle general enquiries by using self-service options, which could boost efficiency.
Rather than continue running four big contact centres themselves, O2 chose to retain just two of them, and outsource the remaining requirement to one supplier.
Capita and Eckoh approached O2 with a compelling self-service solution. In 2013, the partnership signed a 10-year contract which would deliver a range of transformational outcomes for the UK’s leading telco.
The contract developed into one of the largest outsourcing deals in global telecoms history, with an initial TUPE transfer of 2,300 O2 staff, later growing to 5,000 FTE in operations in the UK, South Africa and India. Capita is now responsible for delivering 80% of all phone sales and service interactions on behalf of O2.
O2 and Capita agreed on a number of strategic objectives that include:
- Delivering operational effectiveness through customer journey development and process improvement
- Providing an enhanced digital experience for customers through future-proof technology platform and channel shift functionality
- Enhancing customer self-service and agent processes to reduce repeat calls
- Driving growth in profitable revenue by deploying market leading agent up-sell and sales-through service capability
- Implementing a pay-by-results commercial model
- Guaranteeing savings coupled with increased flexibility to respond to future demand
The self-service implementation was divided into an initial four-part phased roll-out:
Phase 1 – Securely Identifying, Verifying and Authenticating Customers
O2 realised their agents were spending up to one minute to identify each customer when an automated system could manage this laborious task for 20% of the cost. With millions of calls per year, the projected cost savings were staggering.
In addition, O2 was receiving up to 2,000 fraudulent calls per month where callers would try and trick the agent into divulging information about other customers for identity theft.
Eckoh implemented an IVR for customers to identify, verify and authenticate themselves through a series or short automated security questions. When prompted, customers use speech recognition or their telephone keypad to input their answers. The whole process takes about 45 seconds to complete — and it's all automated.
Phase 2 – Speedy Self-Service Phone Applications
Automation didn't stop there. Next, each authenticated caller could take control by selecting from a series of self-service options to:
- Change their password
- Swap SIM cards to another phone
- Check network coverage/issues in their area
- Pay their bill or make top-ups to their pay-as-you-go phone
To make this possible, Eckoh integrated its systems with services running on telephony and customer databases owned by Capita and O2.
Phase 3 – No More Frustrating Menus with Natural Language Speech Recognition
When you offer customers more choice, the options menu tends to grow ever longer. Rather than translate this to a frustrating multi-layered IVR, O2 opted to use Eckoh’s Natural Language Call Steering tool, EckohASSIST, which eliminates the need for menus altogether.
EckohASSIST greets callers with a simple “How can I help you?” The caller then replies in their own words where they’d like to be directed, just as they would if speaking to a switchboard operator. The system picks out keywords in their answer and classifies where the call should be routed. Call dropout rates and misrouted calls are drastically reduced.
If the caller’s request isn’t clear, their audio is streamed to a ‘hidden’ human agent who classifies and forwards the call manually, without the caller knowing. This allows one agent to deal with multiple calls at the same time while ensuring callers get to their destination immediately.
Service corrections by the agent are fed back into the service, which continues to learn and improve its accuracy until a hidden agent is no longer needed.
Phase 4 - Visual IVR
O2 realised that some customer enquiries could not easily be handled by an IVR system — but they took up large chunks of agents' time. The company wanted a new way for customers to self-serve that made use of all channels available.
Eckoh’s Visual IVR service provided the answer. Here, callers select options using their mobile screen interface, which avoids complexity and frustration.
For example, although a customer has chosen to pay over the phone - it may be quicker for them to pay their bill through their MyO2 login. Once the customer is identified, the IVR will suggest this option and ask if they want the website link sent to their phone. Once the link is received, the caller can put the IVR on speaker phone and use the website to make a payment while the IVR stays on the call offering help if needed.
