The communications industry has many bad habits. Its worst is a technology habit that we are finding very hard to break.
Until recently we focused on technology, not on the customer. We would go to conferences on EDGE and CAMEL and Bluetooth. We, the industry, would be sold on the benefits of the new technology and offer it to our customers - sometimes without even changing its name.
I remember, some time after attending such a conference, seeing an advert on television for EDGE technology and remember the person next to me asking what we were on the edge of.
In the last year or two we seem to have seen the light. The customer is the focus of our efforts and as the services we offer become wider and more sophisticated we have focused on the customer like never before.
In fairness, we are getting better at segmentation - slowly. We are probably pretty good at understanding the teenage and young professional customer, but we are missing a vast opportunity - the older professional (and sadly I count myself among this group) and the retired professional (who has time and money and a willingness to learn, but who is ignored by our industry).
But that older professional customer is still confused and still mistrusts our industry. I think we should be embarrassed.
I think that one reason is this: we sit in meetings and think about what wonderful services, bundles, options, packages, hybrids and offerings we can present the customer (through our normal marketing channels, of course, not via the bill or the device). We end up with a whiteboard full of the most amazing array of products -- the content that will rule the world - and offer them to our customer.
And he does not understand nor thinks he needs them.
What we do not do is spend enough time working out how this customer uses devices. We need to work out how best to offer him a new service so that he can begin to use it immediately, intuitively, simply and then think: 'that was easy, I wonder what else I can do.'
Instead our poor customer tries to use the new bundle or service, finds it difficult, runs out of time, needs to move on, resets the phone to do what it did before, and hopes he never hears from you again.
We must remember that our customer is busy. You can only hold his attention for a very limited period and he can only concentrate on one thing at a time. Also remember that once you have his attention and he is engaged, he will prioritize you above other complicated, unclear services he is being offered by others.
He is very like you. Or me. Research begins at home - with you.
Next time you offer your customer a new service, make it really simple. Let him sign up with one click, make sure it is useful and sensible (but quite cool too), allow it to be added to his current billing profile without him having to think about it.
All you need to do now is sit by your billing process, built using the latest Common Sense Architecture and focus on money pouring in from your happy customers. Billing is where you implement your business rules. It should be where you implement common sense, too.
Common Sense Architectures are sadly not here yet, but there are the first signs that systems designed by business people, for business people are emerging.
Alex Leslie is an industry consultant and founder of the Global Billing Association
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