In the wireless industry, you might build it and customers might come, but the bigger question is whether they will return. In this era of number portability, carriers have to sign up subscribers to their networks and they also have to keep them satisfied.
There are numerous business cases for the use of customer relationship management (CRM) for wireless networks, focusing on customer care, billing systems, churn management and the like. But an emerging area is looking at what kind of experience a subscriber might have while trying to use the network, especially for value-add data applications. The idea is to monitor good and bad experiences and respond to them quickly, heading off that "bad taste in the mouth" that might prompt a subscriber to go elsewhere.
That service has been dubbed "customer experience management" by Arantech, an Irish company that started out by looking at the handset experience and took the technology to the network. Arantech's technology, which it calls aranAssure, monitors a whole range of services and access methods, including voice, SMS, MMS, PC cards, VPN, WAP and the Internet's HTTP. It can be set up to aggregate groups of customers, say for businesses, and manage service level agreements. It employs real-time alarms for high-value customers and can aggregate data by type of service, location and handset type. Perhaps one model of handset is causing problems.
In a typical MMS message, the technology measures how long it takes to access the radio network and the MMS center, whether the MMS was successfully sent or received, how long it took for MMS data to appear on the handset, and whether the session was aborted or terminated.
It uses a piece of software on the handset to measure the handset success rate, while linking that information to data from the network side as well. The network generates most of the information itself, says Cathal McGloin, the North American vice president who recently opened an office in the Boston area.
"We capture all the usage experience on the network, even down to partial URLs," McGloin says. Any information about a "bad experience" – for instance where a subscriber wasn't able to download a ringtone – is shared immediately with the operator.
Bad experiences translate into what McGloin calls "suppressed revenue," where a subscriber wants to spend money but is prevented from doing so by some network glitch. It might be caused by something as simple as incorrect provisioning or it might be something deeper like dropped calls.
"Operators can address problems that cost them revenue while also improving their customer care," McGloin says. "This can change the whole paradigm for how carriers deal with customers."
Arantech has about 10 customers for the technology, the biggest one being Vodafone Ireland for its GPRS and UMTS networks. Arantech's technology watches all of Vodafone Irelands' 2 million customers. The operator saw a 450 percent return on investment in the first year of using the technology, McGloin says, basing that on a 25 percent increase in GPRS revenue and $3 increase in ARPU.
The information can be used for marketing as well as customer care, McGloin says. Marketing managers can be notified immediately of any trends in the use of services, as well as issues with handsets. The technology has a customer care interface so that a subscriber's usage experience is immediately available if they call.
The vast majority of problems from a customer experience point of view are not network related, but rather with provisioning, handset configuration or the subscriber simply didn't sign up for a service he or she is trying to access, McGloin says. He says most of those problems are not picked up through traditional CRM applications.
Arantech recently concluded a $10 million round of financing that will be used for its new North American operation, as well as an office in Asia. McGloin says no other company offers something akin to aranAssure, although it would be a logical step for companies in the network management and services management sectors.