Case Study /

Case study: Going digital ­– how to communicate with customers better, at less cost


Who?  CenturyLink, third-largest U.S. network operator

What? After its merger with Qwest in 2011, the company set out to improve communication with customers and reduce the number of calls into its call centers

How? Using TM Forum’s Frameworx, CenturyLink developed a new program called Digital Dialog, which provides proactive and two-way communication with customers via digital channels such as text, email and integrated voice response (IVR), and adds self-service capabilities

Results? IVR self-help and flow improvements helped divert 350,000 calls from call centers, and 394,000 customers used new or enhanced online self-service content in 2013

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When CenturyLink completed its merger with Qwest in April 2011, it became the third largest telecommunications company in the U.S., but the merger also brought with it the headaches of combining many long-established business and operational support systems.

“We had different call centers with different sets of systems and different processes,” Lindsey Pardun, IT Principal Architect, CenturyLink, explains. “We were treating our customers differently, and Digital Dialog was a program to try to treat customers the same across the company.

“We’re trying to give customers better information about the interactions they have with CenturyLink and to give them information so that they don’t have to call and ask for it,” he adds. “It’s about better and less expensive communication.”

Why do customers call?

To get the project started, Century Link’s IT Services group used analysis conducted by the business side of the organization to determine why customers call. The most common reasons turned out to be about new orders, to request billing information and to find out about the status of installation and repair appointments.

For example, CenturyLink typically needs to communicate with customers ordering Internet service in the following way, and customers might need to communicate at any juncture: Confirm the technician’s appointment; provide notification of when the modem is shipped; send a next-day reminder about the service appointment; send a dispatch notification that the technician is on the way; send an order-complete notification; and send a reminder that the first bill is on its way.

“Digital Dialog is targeted around high-touch events, where if we mess up then it’s a high impact on the customer – like missing or changing appointments,” Pardun says. “If we can give customers information before they have to ask for it, they feel that we’re having intelligent dialog with them and that we’re on top of things. And if we do need to talk to them, we can have a much more efficient conversation.”

Frameworx helps integration

CenturyLink’s IT Services group used Frameworx components to develop Digital Dialog. The Business Process Framework (eTOM) provided CenturyLink with a starting point to analyze the many functional and process issues that contribute to customer relationship management (CRM) challenges.

Digital Dialog also leveraged and extended a growing set of Information Framework (SID)-formatted application program interfaces (APIs) developed within CenturyLink to provide a common data access method across multiple billing and customer data stores. The reuse of these APIs is foundational to the architecture, accelerating development of common Digital Dialog capabilities across separate legacy systems.

In addition, the Application Framework (TAM) was used in architectural analysis to align systems that supported the processes and common functions identified as part of the mapping and definition activity based on the Business Process Framework. Using the Application Framework, CenturyLink identified the key systems storing customer data within legacy systems where data integration was needed to build out the Digital Dialog infrastructure.

Application Framework analysis was used to categorize all CenturyLink’s applications to support a cap-and-grow strategy. This identifies overlapping functionality and informs the choice of applications needing new functionality in Digital Dialog as part of the strategic investment program.

“We had to go through and identify which systems we were going to touch and change with this program and which are duplicate systems, so we did a [an Application Framework]analysis of all of the systems in the group – well into the thousands – to identify where we had commonality,” Pardun says. “The [Application Framework] gives us a common language across different infrastructures, especially when combining companies.”

Once the Frameworx analyses were complete, CenturyLink used email and Short Message Service (SMS) architectures to establish an integrated suite of digital communication tools. The company integrated more than 35 systems into multiple communication channels and to transform the CenturyLink MyAccount website into a seamless experience for customers.

Here’s how it works: In the Digital Dialog workflow, individual systems like repair, ticketing, dispatch, billing, ordering, CRM, and fulfillment send an event trigger that the messaging infrastructure picks up. It generates a message for the customer from a library of messages. The rest of the process, including what to do with the customer’s reply, is handled in the messaging infrastructure (see Figure 1).

digital dialog workflow

Increasing self-care

In addition to improving communication with customers, Digital Dialog also aims to expand customers’ self-care capabilities. This is important, given that recent surveys indicate that most consumers (some estimates are as high as 75 percent) want self-service.

As part of the program, customer service representatives can send customers a one-time email that includes links to CenturyLink’s self-help website where they can find installation instructions for modems or trouble-shooting information and answers to frequently asked questions.

In the first two months after the launch of Digital Dialog, more than 6,000 customers utilized IVR self-service to obtain wireless credentials or voicemail passwords. In 2013, 394,000 customers used new or enhanced online self-service content such as interactive guides and subject-specific videos. IVR self-help and flow improvements helped to divert 355,000 calls from call centers and automatically routed 187,000 calls to the right agent.

Overall, the Digital Dialog program sent more than 7 million proactive notifications to CenturyLink’s customers in 2013, and 130,000 of those customers initiated live online chat or used the company’s e-mail reply capability instead of directly calling an agent.

Century Link GRAPHIC - FULL- v2

Another plus for the program is the positive effect it is having on CenturyLink’s staff. While there is always some concern that introducing programs could reduce staffing levels in customer service centers, in this case the benefits have outweighed any negatives, particular when it comes to repairs.

CenturyLink integrated its document repository so that customer service representatives in repair centers could see all prior notification and communication with customers whether it was from sales, customer care, billing or repair, says Steve Hale, Senior Lead Technical Project Manager, CenturyLink.

“This allows service reps to have a holistic view of the customer interaction in order to be able to help them with whatever questions or problems they have,” he explains.

“Acceptance from both customers and reps has been better than we thought,” Hale says. “We have exceeded acceptance by a long way, and we have exceeded the business case in terms of call deflection.”


1 Comment

  1. Getahun Mesheshea on

    Now a days, the most important point is to create customer satisfaction and develop credibility on the type of service obtained from operator.
    And so, the feature of digital dialog is a good relief for centurylink as custormers are immediately obtain informations from the system without any delay and hopefully this system will be widesperad to be used also with other operators, like ours Ethio Telecom!

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