“My professional growth took place in parallel with the success of the company,” says Nikolai Bulash, Deputy General Director for Commercial Affairs at MTS. We meet on the eve of the 20th anniversary of the company. Nikolai Bulash has been working in it for 15 years. He went from an ordinary specialist to a manager and during this time he saw how the MTS client base grew to 5.7 million subscribers, a large retail sales network appeared, innovative services and solutions were developed and launched for both individuals and businesses. We talked with Nikolai about how customer requests have changed, which allows us to understand their behavior and what technology trends affect business development.
“In my first year of work at the company, about 200 thousand people used MTS services – today there are 5.7 million of them!”
— Nikolai, tell us how you started working at MTS?
– I got into the company by accident, I never thought to connect my life with the telecom sphere. It was 2003, after graduating from university, I was looking for a job, and my friend suggested that I go for an interview at MTS. I liked the work schedule, the young team, the ambitious plans of the company. After a series of interviews, training and testing, I was invited to the position of a customer service specialist – this is how my path to MTS began.
When I came to work, the company had only 3 communication salons in Minsk, now there are 93 of them throughout the country. In my first year of work, about 200 thousand people used MTS cellular services – today there are 5.7 million of them! The company continues to expand its mobile network coverage by improving and inventing new services and services, using generations of communication technologies from 2G to LTE, and also plans to develop 5G technology.
My professional growth took place in parallel with the success of the company in the market.
— You are responsible for communication with clients. Tell us how their requests have changed?
– Cardinally. Communication services have become part of the consumer basket, people cannot imagine their lives without smartphones. And if earlier communication needs were basic, that is, calls and SMS, then with the development of technologies and data transmission services, they have expanded significantly.
Today, Internet access prevails over other categories of services.Customers want to get the maximum of services in one ecosystem: personal communication, work tools, remote payments and settlements, and in the future – personal identification through a smartphone.
Accordingly, a company that provides such services needs to work ahead of the client’s needs and shape their needs. Since you cannot remain a leader by satisfying existing requests, you need to be an innovator and provide new services. This is how we did it, for example, with the launch of the LTE network. MTS was the first in Belarus in 2015 to provide subscribers with access to the 4G network. And also the first to form an offer for unlimited Internet access for users. Then no one could have imagined how much it would be in demand. Today, more than 70% of all customers actively use data transmission services.
“In 2010, there were 8,000 clients per contact center specialist, now there are 34,000.”
— How are approaches to customer service changing?
– Previously, communication with the client was mainly by phone: he had to call the contact center, contact a specialist, get advice. Now he does not have time for all this, information needs to be obtained quickly and in a concise form. At the same time, the number of employees in the company is not growing as fast as the client base. For comparison, in 2010 there were 8,000 clients per contact center specialist, now it is 34,000. Of course, it is impossible for one employee to process such a number of potential requests. Therefore, we use different communication channels for communication: telephone communication, the My MTS application, online services, a virtual consultant, social networks.
First of all, we try to prevent a situation where the quality of the services provided forces the client to contact a specialist.
– How does this happen?
– Technical capabilities allow us to work ahead of the curve. The specialist using the software can presume with what problem the request arrives. For example, he sees that the client had a failure in the Internet, unsuccessful attempts to use data transfer services are recorded. We do not waste time figuring out the problem, we see it and immediately give an algorithm of actions to solve it.
Or, for example, the client has a problem with crediting a payment. In our system, you can immediately see which banks and through which channels have delays in accepting payments and the time it takes to resolve the problem. We can promptly provide information to the client.
— What technological trends would you single out now and how are they implemented in MTS?
– All trends are now focused on 5G technology, virtualization and robotization of work with a client – both in the contact center and service in communication stores. In 2020, we stopped distributing calls to our contact center through the IVR (Interactive Voice Response) system. Instead, you can seek advice from a virtual consultant. It can provide reference information, for example, about tariff plans, send instructions for Internet settings, connect or disconnect services. What did it give us?
- Reduced re-requests that typically resulted from confusion in IVR branches.
- About 40% of requests are now resolved without connecting with a contact center specialist.
