Consumers have already proven their hunger for smart devices and high-bandwidth applications that operate on 3G networks. It goes without saying that their appetite for these products and services will increase even more as access to 4G networks comes available. As a result of this - along with the increasing network demands - customer care functions will encounter new pressures as subscribers seek help on how to use their devices and personalize their services.

Because the customer experience is so fundamental to competitiveness, particularly when new services come online, operators will need to have strategies in place to ensure high levels of customer satisfaction - without introducing new operational expenses that will offset their gains in customer revenues. If there is ever a time when customer care becomes important, this will be it!

Ben GellerIn fact, the impact these new devices and services will have on customer care operations is expected to be substantial. Customer care performance metrics have actually shown that increasing functionality and complexity of devices comes with greater customer care needs. The average handle time (AHT) that a help desk representative spends with consumers to solve problems, for example, has jumped from approximately 10 minutes for feature phone customers to over 15 minutes for smartphone customers. The AHT can be as much as 30 minutes for USB modem users.

The help desk’s ability to solve a customer’s problem the first time the customer calls, called first call resolution (FCR), also worsens as products and services become more complex. Of all the requests that come in for mobile broadband support, 40-45 percent require two or more calls to reach resolution. Moreover, these calls are commonly referred from the front-line to higher-skilled personnel, which increases the cost of customer care even more.

Obviously, mobile operators have already made significant investments in mobile device management, network management and OSS and BSS systems to address these needs. Even so, when a consumer calls a help desk for support, the company representative must typically look into multiple systems to identify the root cause of the problem. This is inconvenient, takes time, frustrates the customer and - again - increases operational costs.

Imagine that a 4G subscriber who has an expensive new tablet device calls customer care because they can’t log onto the network or because their connection is slow. The source of the problem could be any of a number of issues: the customer may have exceeded their data allowance; the network could be congested; the user’s account might be past-due; the device could be improperly configured; or there could be a problem with the connection manager.

Finding the root cause of the problem is often like searching for a needle in a haystack, because the service management systems in place separately address device, network and billing functions and the systems might not be able to deal with third-party content and applications. No wonder AHT is increasing, FCR is going down, and more expensive service personnel are brought in on more calls…

To properly prepare their customer care operations for the introduction of 4G, service providers require a unified service management platform that can aggregate and analyze information gathered from device management, network management and OSS/BSS systems to evaluate in real time how the network, device or applications are performing for the customer. It should allow them to perform root cause analysis in such a way that problems can be solved, regardless of their source in the service delivery chain, and deliver the information to the help desk representative via a single interface.

This unified service management platform will go a long way to help operators deliver customer care for next-generation mobile broadband services and improve the customer experience while reducing operational costs.

Ben Geller is senior director of Solutions Marketing at Alcatel-Lucent.