The telecommunications business environment is experiencing an exciting period of transition due to the seemingly unstoppable growth of the Internet. It seems like virtually everyone is connected at all times — whether at home, in the office or on the move.
Initially, it would appear that this is great news for mobile operators. After all, they provide the networks that allow laptops, smartphones and tablets to connect to the Internet.
And there is no doubt that broadband access is hugely successful in terms of usage — in fact, according to Internet World Stats, global Internet access grew a whopping 444 percent from 2000 to 2010. The problem that arises for mobile operators is that they are not capitalizing on this as much as had been expected, and based on contemporary usage, revenues from data services will not necessarily cover the cost of investments to keep pace with demand.
So why are operators not making as much money as expected? One reason is that intense competition, regulatory intervention and other historical issues basically have been driving operators to charge increasingly lower prices for unlimited, "all you can eat" access to the network. But another significant reason is the shift that is occurring in the types of services being consumed over their networks.
In the past, operators were the sole providers of services, but customers are now using their network connections to access services which are unconnected to their operators and being provided by over-the-top (OTT) players. Mobile operators have been taken a bit by surprise with OTT services from companies like Google, Apple and Facebook; these players have created a whole new business ecosystem that cuts out the network services, which are the basis of mobile operators' traditional business models.
Mobile operators must review their businesses and investigate new, innovative ways in which they can generate profit. There are potentially interesting trends which could factor into the equation, such as the arrival of an even faster mobile network like LTE, the growth of machine-to-machine (M2M) communications, near field communications (NFC) as a driver for mobile payments, or the increasing use of cloud services. But ultimately, the success or failure of mobile operators will depend on whether they can offer what customers want — meeting or exceeding their expectations. A recent Comptel User Group poll even revealed that 90 percent of operators agree with this and believe that the customer experience is one of the most important factors affecting their survival and success.
Customers want consistent, reliable services at a reasonable price and attentive customer care: the ultimate customer experience. This is the reason customers choose their operators in the first place, and why they are willing to pay for using services or even willing to pay extra just for the optimum experience — and a bad experience is often why customers leave. In fact, 87 percent of consumers in a January 2011 Vanson Bourne / Comptel survey indicated that the majority of respondents would not only move but also pay more money for faster and personalized services.
Thus, customer experience management is racing to the top of mobile operators' agendas. They recognize that customer experience is hard for competitors to copy and drives long-term customer loyalty. Additionally, this approach has a much more permanent effect on revenue than other means of improving market share. Happy customers have proved to stay longer and spend more.
For these reasons, mobile operators have been able to invest heavily in their networks — ensuring that they work really well and that the quality of their services is optimized. They have also invested in CRM systems and call centers to make sure that customers can get what they want and find solutions to their problems. But in a world where customers immediately want services and support, is this enough? Operators need to go the extra mile and be more interactive and provide highly personalized services — all in real time.
How is this possible? Not through the network or the customer-facing business systems, but rather through the middle layer, Operational Support Systems (OSS). OSS is an integral part of the customer experience, and by tapping into the wealth of information that they can provide, and collecting, combining and controlling this data, a complete picture of customer behavior will emerge. This can then be used for such things as maximizing customer retention, uncovering new revenue opportunities and improving brand image in the market.
Unlike data from the Business Support Systems (BSS) or customer-facing operations that is commonly used to cross-sell or up-sell to customers, OSS is often underestimated. It is generally an untapped but valuable repository of information, which could be converted into value-added services. In the previously mentioned Comptel User Group survey, nearly 100 percent of respondents recognized that leveraging their network and other service data as well as their OSS is important for gaining a holistic view of subscriber behavior, and therefore better and more proactively managing the customer experience.
Leveraging network and other service data and seeing the OSS side of the business lends true value to the customer experience. Operators can detect every event in their networks in real time, understand and make decisions about what their customers are doing and take action to help monetize this information. By doing so, they can open up a myriad of possibilities — mobile operators can use the data to improve customer support, differentiate between subscribers, provide service levels appropriate to their value and proactively offer faster speeds or greater bandwidth. They can also anticipate problems and quickly provide solutions to ease subscriber frustrations, prevent churn and deliver a better customer experience that will help them remain competitive.
For example, when a customer starts downloading a video, his/her mobile operator could proactively make an offer for a faster download speed at that point. Or, if there are too many customers on a single network downloading at the same time, the operator could take several different courses of action, such as applying priority by customer value, configuring more capacity or informing the customer that speed is lower than expected and offering an alternative mode. By adding value like this, subscriber churn is reduced, and revenues are increased.
The key to customer experience management is to better utilize the middle layer, or OSS. The largely untapped information is essential for providing added value and meeting customers' needs. Competition is fierce, but the operators that react quickly will gain first-mover advantage. As operators look to capitalize on both their network assets and their customer relationships, they will inevitably move to a real-time, interactive and personalized approach for delivering services, and OSS will be fundamental in enabling that.
Operators are in a unique position to enhance the customer experience using existing data, but to a large extent, it may depend on whether they invest in positively linking the wealth of subscriber information in their networks and OSS systems and turning it into something they can monetize.
Olivier Suard is marketing director at Comptel Corporation.