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Spanish telecom giant Telefonica operates multiple consumer and enterprise lines of business such as wireless phones, traditional land lines, internet and data connectivity. That is no different than other large telcos. However, what many people outside of Western Europe don’t realize is that Spain has very sharp cultural and linguistic differences from region to region within the Iberian Peninsula.

To better serve its customers, Telefonica decided to buck the trend of centralizing support operations and moved to localize the customer experience by operating call centers in each region, serving the local population. At the same time they were decentralizing geographically, they were consolidating their fixed line residential and consumer wireless customer support operations. A recipe for disaster? They pulled it off and continue to move forward. To find out how, Customer Experience Report sat down with Telefonica’s CRM Technology Director Mario Soro Fernandez for a conversation.

Maybe you have to call one number for fixed lines, another number for the mobile, so maintaining the customer experience was very difficult. And also for the business operation, sometimes it is difficult and expensive because maybe you have a call from a mobile customer and the customer wants to ask something about their fixed line, and you have to transfer the call to the right person.

CER: Telefonica is a global telecom giant and I know that you have presence in the Iberian Peninsula and throughout the Americas, where else does Telefonica’s reach extend to globally?

Soro Fernandez: Well, we’re a company that started originally in Spain; we have business in more than 20 countries worldwide and we have a big presence in Latin America. Throughout Europe we have business in the United Kingdom and also in Germany. We also have some strategic technological alliances with different companies, one of them is China Unicom, and also we have another alliance with Telecom Italia for example.

CER: So most telecommunications firms seem to keep their fixed lines and their mobile support operations separated just as they maintain separate business in consumer support centers. Why did Telefonica decide to merge their fixed line and mobile operations together?

Telefónica's Mario Soro Fernandez: "If we are closer to the customer we are more competitive."

Telefónica’s Mario Soro Fernandez: “If we are closer to the customer we are more competitive.”

Soro Fernandez: It was a process that started a long time ago. The reason behind it is that the customer is the same. So any time one customer has a fixed line and a mobile line, internet connection and [cable] TV…the customer is the same, and it’s very hard to manage the same customer over different lines. Maybe you have to call one number for fixed lines, another number for the mobile, so maintaining the customer experience was very difficult. And also for the business operation, sometimes it is difficult and expensive because maybe you have a call from a mobile customer and the customer wants to ask something about their fixed line, and you have to transfer the call to the right person. So you have an increase in cost because you need to pass the call to a different agent. Also you create dissatisfaction with the customer because you need to explain your problem to one agent and again to another agent, so we decided to have a holistic view of the customer.

Still we didn’t have the customer experience application, because we had legacy systems. So far we have some systems in place for the fixed lines and mobile, but we’re working on a big project in Telefonica to create a unified system for managing all the customer contact for mobile and fixed lines. My responsibility is with Telefonica in Spain, so I’ve been talking about what’s happening in Telefonica globally but Spain is totally finished. We have merged all together the operations for fixed and mobile.

CER: So your responsibility is there in Spain.

Soro Fernandez: All the technology that supports the contact center is my responsibility.

CER: Speaking of that technology, you recently completed a major consolidation of contact center operations and you implemented Avaya’s Aura contact center platform. What drove that decision and what results have you realized?

Soro Fernandez: Three years ago we had different technologies supporting the fixed lines and the mobile lines but the problem was we wanted to handle the customer with only one. To do this, the technology had to be kind of different so we decided to merge all the different technologies onto Avaya. This was the first step, and it was a big success because it was easier not having to operate different technologies for the calls, the orders also the reporting; it’s difficult to handle a big operation having different technologies in the support site. The second step that we took it last year was we implemented the Avaya Aura contact center platform. We implemented a new functionality that allowed us to reach our goals in an easier way.

The Move to Localization

Soro Fernandez: We also were deploying a big project that was decentralizing the call centers; before they were all centralized but we moved the responsibility of customer service out to the different regions in Spain. It was a big decision the company made to try to handle the calls originated from each region in the call centers built in that same region. We had to implement this big project very quickly. We were able to do that and the implementation—without Avaya Aura it would be very difficult to do this project. We moved everything in the company‘s contact centers in a very few months.

If a customer from Barcelona calls to the call center, the call will be handled by somebody close to Barcelona, even perhaps in Barcelona; and in the Cataluña region, maybe the call would be handled by somebody who speaks Catalan. We are closer to the customer than before.

CER: We here in the states think of Spain as one unified nation and it it’s one country, but like in any big country, like here in the USA, or for example in Mexico, the culture is very different from one part to another, the way that people talk and the ways that people relate to each other are different so I imagine that there is a competitive advantage in having them in the same region. For example in Cataluña people might decide they want to speak in Catalan. I don’t know if that’s the case; or in the Basque region, you have something that is local and you can have that local touch and that local feeling. I imagine that would drive better customer satisfaction, a better customer experience. Was that part of the thought process in making that decision?

Soro Fernandez: Yes, that was one of the reasons we wanted to move towards this point, because we want to be closer to the customer. We are close to the customer in the retail shops but in the call centers we were not close to the customer. So maybe there was a call that originated in Cataluña that was handled in Andalucía or Sevilla, or even in Peru, because we also have contact centers offshore in Latin America and in Morocco. So we tried to define the different regions and decided to allocate calls to all the different call centers we have in Spain because we have a lot of centers here; and now we try to handle most of the calls in the regions where the calls originate. For example, if a customer from Barcelona calls to the call center, the call will be handled by somebody close to Barcelona, even perhaps in Barcelona; and in the Cataluña region, maybe the call would be handled by somebody who speaks Catalan. We are closer to the customer than before. This is one of the major drivers for doing that, also having stronger capabilities to compete with our competitors, because in each region the competitors are not exactly the same. It’s important to have different offers tailored to each region to compete with other vendors. If we are closer to the customer we are more competitive.

Avaya Aura Contact Center facilitates management of several multimedia interactions simultaneously.

Telefonica deployed Avaya Aura software to enable omnichannel customer support in Spain.

CER: That makes a lot of sense. What’s next for Telefonica’s contact center operations? What plans do you have to innovate going forward, and how different is going to be five years from now compared to today? What’s your vision for the future as contact centers continue to evolve?

Soro Fernandez: In the long term we probably will continue to improve operations in the call centers and to be more effective in the customer satisfaction area, but also moving many calls that are handled in the call centers to another channel like the web or the app. We’re increasing month to month about 10% the numbers of users of the mobile application we offer. That’s where the future is going.

CER: So it’s moving to omnichannel. The call center is still going to be there but now people might want to get support through other channels; through the web, through chats, through apps, even social media.

Soro Fernandez: And also increasing self service.

CER: That’s a win-win situation, because it is less expensive for the company and it is more convenient for the customer, so both sides win.

Soro Fernandez: We have to manage the different channels because it’s not easy sometimes, when that customer interaction starts kind of in one channel and the customer maybe wants to continue in another channel. Maybe he goes to the shop and then calls the call center or goes to the web. This challenge probably will be solved by another big project we are carrying on in Telefonica, a multichannel application for handling the customer across every channel, this is a big initiative we have for the next two to three years and it is probably the most important project we have in my area.