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Martijn Franssen discusses how KPN’s digital transformation looks to deliver the best omnichannel experience

As the largest telecommunications provider in the country, KPN is well and truly the network of the Netherlands. For more than 135 years, KPN has set out to...

As the largest telecommunications provider in the country, KPN is well and truly the network of the Netherlands. For more than 135 years, KPN has set out to provide secure, reliable and future-proof networks and services to ensure that everyone is connected anytime and anywhere. As with any technology company, the key to remaining successful has been one of evolution.

Over the years, KPN has continuously evolved as a company, in order to continue to provide the services that its customers demand and the network that the Netherlands needs. Though the digital transformation is nothing new, it undeniably defines the conversation for many industries and definitely increases the pressure within KPN to continue – and even more to speed up – the adaptation process.

“In order to fuel the transformation journey of KPN, we have to listen more carefully to what’s going on in the market. We live in the information age. Our customers have become streetwise; they possess more knowledge around a business than ever before, and, more importantly, they are more demanding as they can move to competitors at the click of a button. As such,  we have to think about how we can retain them. This places greater emphasis and responsibility on customer service. Because who else than its care representatives can truly represent the voice of the customer?” says Martijn Franssen, who is leading the change within Customer Service as Director of Digital Transformation.

With almost 20 years’ experience working with KPN initially as a business controller and then cutting his teeth in a number of international roles within the media and the insurance industry, Franssen was given the opportunity by KPN to deliver the digital transformation of customer service.

“Having worked with KPN previously, so much had changed in the company by the time I returned, particularly when it came to internal culture,” explains Franssen. “The company has become smaller, more lean and mean. Working in silos is history, it has become much more open and collaborative. But also, the years in between have helped me find my own energy which appears to come from putting down a vision and start changing an organisation in order to realise it.”

So the time was right to return to this great company, which is undergoing a significant change once again as it looks to create a seamless experience for its customers. Franssen recognised this need and when he was brought in to lead this transformation, the end goal was clear.

“The overall goal is to be where our customers are in such a way that they will have easy, seamless journeys across all our channels driven by a digitalisation of our way of working,” he says. “Make life easier and more personalised for the customer by becoming the best service provider in the Netherlands. This helps retain your customers and drives your company value.”

How he looked to achieve this was by a digital transformation of Customer Service, which was to take place in three phases. The first phase was focused on boosting live chat. As KPN encouraged customers to start their journeys on the website, it was also about acknowledging the fact that not all visitors could easily navigate it and simply needed support in order to prevent them from losing trust and from picking up their phone in case of a next issue.

“Our belief was that we would serve the people starting their journey online, but we could also provide immediate answers to customers that needed us throughout their journeys. This then would also allow us to improve the quality of the online journey, because we could ask the customer immediately why they needed our help and what was missing on the website.”

In order to establish a substantial population of live chat engagements, serious investments were required whilst not everyone was convinced that live chat was the way to go. There is always the fear that opening an extra channel will result in additional traffic.

“However, I don’t believe a customer will contact KPN via any channel just for chitchat,” he says. “What I became aware of during the last few years is that the transformation speed has a lot to do with being creative. It is about identifying opportunities and convincing stakeholders on the basis of little bits of evidence in order to continue.”  

In order to increase live chat volumes, KPN shut down its email channel. Franssen admits this could arguably be seen as ‘unfriendly’ customer service but there was method in it.

“We noticed that there were a lot of high costs attached to this asynchronous channel,” he says. “More importantly, customer satisfaction was quite low. So, there was a clear incentive to close that channel and reinvest the resources into the live chat population.”

With steadily growing live chat volumes, KPN immediately began to see major improvements in its Net Promoter Score (NPS) as detractors were exchanged for promoters. This was even more the case once customers were proactively offered a live chat. To further grow its live chat population, attention turned to its web care team. Taking a similar approach, KPN looked at introducing live functionality and introduced social chat, which acted as a bridge from the social media channels to the live chat.

“Once the customer had a transactional question, such as receive a copy of their invoice, we would offer them a link to live chat and start changing the channel,” says Franssen. “Once we did that, again  we started to see the NPS improve and the costs go down.”

Live chat reached its peak of around 30.000 engagements a week once voice-to-chat was introduced within the Voice Response System (VRS) in case waiting time became too high. In hindsight, it became the trigger to start blending voice and non-voice skills to optimise variety for and productivity of our agents. Franssen is also keen to highlight that it has never been about realising a certain volume of live chats, the goal was to make sure KPN’s customers could rely on the company and could be on channels which they are used to.

“In the meantime, the volume has reduced in cases where voice turned out to be more effective within a specific customer journey and vice versa,” explains Franssen. “On top of that I expect that live chat will soon be cannibalised by messaging. It will be either self service, voice or messaging.”

A transformation of this scale asks a lot of the existing workforce to rethink the way they work and take on new responsibilities. Some, naturally, may be fearful or express hesitance in adopting this new way of working. This is where a strong sense of change management and support is key. Franssen points to a number of ways in which he and his team communicate the value of the transformation to the individual, as well as the organisation, as a means of fuelling a belief in the journey.

