If you were unaffected by the Internet outage two days ago, consider yourself one of the lucky few. With everyone adjusting to the new norm of working from home, an almost islandwide outage threw most out of the new rhythm of work, and landed local telco StarHub into hot water for service disruptions lasting from morning all the way to about 8.20pm in the evening.
While the brand was constantly communicating between its internal teams on the issue and members of the public, it still garnered a fair bit of anger from consumers unable to carry on with their day as planned. Along with apologising for the inconvenience caused by the intermittent disruption of home broadband services, StarHub also stepped up to offer affected customers a one-time 20% rebate on their home broadband monthly fee, which is equivalent to six days of free home WiFi service. A dedicated website will also be made available for affected customers to register for the rebate. In all of this, CEO Peter Kaliaropoulos also fronted the issue saying that regrettably, StarHub "fell short" of giving consumers the service experience they deserve.
The service disruption also caught the attention of the IMDA which begun its investigations on StarHub yesterday. Currently, IMDA and the telcos in Singapore are taking proactive steps to make additional investments to increase the healthy buffer based on industry best practices, to cater for unexpected increases in capacity demand. An IMDA spokesperson told Marketing that Singapore’s telecom infrastructure is robust and the country has sufficient buffer capacity in its networks today, and added that Thursday's service disruptions are unlikely to be related to network capacity constraints. It also takes a serious view of any service disruption to public telecommunications services, especially during the circuit-breaker period, where many are working and studying from home. Hence, StarHub was required to restore the affected services expeditiously, and to keep its subscribers updated on the progress. “IMDA will not hesitate to take strong enforcement action should there be any lapses on StarHub’s part,” the statement read.
A lasting mark?
Paul Hourihane, principal at Remark APAC told Marketing that these [service disruptions] happen, even to the best brands. What is needed is to create a plan as part of an overall customer experience strategy. Brands in general, he added, need to plan for good outcomes as well as bad customer outcomes.
Utilities sectors are particularly prone to these mishaps but most of the time, they are meeting and exceeding customer’s expectations. As such, brands in such sectors need to have a plan to leverage on the good moments, so that when a failure happens, they have enough good CX capital in the bank to rely on and drive better emotional outcomes. During such times, the brand needs to turn consumers' anger and frustration into empathy and understanding.
"That is the essence of world class customer experience excellence. Sadly, there is no evidence of anything like that in place this instance," he added. On the front end, however, brands need to equip their frontline staff and channels with answers and solutions so that the teams can at least develop some customer understanding and empathy.
Meanwhile, Justin Peyton, chief transformation and strategy officer, APAC at Wunderman Thompson was of the view that systems everywhere are being pushed to perform beyond anticipated levels, and so there will be circumstances where services fall short. He added that during these trying times, there is a level of understanding and appreciation for brands from members of public. According to Peyton, as a business community, it is important to support each other and recognise the extraordinary effort everyone is taking to keep things running.
"Consumers have already shown their understanding in the way they have reacted to all categories of essential workers. Sure there are frustrations, but despite the small challenges, I believe these circumstances can only help to reinforce the strength of the telco brands," he said. Peyton explained that research has shown that:
Consumers judge brands less on the problems they might have, but rather how they solve those problems.
So communicating what the strategy is and keeping the consumers updated on what exactly the telco might have been doing, could be a great initiative. Overall, he believes the entire communication sector is there to solve one of the biggest problems of all – keeping everyone connected to friends, family and colleagues.
Lack of communication the real issue?
Kevin Kan, former managing director Asia of CRM and loyalty company Aimia and currently the CEO of a Break Out Consulting Asia said that given the outage that occurred on 15 April, was a major hiccup for those working from home as well as home based learning, consumers’ trust on StarHub was been badly bruised. He added that while the telco did update its status approximately every two to three hours, the way that communication was handled overall lacked the standards of good customer experience expected by StarHub customers.
“Remember that customer experience is the whole end-to-end journey a customer has with your organisation. Every touch point with your organisation is an experience for the customer,” he said.
Nonetheless he applauded StarHub for giving customers a one-time 20% rebate on home broadband monthly fee is a part of their service recovery efforts and said this is a good first, proactive step to rebuilding trust. It shows the organisation acknowledging that it has not met customer expectations during a time of national crisis. Kan also said the proactive service recovery will be appreciated by consumers given consumers “are most happy when they get a monetary reward.” However, what was missing from the announcement are the organisational and operational changes StarHub will be taking to ensure that this outage doesn’t happen again.
He also highlighted a couple of opportunities for StarHub to rebuild trust and to control the narrative:
- Operational changes
Clearly communicating the root cause and the operational changes being implemented to ensure this outage doesn’t happen again was missing from the StarHub communication. Consumers need to have confidence that StarHub has this problem licked and under control. StarHub should also communicate the training that will be implemented so that human errors can be minimised and how they will respond to such challenges in the future
- Communicate, communicate, communicate
One thing that was clear in the comments on StarHub’s Facebook page was that customers felt there was a lack of communication. Satirically, StarHub’s Facebook page has “Very responsive” to messages but consumers didn’t think this was the case!
One thread had 4.3k comments whilst an earlier thread had 9.6k comments. Some of the older comments have only just had a response back almost 18 hours later.
During times of crisis, it is super important to have continual communication with your customers. Should StarHub have posted 30 min or 60 min updates? I say yes! Most organisations have business continuity plan (BCP) communication protocols of 60 min updates. StarHub could have communicated with customers on all their social media platforms and via SMS to subscribers.
Additionally, some consumers were trying to be helpful by suggesting that DNS addresses be changed to get around this outage on StarHub’s Facebook comments. If this was in fact a manual workaround, why didn’t StarHub endorse or communicate this workaround. This would have helped tech savvy consumers resume productivity and get off the venting comments.
- Be authentic
Gaining trust requires authenticity. Be genuine in your communications and service recovery. Some cynical customers may think that the 20% rebate service recovery is just a way to reduce potential fines from IMDA. There is precedence in IMDA reducing fines on StarHub’s competitor when they provided free services as compensation for service outages. IMDA took service recovery into consideration when imposing the fine.
Taking control of the narrative to say what your organization is doing to prevent future outages, implementing operations changes and providing improved constant communications will help rebuild credibility, trust & customer experience
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Recently, StarHub donated its 20th anniversary marketing budget of SG$200,000 to support students in their home-based learning (HBL). Under this initiative, the telco will be sponsoring instantaneous mobile broadband connectivity to students from lower-income families who do not have access to broadband at home. According to StarHub, the additional connectivity support, paired with school devices, will enable students to access online learning for HBL. The initiative will last for six months, to tide over the trying circumstances brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.