With increasing competition and the convergence of the telecoms, media and entertainment industries, carriers are building new business models focusing on customer and service experience. Particularly in the highly competitive markets like US and Europe, where all players are offering similar products and services, telcos have already focused on delivering 'superior' customer experience as a key area where they can differentiate themselves from competitors, reduce churn and increase revenues.
Telcos in Asia Pacific are also getting the customer experience message, with tier-one operators like Telstra in Australia embarked on business transformation projects to make their networks and services more agile in meeting customer demands and future development. Even in emerging markets, which have been traditionally focused on price and customer acquisition, telcos are now more aware of the increased importance of customer experience, as the focus has shifted to margins and customer retention.
Terry Woodcroft, director of product management for Intec's charging, billing and customer management products, said a typical problem telecom operators are having is ensuring that their customers have access to appropriate, accurate data to ensure that end-to-end interactions are as efficient and simple as possible.
Whether it's a sales order, a problem, a simple inquiry or follow-up activity, it is imperative that there is a single view of the customer throughout their lifecycle to promote efficiency and quick resolution. This is true regardless of the product set, the type of customer, their history or how they have contacted the operator.
Yet most telcos fail to create a consistent experience. Instead, they provide the customer with a siloed experience - where previous interactions are not visible when dealing with current ones, issues are not completely resolved and the resolution cycle is drawn out.
'The major issues stem from business processes focussed on delivering a particular service, rather than delivering an easy, seamless customer interaction for the bundled offer that meets the customer need. Unfortunately, business processes often reflect the underlying complexity of disparate legacy OSS/BSS architectures built up over years,' Woodcroft said.
The good news is that telcos increasingly realize that they must embed customer centricity in every fiber of the business, so that they can create a simplified and consistent experience for end-users.
The shift to a focus on simplifying the customer experience is evidenced by an increasing emphasis on customer needs by those parts of the operator's organization that are directly involved in dealing with customers, but also in areas like business development and business intelligence.
When telcos are looking to replace legacy billing systems, they need to be sure that they are considering how this will impact the customer, and what business processes and interactions the entire BSS has to support, rather than just concentrating on the billing component, Woodcroft said.
As such telcos are moving toward single integrated and convergent BSS/OSS architecture, and looking for more new integration approaches based on having a single customer and product database. OSS/BSS vendors are also developing news solutions, like self-care platforms and improving their subscriber data management products to provide a more comprehensive solution that can cater to customer preference or behavior, which includes business intelligence or location-related services that provide a broader solution to their telco customers.
Yankee Group senior analyst Phil Hochmuth, meanwhile, points out that before taking the first steps to improving the customer experience, operators need to understand the impact of each aspect of customer processes - namely first contact (marketing and sales), ordering process, provisioning/activation process, connectivity/service assurance, billing, contact center, interactive voice response, and web and voice self-service - along with the accompanying technology and data to manage and enhance the lifecycle.
He insists that a successful customer experience can only be achieved when all eight touchpoints are aligned around a common goal of success, and if the technology and processes are in place to ensure that the critical data gathered from each step of the customer lifecycle is leveraged across the entire organization.
These two factors, he said, enable the internal organization to have maximum visibility of the customer lifecycle so it can address any issues quickly, easily and effectively.
Technology aside, strong collaboration with all parts of the telco organization and significant value shifts in the company are also required for telcos to tackle customer experience.
Hochmuth said that in times of subscriber growth, various departments within the telcos were aligned around departmental goals.
Typically, individual business silos meant that the billing department only cared about getting bills out, marketing only focused on building creative new services and plans, and the network department's focus was on maintaining connectivity. Telcos nowadays have been forced into a complete mind-set shift, which implies that improving the customer experience requires a holistic buy-in by every piece of the organization. Key examples of past failures show that these occurred when IT's and marketing's objectives were misaligned when launching new services.
Today's highly competitive markets mean that both departments must understand the impact of one department being able to deliver the promise of a certain service offering, and the other facing an uphill challenge to meet that promise, he said,
The problem, however, is that the organizational shift was in some cases, more challenging than the technology shifts, driven by a level of comfort in the previous way business processes took place, the positive impact that the 'the old way' of producing successes had on the business, and overall inertia and resistance to change within the organization.
But this mind-set has been forced to change, driven by corporate demands to align all employees of the organization around the common goal of providing the best possible services to the customer and ensuring an experience that will help guarantee both relationship longevity and profitability of service consumption.
As well as technology deployment and organizational changes, a well trained workforce that is able to think on their feet and to exercise judgment when handling difficult situations also key to tackle customer experience, Diana Lee, head of customer service at StarHub noted.
'The engagement of external vendors does help to manage and improve customer experience but they can only assist up to a certain extent. Ultimately it is the staff of the company itself who knows every aspect of its core business and what it can do to enhance customers' experience in totality,' Lee said.
StarHub, she said, has a team of dedicated customer service staff who are responsible for assisting customers with their queries and enhancing their customer experience with the company.
'Other departments in the company also have a crucial role of ensuring that our customers are well served on all fronts.'