Telstra has turned to a tech startup for a context-based, self-service support system currently being tested with 10,000 broadband subscribers.
Telstra began to roll out Contextual Care, created by an Austin, Texas-based startup called StepOne, nearly two months ago to new broadband customers, and the telco plans to extend it to the rest of its customer based in a matter of months, said Telstra Digital executive director Gerd Schenkel.
“This technology bridges the digital self-service space and the physical environment of humans,” Schenkel told Computerworld Australia.
Under the service, which is part of Telstra’s “digital first” initiative, Telstra broadband modems come with QR code stickers. When customers scan the sticker with their phone camera, they are forwarded immediately to a self-service page customised for their particular device and service subscription.
“When something is wrong with your Wi-Fi or your Internet, people tend to get up and walk to their router to see if the lights are flashing or to turn it off and on,” he said.
With a sticker right on the router, customers have a more natural and immediate way to connect to tech support, he said. In addition to the stickers, Telstra has also sent to customers QR-code equipped refrigerator magnets, which Schenkel compared to panic buttons.
Customers are engaging with the self-service tools. Schenkel said that 25 per cent of the customers who had a need for tech support used Contextual Care, he said. “Initial feedback has been positive.”
Schenkel said Telstra had not been looking for a service like Contextual Care, but the startup StepOne came to the telco with a strong pitch on one of Telstra’s technology demo days.
“I just felt it was so compelling that we decided pretty much on the spot we wanted to get involved with them.”
“As a mature company, we tend to deal with all the big boys in town ... but I think it’s important for us in the digital space to deal with younger startup companies,” he said.
“We can’t do a lot of it, but selected startups who we really believe in, we’d like to get involved with.”
The comments are consistent with a recent speech by Telstra CIO Patrick Eltridge. The executive said that working with startups is a “strategic necessity” for Telstra to survive increasing competition from over-the-top players and other rivals in a post-NBN world.
While Telstra hadn’t been searching for a service like Contextual Care, Schenkel said it “slots in neatly in an earlier stage of self-help and the other items we already have.”
“It’s the introduction of the context,” he said. “That’s not only the physical context ... [but] also the context of the customer relationship.”
Before, for example, a customer might spend many minutes on the phone with tech support trying to figure out why the Internet isn’t working, only to find out late in the call that they haven’t paid their bill, he said.
“It will be far easier for the customer and for us to solve problems,” he said.
In addition, by bringing the customer directly to the appropriate section of Telstra’s self-service support system online, many calls to tech support can be avoided altogether, he said.
Even if the customer ends up having to call tech support, starting the process with Contextual Care provides the Telstra employee with immediate information about the user and what troubleshooting steps have already been tried, he said.
While currently available only for broadband customers, Telstra plans to roll it out to mobile users in the future. While it wouldn’t work to add a sticker to a smartphone, Schenkel said the telco would rely on sending data from the device itself.
One difficulty with providing mobile support is that wireless devices are more frequently subject to network dropouts and speed variations than a fixed device, he noted.
“The trick is to understand what is an actual tech support situation, what is a network feedback situation, and what is really just part of using a mobile.”
Schenkel said that while Contextual Care collects “situational” data, it does not send Telstra location or private Web history data.
He admitted that knowing the location of a mobile could assist with determining a network problem, but said Telstra has not gone down that road.
“Content – what customers do with their broadband – is off limits,” he said. “What websites people browse is really none of our business with respect to our tech support.”
Schenkel said reducing the number of calls to tech support will save Telsta money, but this is not the primary objective of rolling out Contextual Care.
“If you reduce the effort for the customer and improve their advocacy or perception of Telstra, there are economic benefits either in terms of loyalty or additional purchases.”