D-Rating’s Digital Customer Experience module assesses how much companies leverage digitalization to improve their offer, products and services. We applied this module to the French telecom industry, studying 10 brands.
According to ARCEP  (French agency in charge of regulating telecommunications in France), in 6 months, from October 2016 to March 2017, 3.9 million mobile phone numbers were transferred from one carrier to another. In France, 2 out of 3 mobile plans sold are non-binding. With customer loyalty at a record low, in 2017 the French mobile market is extremely fluid.
In a context of great competitive pressure (see D-Rating’s report on the Digital Footprint of French telecom operators ), carriers must therefore evolve, or risk lose ground. One of the main ways to stay competitive and prepare the future is digitalization
For this study on French telecom operators, we chose a panel of 10 brands – from major mobile phone providers (or Network Operators, owning telecom infrastructure – NO) and Virtual Network Operators (MVNO) – to get an outlook of the industry’s standards in terms of digital Customer Experience.
Together, main carriers (NOs) represent almost 90% of the French mobile phone market  and over 96% of broadband supply . Sosh is a brand operated by Orange group, and RED by SFR is a brand operated by SFR group; we decided to distinguish Sosh from Orange and RED by SFR from SFR because they differ completely in terms of experience: they have different websites, processes, customer services and offers.
We focused on the point of view of individual customers by applying an assessment approach based on:
the execution of a customer journey (subscribing to a mobile line from these 10 carriers’ websites),
the analysis of their digital contact channels,
the analysis of their offer in terms of telecom services (how clients and customers can access and manage their offer, and what services are made available to them).
After opening accounts and testing contact channels and services for each of these players, thereby collecting data on 162 criteria, we were able to delineate the current standards of the industry in terms of digital customer experience..
Observation 1 – Most –but not all– carriers have made online subscription to a mobile line a quick and hassle-free journey for the customer.
Between July 24th and August 7th, 2017, we subscribed to mobile lines from all 10 brands in our panel.
Overall, telecom operators have made it easy for prospects to become clients. The process is quick (on average 2.4 days from the time of the order to the reception of the SIM card by mail), the progression in the online process is remarkably clear (the next step for the user is clear on 97% of the pages), orders can often be tracked from validation to delivery and activation.
However, performances differ on several important, specific criteria. For instance, the number of clicks needed to go through the online subscription process (for subscription processes where the metric is relevant) varies from an impressive low of 18 (Syma) to 47 (Orange).
More importantly, if a pool of leading players (main carriers Bouygues Telecom, Orange and Sosh, SFR, RED and MVNO NRJ Mobile) have entirely digitized the subscription, the rest of our panel hasn’t reached this stage yet.
Digitizing the journey – not only the subscription form but all subsequent steps – presents several advantages, in particular reducing the time required to proceed with the subscription. The chart below shows how much time was required from the customer to complete the whole process (subscription at least and, in some cases, point-of-sale appointment, contract validation and dispatch, activation), journeys “not fully online” meaning where the user has to print, sign or dispatch physical documents or to go to a point-of-sale.
However, overall results were good, with a smooth process and apart from one player, both NOs and MVNOs score high on this journey according to our index, with a minimum of 60 and maximum of 82.
The exception is Crédit Mutuel Mobile (score = 26), which is out of the competition with a process requiring to go through a point of sale (a branch of Crédit Mutuel bank) to meet a bank advisor and create the account to proceed with the subscription.
Overall, the customer-enrollment process is light and generally well controlled by carriers: all the lines that were ordered during our benchmark were delivered and activated in well under a week and without any trouble. Detailed analysis shows that several players can still improve on many aspects of the journey, as digitization is a stepping stone to improve operations and develop new services to customers.
Observation 2 – Leading French telecom operators offer a wide range of services, but no game-changer move is to be seen. As a consequence, the price war among telecom companies is expected to continue.
NOs provide customers with significantly more services and options than MVNOs: out of 26 criteria (related to web options, app features, residential gateway, TV…), MVNOs scored 32 while NOs scored 65. Main carriers offer more and more advanced features than MVNOs, which is hardly a surprise, given the necessity to invest heavily to develop new services.
