Nearshore Americas recently spoke with Lynn Holmgren, Head of Global Customer Operations at Millicom, about the impact of value-added services, experience engineering and end-user ease on Millicom’s market share and loyalty rates. Millicom, operating in Latin America and Africa under the brand Tigo, is an interesting company in that Millicom, founded and listed in Sweden, has corporate offices in Stockholm, London, Miami and Luxembourg, but its mobile wireless operations are in 14 countries throughout Latin America and Africa.
Ms. Holmgren discussed with us the challenges in delivering a superior and consistent customer experience across borders, across markets, and across continents, where subscribers have vastly different needs, lifestyles, and challenges.
CER: Tigo operates throughout Latin America, and you’re also big in Africa as well. Is that correct?
Holmgren: Yes we have 20 million customers in Africa and around 30 million in Latin America.
CER: In Colombia, they just changed the law and got rid of minimum contract lengths. Is that going to affect Tigo’s sales model, with customers not bound to a carrier by contract?
Holmgren: I think it can. I can understand the concern. The challenge is that phones were subsidized through contracts. If I knew you had a contract with a customer for several months or three years, the company has the ability to recoup the device investment over the length of the contract. Without the contract, it changes the pricing dynamic of the ability to subsidize the device. There are some unintended consequences in that the pricing for phones is going to dramatically change.
CER: This evolution in pricing models certainly changes the game. Handsets running Google’s Android One operating system, designed to bring smartphones to the developing world are coming this winter. Is this a game-changer for the markets Tigo serves, or is it just another hardware option in an already crowded handset market? Will this help Tigo to still provide a feature rich handset to consumers who may now find a Samsung Galaxy or Apple iPhone out of reach without subsidization?
Holmgren: Tigo is ensuring that we have a broad variety of devices for our customers at price points that they can afford. A lower price Android is highly desired by our customer base, as lack of affordability has previously been a barrier to adoption. That being said, it is still very important to have the features that customers want within the device, such as camera, good speakers, large screen, etc. As products enter the market, we partner with device manufacturers to be able to communicate customer benefits and bring the right phones with the right group of customer desired benefits, at the right price, to the right market and it does vary by market as to what is important. In some markets the phone functions as the TV, the computer, the education system and access to the world in addition to traditional communications and internet access.
CER: Tigo is launching a lot of innovative products. You have mobile point-of-sale in Guatemala. In Latin America, you’re building out your 4G networks and in Africa, you have a mobile wallet product. How do these value-added service sites affect customer service from a training standpoint to make sure that your agents are able to handle the more complex service offering that you have?
Holmgren: It’s really changing the dynamics of the service model. Those are requiring a lot more training from two aspects. From a sales perspective, we’re using what I call experience engineering and next issue avoidance. I know if you’re going to buy a phone that has the capability of using data or a smart phone, the key is configuring your phone for you when I sell it to you. We’re working harder to do things like that.
We’re also working hard on platforms, like our OTA (Over The Air) configuration platform. Because I know a lot of people buy phones in the grey market or second hand, we need to be able to get those phones to be automatically configured. Firstly what we’re doing is looking at where our training gaps are. Secondly, we know that when you opt for our value-added services, you will stay with us longer if you value the service that you bought.
If you’re a heavy user of our mobile financial services or you’re a heavy user of music, we know that you’re going to stay with us longer. We want to make sure that when you’re buying a phone, if you want to use it for music, that you buy the right phone.
We’re not just looking at effort as a customer marketing strategy, but as our corporate responsibility.
We’re changing all our point-of-sale material to be able to help guide customers. As somebody that’s going to be buying a digital phone, what to look for in selecting a phone If you like to take pictures, I want you to choose one that’s going to take great photos. If you want to take selfies, I want to make sure you have a camera that can do that. We’re putting guidance in the stores to help you choose the right product.
And then we’re doing a lot more configuration within the store, focusing much less on efficiency and much more on effectiveness in our stores. That means much more attention to things like first contact resolution, low effort, how I see experience for the customer.
We’re asking them to rate us on was our consultant knowledgeable and did they provide options and solutions to what you were looking for? Those types of questions rather than the standard, of average handle time or satisfaction.
CER: That’s an intelligent strategy, to use those value-added services to keep the phone service from being commoditized. Your share is increasing in a lot of the markets where you operate. If it’s not built on commodity pricing, is it a customer experience issue? What do you internally see as driving the success that you’re able to have in growing the market share faster than your competitors in these developing markets?
Holmgren: I think it varies by market. In Colombia, it’s still very much a growth market for us and we’re using customer care as a differentiator for us. The other markets, where we are a leader, we’re focusing on value for money. I’m making sure we’re delivering on our product and our pricing and then supporting that through transparency initiatives.
We’re looking at the top reasons people are calling. For example, we previously had a very aggressive outsourced collection strategy. In our study, we found that it’s much better for us to call the customer when they’re not paying and ask them, “Hey, how come you’re not paying?” When the customer says, “I have a problem with X, Y or Z,” we take the opportunity to fix whatever the issue is and we then ask, “Could you pay the bill?” we’re seeing a much higher collection rate and we retain the customer as well.
We’re putting the customer at the front of our business. In some markets, they’re responding more quickly. In other markets, it’s taking a little bit of time because there’s very complex transformational change in the business and I would say we’re not there yet in all markets.
We’re still having a bit of a challenge. And in some markets, you have some competitors buying market share. We’re trying not to react to that because we feel that we want to deliver value for money, not just an affordable price. We’re looking at things like reliability. You can reach us when you have a problem or question. We’re reasonable. We’re trying to humanize the experience.
CER: You are doing pretty well in Bolivia with a much larger market share there and just opened up a new customer service center. Is that strictly retail or an in-country contact center as well?
Holmgren: We’ve also put stores in Bolivia and expanded the business with acquisition and the market is busy integrating some of that back office work. There was some confusion about the complexity of our plans in Bolivia. And again, everything for us right now is around reducing complexity and reducing the effort for the customer to do business with us.
So we moved to a product line called One Boliviana. It’s a very simple plan for the customer to understand. It’s easy to communicate. It’s easy for the customer to understand which means and they’re not going to make as many mistakes or have as many problems on it. . We’re not just looking at effort as a customer marketing strategy, but as our corporate responsibility.
This story was originally published by NSAM sister publication Customer Experience Report.