A Dynamic Customer Experience: Going Beyond CRM

Posted: June 3rd, 2010 | Author: Simo Isomaki | Filed under: Industry Insights | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Back in 2006, Comptel developed its vision of the Comptel Dynamic OSS. This wasn’t just a piece of marketing spin—there was real substance behind the concept. What we realized was that we were on the midst of a major shift in telecom software, and that Comptel was in quite a unique position.

At that time, customer experience management was becoming a key differentiator, but much of the focus of communication service providers (CSPs) until then was on bringing in self-care and a better CRM. What we recognized was that one of the key aspects of the customer experience was happening below that glossy surface. With customers, consumers or businesses, increasingly wanting things “now!, it was essential for CSPs to be able to create and tailor both services and charging plans to suit their needs. And, that called for dynamic, real-time fulfillment and charging capabilities closely linked with customer-centric data repositories. (Hey, that is exactly the area of business that Comptel specializes in!)

Fast forward to 2010—now customer experience is at the centre stage.

At Management World 2010 in Nice, there was much talk about policy management, for example.  What is policy management when you think about it? At its core, it’s about being able to deliver personalized services and charging plans dynamically to customers. And, that requires dynamic policy control and charging solutions coupled with customer-centric information—like Comptel Control and Charge.

Another example of the need for customer-centric, dynamic OSS is SIM management. Although you’d think the issues around dynamic resource management would have been solved ages ago, they’re not. We launched Comptel Dynamic SIM Management in February 2010 at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona to address the issue created by the pre-provisioning model. The idea is to completely transform the process into a just-in-time one. This enables CSPs principally to unbundle their prepaid (or postpaid) commercial proposition from the SIM card and all related assets, until the service is actually acquired and activated by the subscriber. This way, we lower the cost to acquire a customer substantially, and we also provide the ability to launch new services or campaigns to market much faster, as the ‘product package’ is dynamically allocated at the time of activation. Think of it as a means to run campaigns per any and every day, as SIM card packages no longer define the campaign offering! Also think of the “first use experience and personalization” you are able to offer with this new type of activation process!  Once again, it’s about dynamic OSS components working closely with customer-centric information.

Solutions like Comptel Control and Charge and Comptel Dynamic SIM Management are key ingredients and very vital parts of CSPs’ strategies in being able to ensure the best, differentiated customer experience, while lowering costs and increasing revenues.

With Management World Americas 2010 on the horizon and the future ahead of us, it will be interesting to see what will be the next ‘dynamic’ solution that will enable CSPs to reach the next level and offer an improved customer experience! We’d like to hear your thoughts on what it could or should be…

The Mobile Phone Bill Is What?!

Posted: May 28th, 2010 | Author: Olivier Suard | Filed under: Telecom Trends | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Last summer, I went gold prospecting in Finland’s Lemmenjoki National Park, which is about 250 km (155 miles) north of the Arctic Circle. This was at the height of the economic crisis, and desperate times called for desperate measures!

There is a serious telecom point to my story—while taking a break from panning, I checked my phone and found that it was connected to a Norwegian mobile network, even though Norway was some 65 km (40 miles) away! In other words, I was standing in one European country and roaming in another!

Unintentional roaming is not an unusual experience in Europe, but it also occurs elsewhere. For example, it happens frequently in Niagara Falls, which sits on the U.S. and Canadian border.

This brings me neatly to the subject of roaming cost control. Whether roaming intentionally or not, using one’s mobile phone abroad is far more costly than when using it at home. We’ve all heard the horror stories (admittedly some probably apocryphal). My own favourite is the one about the French café owner living on the Belgian border; he was hit by a €46,000 (U.S. $ 57,000) mobile Internet bill after unintentionally roaming into the neighbouring country. (An alternative, less credible but often quoted version of that story involves a German woman who downloaded an episode of Lost while in France.)

Now, however, regulators are stepping into the debate. Most notably, the European Union (EU) will, in just a few short weeks (1 July), enforce a new regulation on communications service providers (CSPs) in order to prevent ‘bill shock’. The legislation dictates lower costs for data services while roaming, and that subscribers are adequately informed of the charges.

One example of an operator preparing for this change—Finnish CSP DNA Ltd has deployed Comptel Roaming Cost Control, which allows subscribers to monitor their balances in real time, and notify them of any necessary actions, such as a notification or suspension of the services when a specified cut-off limit is reached.

The new regulation isn’t only affecting European CSPs.  After conducting a recent survey and finding that one in six mobile users have experienced ‘bill shock’ in service plans, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is putting pressure on U.S. operators and now considering legislation similar to that of the EU. Australian and New Zealand regulators are also looking into to tackling mobile roaming ‘bill shock’.