Several points are worth noting:
Except Syma Mobile, carriers do not allow real-time consumption tracking (data or voice)
Repeated trials revealed that for 9 out of 10 carriers, one minute after a voice or data consumption, the consumption wasn’t reflected on the client’s web personal space or on the app. Most of the time, it was only visible 15 minutes later. In the era of transparency and real-time, are carriers unable, or simply reluctant, to implement such a useful feature?
Carriers do not allow customers to switch networks easily, or not at all
In our panel, only NRJ Mobile and Crédit Mutuel Mobile (brands of Euro Information Telecom) allow the customer to switch from one network to another (on demand only). It is noteworthy that no French carrier at this point is able (or willing) to take the strategy further. To this day, no strong cross-network strategies have emerged in France.
Abroad, Google is rolling out their “Project Fi” (still restricted to the United States and requiring compatible smartphones) to connect users in real time to the best network available. In the United-Kingdom, Anywhere Sim already lets users use any available UK mobile network, with flat rates. New value propositions are emerging fast and, with the ever-decreasing value of voice and data, traditional players are condemned to evolve or weaken.
Carriers with a TV offer (7 in our panel) show a wide range of services with several innovative features
TV is where carriers seem to focus their new services; MVNO La Poste Mobile does offer residential gateways with TV in our panel, but they do not score as well as main carriers in that area.
With regards to the offer, smaller players seem unable to follow leaders in terms of functionality. Competition is fierce among main carriers, which are displaying an extensive range of services. Some of them offer interesting features during subscription (for instance, the choice of a phone number, offered by Free and NRJ Mobile), but the lack of “wow” services makes it likely that competition will continue to be about prices, not product/service differentiation.
Observation 3 – Main carriers offer more contact channels than MVNOs and use more sophisticated ways to interact with their clients.
Almost one French consumer out of two (all industries considered) says a bad customer relationship has driven them to switch providers . With the advent of digitalization, telecom operators have had an unprecedented opportunity to create effective customer service processes and tools. They have invested in communication channels capable of dealing with massive solicitation from both prospects and clients, such as chats or “selfcare” systems.
Presence in social media is now a standard for customer services in the telecom industry. On Facebook as well as Twitter, every single operator in our panel can be contacted with direct/private messages for help or information. In this regard the industry is more than up to date, since according to a 2016 survey on 219 French brands by Easiware , 2 brands out of 5 can’t be reached by either social network.
Both prospects and clients can contact their carrier through Facebook and Twitter; but response times are far from real-time: on average, 16.5 hours – or 7.6 business hours. Meanwhile, a cross-sector study by BVA  reveals that 34% of French consumers think a decent waiting delay on social networks should be under 30 minutes, and 32% think it should be between 30 minutes and one hour.
Additionally, carriers performed better on Twitter than on Facebook. Since both channels could be managed jointly, this very gap in scores questions the level of digitalization of customer services.
Beyond social networks, overall the industry could do better on digital contact channels.
Few digital contact channels are available on their websites, to prospects or to clients.
Only 3 operators offer a chat dedicated to their clients; none has “call-back” nor “click-to-call” features on the web (although Crédit Mutuel Mobile and NRJ Mobile do display the customer service’s phone number on their app in a way that eases calling it).
Free is the only player to offer video-conference, an interesting channel in many respects (see Observation 4 of this document).
With very few contact channels open, MMVNOs are lagging behind main carriers (Crédit Mutuel Mobile, La Poste Mobile and Syma have no chat, no call-back, no web click-to-call, no video-conference, no selfcare).
Striking a balance between accessibility and cost management for customer services is a complex exercise: ill-managed, customer services make customer satisfaction nosedive or costs soar.
With this challenge in mind, certain carriers have conceived “Selfcare” systems: Orange, Sosh, SFR and RED by SFR provide prospects and customers with solutions to solve their problems on their own instead of directing them to time-costly human advisors. These automated systems, displayed on the carriers’ websites, gradually narrow down the topic of interest, suggest different ways for the users to work the problems out by themselves; only in last resort they direct the users to their customer service – through phone or chat usually.
