Editor’s Note: Welcome to our weekly Reader Forum section. In an attempt to broaden our interaction with our readers we have created this forum for those with something meaningful to say to the wireless industry. We want to keep this as open as possible, but we maintain some editorial control to keep it free of commercials or attacks. Please send along submissions for this section to our editors at: [email protected]
Information is a very good thing.
Communication service providers need data generated by their customers’ service usage to do everything from basic billing to network optimization. It might seem obvious that information about a customer’s data usage could also direct the CSPs’ operations team on where to deploy new technologies. Most of us would also assume our CSP directs offers to us based on information about the devices on our plans, services we consume, and our usage patterns. Those of us savvy in telecom practices might even think our CSP would be able to recognize us regardless of where our request originates. Unfortunately, for most CSPs it doesn’t work this way.
In a report last year, Telecom.com found that over 80% of mobile operators do not have real-time data collection and rating systems in the post-paid plans. The lack of real-time information presents a problem for CSPs wanting to offer temporary bursts of bandwidth or shared family plans. It also limits their marketing team’s ability to direct offers when customers need them.
Intent-based marketing is the “Holy Grail” for marketers. If you are able to approach a customer with a service they’ve expressed an interest in with a valuable offer, your chances of success are significantly greater. As we all know, it is much easier to sell lemonade to someone we know is thirsty verses someone we know nothing about. The same analogy applies to telecom services. Derrick Harris at GigaOm recently wrote about this related to Facebook and the same recommendation applies to traditional service providers.
It is a back-office challenge for CSPs to implement convergent charging systems to handle the real-time elements of increasingly connected world. It is a challenge that is expected to have a big pay-off. Infonetics Research believes the market will grow 18% (compounded annually) between 2012 – 2017. This ability to provide a holistic view into a subscriber on a real-time basis is critical, but there is more opportunity.
It doesn’t end with convergent charging. Infonetics’ Shira Levine notes that policy management has moved from an operations function to a marketing tool. “We’ve long maintained that the balance of power within operators in making policy management investment decisions is shifting, and our latest policy survey bears this out. Increasingly, operators view policy as a key tool for service creation and customer management that extends well beyond basic bandwidth control, and as a result their marketing departments are taking a larger role in the policy management procurement process,” notes Shira Levine, directing analyst for service enablement and subscriber intelligence at Infonetics Research.
The change Shira notes is a trend we have seen across many of the traditional back-office telecom practices. Information once viewed as relevant only to route traffic and make network investment decisions now has new life. Data about the types of telecom services consumed, the customer’s geographic location, hours spent online, and even preferences about fixed-line or mobile, can all be used to recognize customer’s preferences.
The ability to bring internal data together to better understand customers as an individual versus a series of services is something I’ve been talking a lot about this year. There is more CSPs can do to understand their customers and bring them a level of customer service that will keep them coming back. With additional information, CSPs can build a broader mosaic of who their customers really are. This isn’t the type of information Derrick Harris at GigaOm refers to as “creepy,” but a verification of the CSP’s customer.
It is a favorite skit with late-night comedians. You call a business with a minor service change or question and spend hours navigating through the interactive voice response system. The alternative option is nearly as tedious. You opt out of the IVR and need to verify your identity with each agent as you work toward the person that can eventually help you. These scenes are popular fodder for late night TV because nearly all of us have experienced this.
CSPs now have an alternative. Let’s take an example common in many households today – you have one CSP delivering voice, video and data. Assume that your fixed-line voice, cable television, and Internet are all provided through a single IP connection. As long as you are contacting your CSP using one of these service connections, i.e. on your home phone or over the providers IP connection, your CSP will know you are you and can access to all your account information.
If you need to contact your CSP through another service, for example if the power goes out and you call from your cell phone, they no longer know who you are. The CSP loses the ability to offer differentiated services based on your history. You end up back in the IVR maze as they try to determine who you are and what you are allowed to do on the account.
The alternative offers a powerful customer experience that differentiates the CSP’s service offerings. Imagine if your CSP could immediately link your cell phone to your triple-play service account upon my entry to the IVR? What if the IVR, based on my account profile, could route me to an attendant who had all of my account information in hand? They could ask one or two verification questions to make sure you are not an imposter and then using your name and other details solve my problem quickly and with a personal touch. Wouldn’t that be different? What if after they solved your problem they provided you with a relevant promotional offer to thank you for your loyalty? Wouldn’t that be a great customer experience?
It’s possible today. The magic is the CSP using the information they know from their real-time systems and enhancing it with additional attributes. Private information remains private, but what I want them to know is available.
This is just one example of how information can enhance the customer mosaic. For a business it means being able to know it is a customer on the other end of the line, which can be invaluable.
Gary Zimmerman is senior director of carrier marketing at Neustar. He and his team deliver the educational and outbound marketing efforts for communications service providers. He has over 30 years of experience in telecommunications management in both the carrier and enterprise setting. Gary spent 20 years at AT&T where he developed ordering, billing and international clearinghouse systems. Gary has successfully launched and managed products including international data services for global 500 companies, software-as-a-service offering in Japan, and data networking/security offerings for the mid-market. Prior to joining Neustar, Gary was a vice president and found member of a telecom expense management enterprise software company that grew into a $30 million concern during his tenure.