Eckoh has applied the Visual IVR service across eight O2 applications that enable customers to use their smartphone interface for:
- Making payments
- Checking their remaining data allowance
- Adding more data
- Getting billing information e.g. device rental and minutes used
- Viewing/increasing their tariff allowance
- Changing billing address
- Changing tariff
- Unlocking their phone to move provider
Capita’s solution combines operational efficiency with omnichannel functionality. This is underpinned by an outcome-based commercial model measured against customer experience and efficiency. Over the 10 year contract, Capita and Eckoh are focussed on delivering 43% of guaranteed savings, while a 26% reduction in Opex has already been secured in the first year. Capita has also invested in online services from Eckoh that enable advisers to engage in 9.2m web chats, deflecting 13,000 calls from voice every month. This has played a part in helping the partnership achieve a 22% reduction in call volumes since the start of the contract.
O2 witnessed an immediate and efficient change to their operation since switching to the telephone self-service options. Not only has Eckoh radically reduced the number of calls handled by agents, but the customer feedback on service efficiency has been extremely positive.
Identification and Verification
In the six months since going live, O2 has saved one minute of agent time per call on average by adding an automated security check, leading to significant savings from millions of calls.
It also appears that thousands of identity theft opportunists have been deterred by the automated security process. Since the new service began, O2 has not reported a single case of fraudulent activity. In terms of fraud more generally, Eckoh provides constant analysis of its services, such as login, log points, and management information. As a result, the company has helped O2 to identify and close potential fraud risks within their telephony systems.
Eckoh uses its own carrier-grade platform to host and manage the full IVR for O2. Eckoh has the capacity and scalability for high call volumes with no downtime. Previously, handling time through O2’s IVR took four minutes on average. Since Eckoh went live with the new system, handling time has reduced by 50%, savings millions for O2 and improving the customer experience dramatically.
Natural Language Speech Recognition
Today, O2 customers make 1.7 million calls per month using the natural language call steering service with excellent results. Within one month of going live with the ‘out of the box’ service, EckohASSIST achieved an 81% accuracy success rate for understanding the caller and directing them to the correct destination. In comparison, it took Telefónica Spain three years to reach the same accuracy level with a different speech recognition system.
With the hidden agent and the system's learning capabilities in full swing, accuracy has now reached an astonishing 99.8%.
Within the first month of going live, O2 saw an [immediate/strong] customer adoption of the new facility. [XX%] of callers waiting for an agent abandoned the call to an agent simply because they guided into fulfilling their need using online tools.
Visual IVR will form the foundation for omnichannel customer experience going forward, so it was imperative that it received a good initial response from O2 customers.
What’s in the Future?
In 2016, the Capita/Eckoh partnership agreed to a new strategy with O2 for its self-service offer. It focussed less on building self-service capabilities within each channel and more on the deflection to digital, from all channels.
Currently, O2 offers a full multi-channel, self-service provision for their customers. This is extremely effective but doesn’t offer customer ways to ‘channel-hop’.
Using Eckoh’s Visual IVR as the building block technology, O2 want to build a new, fully integrated omnichannel experience, connecting all channels together. This will enable customers to begin their journey in one channel and continue in a choice of others.
What the Customer Says:
O2 had experienced a fantastic collaborative partnership with Capita over the years, so we knew the transformation project would be in capable hands. When they recommended we spoke with their self-service technology provider Eckoh, we were more than intrigued by their ideas for multi-channel customer engagement. We have been truly impressed with the professionalism of the Capita/Eckoh teams since the project launch. They work seamlessly together and it is exciting to see the progress and dramatic efficiencies that their solutions are giving us, not to mention the speed in which our customers’ queries are handled. We’ve not only had a great response from our business, but our customers are wholly complimentary about how easy it is to do business with us. Our aim is to maintain our position as the number one telecoms provider for customer service. I am confident that we will achieve that through the innovative omnichannel plans that will propel us even further forward. Mark Gait, Head of Customer Service at O2 UK
Results at a Glance
- 22% reduction in call volumes since the start of the contract.
- 43% of guaranteed savings
- 26% reduction in Opex secured in the first year.
- 9.2m web chats by advisors, deflecting 13,000 calls from voice every month.
- 18% increase in sales in the business sales segment
- 81% VSAT score for PAYM webchat
- Reduced agent call time by 45 seconds through new automated identification and verification system
- Reduced overall call time on new IVR by 100%
- Speech recognition call routing accuracy rate up to 99.8%, with no menus for customers to navigate
- Visual IVR