Pricing and device choice just aren’t the differentiators they used to be for mobile operators; consumers are still shopping around for the provider that will treat them like a human being. Alcatel Lucent has rolled out a suite of new tools that aim to help call centers reduce the number of calls they take, while improving the quality of service they can provide when they are on the line with a customer. Greg Owens, director of marketing for customer experience at Alcatel-Lucent, sat down with Wireless Week to talk about the increasing importance operators place on the quality of care they offer their customers. In the end, it can have implications on everything from churn rate to cost-savings.   

Wireless Week: What consumer behaviors are driving mobile operators to look more and more at Customer Experience Management solutions?

Greg Owens: This is something that we’ve actually been looking at for a while. What we’re seeing, particularly as operators deploy LTE, is that they’re looking at their offers and finding that they don’t have as much competitive differentiation. I think we’re getting to a place where consumers get the point; everybody has fast networks. Even differentiation around devices has pretty much gone away, as almost every carrier offers the iPhone. So, you don’t want to get to a point where the operators are just differentiating on price. So, we really feel strongly that a focus on customer experience allows the operators to differentiate in a meaningful way, and we have a lot of customers that are embracing that. Look at AT&T in the United States.  We have companies like Telefonica that offer service all over Europe. And these are companies that are really focused on offering a better customer experience. 

Customer experience can drive down costs. Many customers want to do everything for themselves. AT&T has launched a service, leveraging our products, where consumers can troubleshoot all of their different services from any device. So if you’re having an issue with your home voice or your IPTV service, you can actually fire up an application on your iPad or iPhone and actually figure it out yourself. And we’re finding that a large majority of people, especially younger people, would rather do anything than talk to an agent. In fact, around 75 percent of customers prefer self-service over calling the help desk. In this case, you’re cutting costs, while actually improving the customer experience at the same time.

WW: What are the unique challenges that mobile operators face in addressing customer experience?

Owens: On a smartphone, we just don’t have the same kind of ability to remotely connect to a user’s device and help them solve their issues the way we can with a router or a modem. Whereas TR-069 is the one predominate management protocol for connecting with wireline devices, in mobile there are multiple protocols such as OMA-DM, OMA-CP, and other proprietary mechanisms based on device vendor.  So here at Alcatel Lucent, we have a number of different solutions to help us deal with mobile devices. We can actually manage an Android device, but it is harder to do with Apple because iOS is a closed operating system. Instead, you actually have to walk them through all the different settings, which obviously takes a lot more time. That’s a big challenge. Again, there are standards in the mobile space such as OMA-DM, but they’re just not widely accepted the way TR-069standard is in the fixed space. 

The other big challenge in mobile is that we’re seeing so many different types of phones. With Verizon, we’re managing all of their LTE smartphones. Fragmentation is a big challenge. Verizon would go to launch a new service and notice there’s a problem with a particular version of the firmware, and it might impact, say, a million of their users, but it doesn’t impact all of their users universally. So they have to have a strategy for dealing with that. They found that at any one time there could be dozens and dozens of different versions of Android running on their network. 

WW: You recently announced the launch of Motive ServiceView for Mobile – what exactly is it?  

Owens: Motive ServiceView for Mobile is the next generation in customer care for handling the growth and complexity of mobile broadband.  It’s a single integrated solution that handles agent-assisted care, self-care, and preemptive care with visibility and control across networks, devices, and applications.  Basically what we’re trying to do with ServiceView for Mobile is bring together all of the different touch points that customers have with the service provider and offer the provider a single view of that customer. I was recently visiting a call center and listening in on calls to Tier II agents. They have to access about 30 different systems, depending on what the customer’s calling about. So if they’re calling about billing, they have to log into the billing system. If they’re calling to upgrade their phone, there’s another system that they have to log into. They don’t have a unified view of the customer, and that’s what we’re trying to do with ServiceView for Mobile. We have a single console that’s integrated with all of the different back end systems, which is something that we’re already doing for dozens of operators on the fixed side. 

For consumers, there’s nothing more frustrating than getting through to an agent and having them say that they’re unable to find your account or the relevant information to solve your problem. We want ServiceView to put that information at the agent’s fingertips. So when you’re at the hockey game, and you can’t get a connection, the agent can say, ‘Yes, it’s our issue, the network is slow.’ Or if it’s a technical issue, they can actually resolve it. Being able to resolve the customer’s issues efficiently and the first time is a very powerful mechanism for enhancing the overall customer experience.

WW: What are Alcatel-Lucent’s biggest differentiators – and how do these factor in to value for the service provider? 

Owens: As mentioned before, offering a single integrated solution that takes a multi-channel approach to customer care, that also handles agent-assisted, self-assisted, and pre-emptive care with end-to-end visibility across devices, networks, and applications is an extremely powerful starting point for improving the mobile customer experience.  It’s something the industry is now demanding and something we can offer off-the-shelf.  

In addition, our toolset is built on a flexible workflow engine that allows our operators to standardize their processes across multiple customer care channels, automate a large number of tasks/operations, and optimize their business processes easily through an agile methodology.  This reduces the time it takes to implement new operations, it increases the consistency of the processes, and lowers the overall cost of customer care.  

And finally, we provide standardized templates out of the box that leverage best practices we have discovered over time for handling some of the most frequent support workflows and operations. This basically allows our customers to deploy quickly and optimize after in order to meet their specific needs.  These templates and workflows really are a big differentiator for us, because they allow us to offer our customers insight into some of the biggest problems they’re going to see. If they’re launching a service that’s new to them, there’s a pretty good chance that one of our customers has launched that service, and we have experience with that service., Through our workflows we can give them a pretty good idea of what kinds of issues they’re going to run into, what is root cause for a specific issue, and what are most efficient steps for issue resolution. That’s a really big differentiator for us. 

WW: What kind of impact do you think CEM systems like Motive ServiceView for Mobile will have on a mobile operator’s overall profitability?

Owens: This is almost always the starting point for most of our customers. They almost always say, “Listen, we’re interested in being more efficient.” Some of them are putting just a generic focus on customer care. AT&T is a good example of that; U.S. Cellular is another good example. But realistically, most of them are doing it from a cost efficiency perspective.  Another way to view this is how will enhancing the customer experience improve my profitability. If they don’t find better ways to serve customers, customer experience will degrade and their costs are going to go up. Smartphones customers are twice as likely to call the help desk. And the calls last around 30 percent longer. So when we’re visiting those call centers, we say to them, ‘As you see more smartphone being adopted, do you want to hire twice as many agents?’ No, of course they don’t want to do that. Some are looking at the off-shore option, but often that doesn’t result in a better customer experience. What you want to do is enhance that customer care experience while driving down your costs – both of these go hand in hand.

Specifically, one of our European customers launched a self-care initiative with us, and they saw calls to the help desk reduced by 75 percent. Other customers have seen their first-call resolution rate go up by about 20 percent. Those numbers have a big impact on customer experience, and a big impact on their costs. If you’re calling the help desk, and you’re spending 20 minutes on the phone with an agent, and then that problem isn’t actually resolved, that’s a big issue. 

Our solutions help reduce average handle time (AHT) and increase that first-call resolution (FCR) rate. You’re going to resolve issues more quickly with our tools – and reduce operational expenses. You’re going to make sure they get resolved the first time, and you’re going to eliminate the need for some calls to be made at all. This has a huge positive impact on customer satisfaction.  Customers with our solutions will see stronger brand affiliation from their customers and overall will have reduced churn rates. And all of this together drives improved profitability for the service provider.