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Today’s intense wireless market is no place for the uncertain. Many providers know they aren’t ideally equipped for the current market, even if they’ve had long-term success. A wireless service provider’s operational flexibility, capability and self-sufficiency will govern its speed to market, the quality of its channels and customer experiences, and thus its ability to win business and monetize transactions across customer segments and channels.
Build a better channel
Channel strategy is critical to any wireless provider’s business. Typically, wireless service providers leverage a mix of agent-based, wholesale and direct channels. Each type of channel has different requirements, but all need to enable strong processes at the point of sale.
Agent channels: Most wireless providers rely on agents to sell products and serve customers in person, over the phone or online. Because primary wireless products – voice, messaging, data and devices – are becoming commoditized, the quality of experience agents can offer customers, as well as their efficiency in acquiring them, are the differentiators.
Too often, agents must navigate complex processes at the point of sale. They need to be equipped and incentivized properly. An online agent portal is a “must-have” component of any wireless billing or mobile virtual network operator billing software solution. It must create replicable agent channels that can be maintained and upgraded easily; be intuitive and easy to learn while facilitating order capture, device distribution, and frontline support; and communicate commission information clearly while allowing agents to manage sub-agents and provide them with visibility into customer accounts and orders.
Clear visibility into processes and commissions keeps agents incentivized. Easily accessible reporting allows agents to generate reports regarding sales, orders and commissions. These types of portals are now often delivered from a hosted, cloud-based platform so that agent channels can be replicated, expanded and supported more easily.
Wholesale channels: Service providers shouldn’t burden resellers with supply chain complexity in their wholesale channels; that will only reduce channel activity. An effective wholesale channel must orchestrate a series of processes that embody the supply chain and enable better point of sale transactions.
Resellers need highly automated supply chain processes and real-time visibility into them; think of it as a high-quality customer experience, built for the reseller. Service providers need to offer as much added value to resellers as possible in order to capture more transactions, particularly because each reseller is likely to represent multiple wholesalers.
Direct channels: Online retailers have elevated consumers’ expectations for what any direct, retail channel experience will offer. Simple processes for searching, browsing and purchasing are expected. Any confusion or complexity will drive a measurable percentage of prospects out of the purchasing process, so a fluid self-signup process is critical.
Customers want to select a device and a plan, understand the options and accessories they can add and have a clear picture of the total price. They don’t want to go offline to complete transactions either, so e-signature and flow-through shipping are necessary. Further, payment needs to be integrated and immediate. Any hurdles in completing the payment process can turn a sale into an abandoned shopping cart.
Fulfillment affects experience
Fulfillment processes must carry over the positive experiences consumers have at the point of sale into their long-term relationships with the wireless provider. This means devices must arrive on time and activate effectively. Visibility into orders, shipping status and after-the-fact changes needs to be accessible. And all of the data that changes throughout the course of the fulfillment process – like inventory information – needs real-time management.
The relationship between a synchronized fulfillment process and a customer’s perception of the wireless service provider is undeniable. When customers lack visibility into their orders, anxiety increases. When they’re offered out of stock products, they know the wireless provider isn’t organized. And when they find out the device they bought didn’t ship, they leave and tell their entire social network about their poor experiences.
Payment choice and communicative billing
Consumer expectations regarding payments also affect wireless providers. Consumers are accustomed to choosing among credit and debit cards; bank direct debit; PayPal; gift cards; direct to bill charges; and even proprietary currency like Facebook Credits. Also, consumers have many payment substitutes to choose from like loyalty rewards and redemption codes. Not all of these are realistic to support, but payment choice at the point of sale is expected. Consumers also assume that payments will be secure, seamless and visible immediately.
Further, the monthly bill is not just a means to collect payment; it is a critical customer communication. It impacts quality of experience throughout the customer lifecycle. Confusing and inaccurate bills anger customers. The cost to resolve billing problems is often among the greatest variable costs a provider faces. Inaccurate statements that fail to bill for consumed services lose revenue and undermine profitability. While the wireless market has evolved, the fact that bills must be timely, accurate and understandable remains immutable.
Change and adaptation
Wireless providers face a constant need to accelerate time to market for new services making self-sufficiency critical. Creating new offers and bundles, trying new variations of products and promotions, targeting offerings to specific customer segments – activities like these should be performed self-sufficiently in order to minimize the product definition cycle. Flexibility in operations is required because demand shifts can necessitate supply chain changes. For example, a wireless provider may change suppliers, trading partners and sales channels as it introduces new devices, accessories,and applications, or in order to offer new payment or shipping options. All of these types of changes contribute to the richness of the wireless service provider’s business. Executed poorly, they undermine the customer experience and the ability to compete.
Too often, wireless billing software and customer lifecycle solutions are impediments to positive business change – impediments no longer tenable given today’s wireless market. As wireless service providers assess their billing, operations, and channel capabilities, they should prioritize flexibility, self-sufficiency and repeatability to stay ahead of the market and present optimized experiences to customers and channel partners.