- The percentage of satisfied customers after talking with a virtual consultant is almost the same as after talking with a contact center specialist. At the same time, the burden on specialists is reduced.
If the virtual consultant could not answer the client’s question, the call is switched to a contact center specialist.
— And what are the plans for the technological development of communication stores?
— The stage of testing the system of electronic interaction between specialists and clients is nearing completion. In the near future, we plan to completely abandon paper versions of contracts. All the necessary paperwork operations will be performed using the employee’s smartphone. We will develop technologies for concluding a service contract, selling equipment and, in general, for verifying customers in communication stores.
— MTS sells products both online and offline. In percentage terms, where is the purchasing power higher?
— The volume of online sales has been growing at a double-digit rate in recent years.
The year 2021 is indicative, when the number of purchases made in our online store increased 3 times compared to 2020. So, in December 2021, it brought in more revenue than all offline stores in Minsk. In addition, in online stores, the average customer check is usually higher than in retail chains. At the same time, communication salons remain relevant in terms of building communication with the client and selling equipment and services.
— How do you see the development of retail chains, given such a rapid growth of the online store?
— Over the past three years, we have not increased the number of retail facilities, we remain at the level of more than 90 stores in Belarus. But every year, part of the stores change location and move to places that form a constant consumer flow. For example, in shopping centers or shops – where people purposefully go shopping or are determined to make them.
What products are most popular with individuals?
– Definitely smartphones with 4G support. Since 2017, we have refused to sell push-button phones. Since we believe that the services and technologies of the company are formed for the owner of a smartphone.
— What services and solutions are most in demand among businesses?
– The main part of B2B consumers is concentrated in Minsk, and the most popular products are smartphones, tablets, specialized equipment, such as Wi-Fi routers. As for services, it is important for key clients to optimize their business and actively communicate with the consumer. Therefore, Virtual PBX, MTS Communicator, MTS Cloud solutions, etc. are at the peak of popularity. In terms of the number of customers, small and medium-sized businesses (SMB) are the largest segment. There are more clients of legal entities in SMB than in large businesses. But if we compare the number of subscribers and all applications in small / medium and large businesses, then the ratio will be 30% to 70%.
“All work is based on analysis”
When you talk about buying behavior, you seem to know everything about your customers. What helps you with this?
— That’s right, all our work is based on analysis, which is carried out continuously. All employees who work with clients are under constant monitoring. Conducted audio and video recording of communication between our employees and customers. The contact center uses speech analytics of conversations with customers. Selectively (for example, depending on the topic or duration of the conversation), communications are assessed by our trainers. If they do not fall under the established procedure for consultation, the trainers individually analyze each situation. Based on the results of the analysis, we make adjustments to the work so that the client leaves us with positive emotions. All this is collected in the quality department, quarterly committees are held to discuss how we can be even more customer-oriented. And in the end – to meet all the expectations of customers.
– How does it work in practice?
— In 2019, a problem arose — long queues in retail stores. Moreover, the number of specialists has not changed, there has not been a large increase in subscribers, as well as major promotions and offers. We analyzed the situation, determined how long each process of concluding service contracts, issuing installments, purchasing goods, etc., takes. We set target values for employees for waiting time for customers in the queue – up to 10 minutes. If the customer waited longer, the store manager received an SMS about exceeding the set waiting time. He could quickly take action, such as adding employees there. If after 20 minutes of waiting for the client the situation did not change, then the SMS came to the head of the retail network. After another 10 minutes, I already received the SMS. Within a month, the work was completed.
— What are the development plans of MTS for the nearest period?
— Our main strategy is to increase the level of automation and robotization of work with clients. And our goal: all products that we create must be intuitive to subscribers and easy to use. We continue to develop a virtual consultant in the contact center, paying special attention to speech analytics. In stores, we plan to focus on communication with the client, reduce the time of mechanical operations performed by a specialist, and abandon paper workflow. Particular attention is the direction of e-commerce. This year, a transformation awaits him: from automating the work of an online store, organizational structure, and to improving logistics and storage of goods. We will also continue to create ecosystems for customers in both the mass and business segments.