“It’s about showing them the use cases and showing them what we are going through with this transformation.  By showing evidence you start fuelling the belief that something’s happening and they can contribute,” he says. “We are doing this with our own people, but also with our external partners such as Continuum and Webhelp. So, we visit the call centres at different locations and look at what we are doing and where, as customer service, we are heading. It’s also an opportunity to show why we need them because if we really believe that that voice of the customer should drive our change, then our people are the key representatives in engaging with the customer and providing us with the right signals for change.”

Phase two of the digital transformation saw Franssen focus more on the digitalisation of other customer touchpoints starting with voice, the biggest offline volume. KPN implemented speech recognition technology to track down the intent of the customer and to remove voice response system menus.

“The problem was that too many people were involved and that it was only about routing to an available agent,” says Franssen. “At my request, we minimised the number of stakeholders and organised a small agile organisation made up of internal staff and our supplier Telecats to ensure that the company could increase the velocity in how they developed the speech domain.

“They supported us in optimising the way we are routing our calls. By looking at the data and monitoring essential KPIs (like repeat callers, handling time, transfer rates, sales conversion), we try to improve our performance on a daily basis.”

This approach, Franssen feels, has been incredibly successful, as it reflects the importance of partners acting as real partners and not simply as service delivery. The smaller and dedicated team made it easier to have fruitful discussions about the direction KPN was heading in. Not only to ensure that routing quality would be higher but also to digitalise the voice response system. The motto was changed from routing to an available agent into getting the best (digital) solution. In many cases this would still be one of KPN’s agents, but increasingly it’s becoming directed to self care tooling as well.

“This has taken a flight by introducing our visual IVR (interactive voice response) which turned callers into website visitors,” says Franssen. “If a question concerns a topic which is related to a self care solution, we offer our customers to accept an sms includinga short URL to provide them with our online self care functionalities.”

Not only has the deflection rate increased, it has also increased visibility on its  customers due to boosting customer recognition. This has enabled data driven routing decisions to ensure that KPN will reduce customer effort while also optimising KPN’s results.

“For example, if a customer calls us and we do see that he or she is suffering from an outage, we will proactively inform the customer and offer the opportunity to keep the customer informed,” he says. “Same applies for customers with billing issues who need extra support to solve their difficulties; data tells us to transfer them to a desk where we have more time to give the right support.”

Customer data will soon become the main driver for business decisions; the actual question of the customer will still be considered as crucial input, but will be part of broader consideration. Franssen believes this will be a tough balancing act, but a balancing act all the same. “KPN offers everyone the highest standards possible, but at the same time the market is changing and has changed radically,” he says. “There’s constant pressure on margins and on costs, so we have to become more intelligent. We have to become hyper-personalised using real-time data insights in order to reduce customer effort on the one hand, but also to spend our money wisely so we can continue to offer premium services. In order to realise this, we need to enrich our customer data and increase our focus on the usage of machine learning to help us identify what is good for which customer on a specific moment.”

As for data, there is an important role for customer service as well. “We use our customer engagement to understand who the customer is and what they really need through which we can confirm – or not – whether provided next best actions are sufficiently accurate. This is supervised learning with the help of our customer agents. The effect is that customer service, perhaps more than ever before, is quickly moving the heart of the organisation.”

With the successful completion of phase one shift to online – and major inroads being made with phase two, it became time to move on to the third phase, which is about the shift towards automating the conversation with the customer.  A shift driven by the rise of natural language processing. machine learning and the increasingly availability of real-time contextual data. Though it is still about recognising the customer and their intent, it will be more interactive than ever before.

“We are creating the ability to track down the question behind the question just like we have done within Customer Service over the last decades. Not only on the basis of a dialogue, but more and more by using customer journey data,” explains Franssen. “In order to speed things up we again started in our own domain within the live chat channel. It made sense because, in customer service, we feel the pressure to make sure we are effective and efficient. By introducing a chatbot and automating conversations, we are showing a good business case for why we are doing it.”

In less than a year and a half, almost all chat sessions start in the bot. This already accomplishes a double-digit deflection by offering self-care, whilst customer satisfaction remains high. One of the reasons that this approach has been successful is a result of KPN’s partnership with Nuance. Nuance’s platform Nina made it possible to quickly put KPN’s customer service representatives in position so they could start building dialogues.

“At the same time, the platform features helps our conversation specialist to optimise the conversation in order to minimise customer frustration as we acknowledge that our customer also needs to get used to a chatbot,” explains Franssen.

The collaboration with Nuance is based on a true partnership as well, where both parties closely work together to increase the maturity of the chatbot.

“Over the coming months, this journey will evolve further, our chatbot will become a digital assistant becoming the impersonation of this conversational phase. An assistant which will be equipped with the same tools and insights as our customer representatives, and which will be connected to a number of touchpoints across KPN like our messaging channels, TV and voice.”

“If we manage to create the basis for a true digital assistant having its presence across all the touchpoints, I am confident we can truly improve our customer service as we can offer an unambiguous though personalised customer journey optimising the deployment of self-care tooling in combination with our ever-needed and appreciated emphatic and intelligent customer service experts.”

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