Excessive roaming bills have caused negative attention and bad publicity—and ultimately put customers off from using services that many operators are betting their futures on. Roaming cost control allows CSPs to not only comply with legislative demands, but also keep their customers satisfied and encourage data usage. As DNA points out, it is also an opportunity for CSPs to deploy real-time policy management and charging solutions that will help differentiate them from competitors by offering personalized services and price plans. This is critical for CSPs looking to fully monetize on mobile broadband services.

For the record, I did not find any gold. But thankfully, I was not hit by a big mobile phone bill either.

Q&A: Stratecast’s Karl Whitelock on Policy Control

Posted: May 17th, 2010 | Author: Arnhild Schia | Filed under: Telecom Trends | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

Policy control has become one of the hottest OSS/BSS topics.  As a recent Telecom Asia story aptly summarized:

“The sophistication of smartphones and netbooks, and the explosion of P2P, video and gaming applications that ride on top of those devices—not to mention the comfort people now feel with social networks—have created a serious dilemma for [communications] service providers [(CSPs)] trying to accommodate the exponential increases in the traffic over fixed and mobile networks.  Without a means to generate sustainable revenues that offset pressure to lower costs and improve customer experience—all while reining in operations costs—the huge demands on networks could prove disastrous.”

Comptel recently caught up with Karl Whitelock, senior consulting analyst for Stratecast’s OSS/BSS Global Competitive Strategies practice, and got his thoughts on this tug-of-war between data usage and customer satisfaction, and how CSPs can take charge of their services—and realize an acceptable level of profitability.

Q: How can operators achieve a balance between the business realities they face and the aspirations and needs of their customers?

A: Customers always want the most they can get for the least cost.  This applies to all things retail and wholesale.  With mobile plans, especially mobile data plans that offer unlimited usage for fixed amounts, customers think they are getting a great deal.  For the most part, they are. However, too many customers taking advantage of such plans with devices, such as laptops, dongles or the most advanced smartphones, usually creates service quality issues in various parts of the network.  This in turn often means the establishment of additional network capacity, which carries a price tag.  Customers can consume a lot of bandwidth and generate a lot of data that must be carried to whatever destination it is intended.  Now, I’m not advocating a severe thrashing of the customers that heavily use what they pay for, because they are doing what they are supposed to be doing—using the network.  Hence, it is important for CSPs to find ways to align that usage with realistic revenue goals.  This means that the day of “all-you-can-eat” data plans must be replaced with a strategy that is more balanced for all parties concerned.

Q: What steps should CSPs take to ensure that they get things right when it comes to customer-focused policy management?

A: Achieving the right balance between customer usage and the realities of increasing traffic volumes all CSPs now face requires innovation and the right tools.  Policy management is one of those tools, and can be coupled with a real-time rating and charging engine to allow customers to take control.  They can define how and when their services will be used.  It can have volume cap limits, financial limits and really any other “hard trigger”.  In addition, the customer needs to know when they are 50% towards a limit; this could be in minutes of use or capacity download volume, so they can make informed decisions.  Instituting policy control without customer involvement is the surest way to make customers unhappy.  While a CSP may not care that much about one individual consumer, what makes the “policy without involvement” approach so dangerous is the power one consumer can have by word of mouth through the social networking process.  Sharing just how bad their personal experience was with an operator in this manner can have huge unwanted consequences if posted to such places as YouTube or Facebook.  Again, the key is to give customers control on some things and inform them of when a usage change must be made if it looks like they are going to go over the designated limit and risk the consequences of being out of plan compliance.

Q: What impact do you see policy control having on OSS as a whole?

A: I relate OSS into two categories—the business support side (BSS) and the operations support side (OSS).  Policy control impacts both.  For the BSS side, it means integration with rating and charging, so the financial aspects of policy can be worked in properly.  It also requires the customer management side to give customers the information they need to make informed decisions about their mobile data and voice plan usage.  On the OSS side, if a CSP makes an upsell offer, say something like “for a small incremental amount, you can have a faster upload/download speed or be granted more download volume”, then the OSS, especially the inventory and activation functions, need to be able to allocate that capacity correctly.  This has a big impact on the fixed-line side, but even with mobile data, it means network capacity planning and utilization processes must be aware of customer actions.  In all cases, policy can be set for making an upgrade offer to a customer when a policy-defined threshold may be approaching.

For more on effective, customer-focused policy management, a Comptel-commissioned Stratecast whitepaper is available for download, and an on-demand TM Forum Webcast is available to play.