Examples of selfcare
Such systems, a first step towards much-anticipated chat-bots (already in test phase at the time of this study), can be effective to decongest customer services lines; however, they sometimes deal poorly with non-standard questions, resulting in users going through several steps to end up calling the carrier’s customer service anyway. During our tests, 58% of the questions we asked, on average, couldn’t find an answer through selfcare; however, when we did obtain an answer (or got transferred to a more appropriate channel), it was on average in 28 seconds.
Observation 4 – Free scores generally lower than what the carrier’s repeated communication on technology leadership would let customers expect, albeit with a positive move towards improved customer relationship.
A maverick in the French telecommunication landscape, thanks to technology-focused communication campaigns, Free has acquired an image of technological leader in the domestic market. Yet this study of the French telecom sector has led us to find that in terms of customer experience, Free is far from leading the field.
Free is the only NO that hasn’t made the subscription process completely online.
Where other main carriers have made sure to go completely paper-free, Free’s customers have to print, sign and send by post mail the SEPA Direct Debit Mandate to complete their subscription. As a result, the total time required from customers to subscribe (all steps included, and assuming a 15-minute round trip to the post office) reaches almost 30 minutes.
Compared to other main carriers – their most direct competitors –, Free’s offer of services and features is disappointing.
For instance, Free offers no official “app” to mobile clients to manage account. Multiple apps are listed on mobile application stores (iOS and Android); but as opposed to the rest of the competition – even smaller players – all of them are developed by third parties or restricted to some very specific uses, like “Messagerie Vocale Visuelle”, Free’s official visual answering machine.
Another example is the carrier’s non-responsive web portal, while all other companies in our panel have a responsive web portal.
With no standalone app and no responsiveness for their customer website, Free is definitely behind on mobile use. The 6th out of 10 carriers in our Products and Services index, Free’s results contrast sharply with the carrier’s high-tech oriented communication.
However, Free’s videoconference is an unparalleled channel of communication in our panel, with added-value and potential.
Free is the only player to make advisors available through a video-conference service, “Face to Free”. It is available on computers or as a standalone app for iOS, for Android and for Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablet. Very short response times were observed. Users get to talk “face to face” to an advisor, which lets them know their case is treated as diligently as possible. The service is heavier and more data-intensive than traditional chats, which can be problematic in cases of broadband shortage; but the channel seems relevant for Free, visual contact being a great help in cases of hardware troubleshooting.
Most players have entered the digital arena and the basics are relatively mastered. Carriers have automated customer journeys so that new clients can be processed quickly; for new mobile lines, SIM kits are received in less than a week; for customers switching providers, the new carrier handles the administrative transfer for the user. Some companies haven’t digitized their processes and customer experience is impacted.
However, operators perform disappointingly on contact channels overall. Digitalization is a solution to answer a great number of requests by automating simple cases of trouble shooting, while dedicating time to relevant cases. But few channels are opened to prospects or clients, and they are not always very reactive.
Last, the offer of services from main carriers (except Free) is good, with residential gateways being an opportunity to provide new services to customers. However, we did not spot highly innovative features capable to distance other carriers or the looming competition from OTT companies.
As a result, our general index for Digital Customer Experience shows a variety of levels from the players in our benchmark, with good – but not untouchable – main carriers, and MVNOs lagging way behind leaders with the exception of NRJ Mobile.
Customer Experience is one of the most important topics concerning the appraisal of digital performance and needs to be regularly re-evaluated to take into account the evolutions of a fast-changing competitive environment. Customer Experience is one of the 4 dimensions D-Rating assesses to deliver a full rating of Digital Performance.
The full report includes the grades of all operators on all 204 criteria, 2 days of restitution and explanation support and videos of digital customer journeys. For more information, please contact us at email@example.com.
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“Digital Footprint of French telecom operators”, D-Rating, July 2017
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“Observatoire des Services Clients 2016”, BVA for the Election of the Customer Service of the Year
“Benchmark des KPI des services clients” (Customer Services KPI Benchmark), 2016, Easiware
“Observatoire des Services Clients 2015”, BVA for the Election of the Customer Service of the Year