Telecoms.com periodically invites expert third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece Kiran Punjabi, Product Director at Tecnotree, looks at customer experience best practice for operators in the 5G era.
Constant exposure to digitally enabled services such as OTT TV, eCommerce and gaming has increased customer expectations on what they perceive to be a “good” experience. In this world, customer experience (CX) can be the differentiating factor for Communication Service Providers (CSPs) to stand out. In the telco industry, the customer experience means the summation of a customer’s experience across various journeys & touchpoints with its CSP. It spans every point of the customer buying journey – starting from research, purchasing, after sales services, to finally the quality of service and ease with which the product can be used. For that reason, improving CX is one of a CSP’s top priorities.
CSPs who implement successful customer experience strategies achieve higher rates of customer satisfaction, increased revenue, and reduced customer churn. There is a tangible return for businesses when they invest in customer experience management. Acquiring new customers is more costly than retaining them, so putting the resources in place to keep customers happy results in longer customer engagement. Looking for ways to offer a great customer experience may also lead to opportunities in adjacent services such as fintech, as well as increasing the possibility of creating new services, and improving offerings based on other customer interests.
5G, with its technological advancements of delivering high speeds, higher connection density & low latency, will enable CSPs to launch additional products in the marketplace. These can be insourced/self-sourced (e.g. enhanced mobile broadband, network slices, private networks, FWA, MEC) or brought in by a plethora of partners (e.g. startups or established players across IoT, cloud, telemedicine, V2X, gaming, smart cities or other vertical solutions). While this will definitely bring in new customers & revenues for CSPs (especially from enterprises who are looking at 5G to solve critical productivity challenges), it will also significantly and continually improve the customer experience.
Given the complexity of 5G, CSPs need to look at different pieces of the customer experience holistically before they implement the technology. In this article, we will touch upon some of the key pieces of the customer experience puzzle and discuss the approaches that CSPs can take to tackle them.
Curating optimal touchpoints
Through the digital transformation projects already undertaken, CSPs have so far just concentrated on digitisation of their OSS & BSS platforms and not necessarily on creating digital experience for their customers. Telcos have created the foundation and connectivity pieces that enable CSPs to reduce the cost to serve but what’s missing is the element of surprise for customers.
In a multi-experience world, CSPs should ensure that customers have access to all their information such as their profile, subscriptions, order status, billing, AI powered recommendations and ticket history and they should have access across all touchpoints in real-time, with all relevant details & available call-to-actions. Telco apps have not always been known to be intuitive enough to use with some of the key pain points being the unavailability of all service request options and the complicated journeys it takes to get there. Focusing on using a human-centered approach while building the journeys on digital channels will create a better experience for customers.
Apart from ensuring the digital selfcare channels are adequately stocked to deliver a superior customer experience, it’s important to note that not all customers would come to self-serviced digital channels for customer support. CSPs need to ensure that even the more traditional contact center and store agents have the necessary information through unified portals to serve the customers optimally. Keeping customers on call for 15-20mins just to understand their bill will have a negative impact on the customer journey.
With the ubiquitous availability of high-speed mobile broadband, CSPs should also explore the option of embracing video as a medium for support conversations with their customers. AR/VR technologies, powered by high-speed 5G, could help boost interest in newer concepts like virtual stores and the use of AR to experience products in their homes. According to Nielsen’s study ‘Augmented Retail: The New Consumer Reality’ released in 2019, many people are willing to use VR/AR to check out products.
Single window offering
5G is going to be an ecosystem play with co-created product offerings consisting of components coming in from multiple parties. CSPs, through their established distribution, BSS platforms and service assurance capabilities, are expected to lead many of the 5G ecosystems and attract other players to contribute to these ecosystems (e.g., startups, established vertical players and SIs) to pitch in their components and sell the curated product bundles within the marketplace.
To fully exploit the huge market opportunity, CSPs definitely need a digital BSS stack with a comprehensive & flexible product catalog to support curating products from across verticals (e.g. automotive, healthcare, manufacturing & more) and support for catalog-driven order capture, fulfilment & billing processes. CSPs also need to ensure a relentless focus on ZTP (Zero Touch Partnership) processes, seamless partner onboarding, low-code no-code (LCNC) based partner workflow orchestration and real-time transparent partner support and settlement mechanisms. As per a BCG report, 85% of ecosystem partnerships fail due to poor design and a lot of it has to do with governance, understanding details of who will do what in the partnership. As such, apart from having the right tech stack, CSPs also need to ensure they bring in relevant talent, industry know-how & governance processes to make the partnerships work.
While 5G will enable CSPs to launch a plethora of new products and services in the market, it’s imperative for CSPs to make every effort to keep the product offerings simple and easy to understand by the customers. This is not to suggest that CSPs don’t offer advanced products like composite bundles which will have a mix of connectivity and vertical service components (e.g., network slices + IoT sensors + remote diagnostics) but rather keep the product choices/permutations and combinations simple enough for customers to follow and track.
One of the key issues that telecoms customers have faced in the past is the poor availability of product offerings from CSPs which make it difficult for customers to discover the most suitable product(s).
Transparent Charging Policies
It’s important for CSPs to ensure transparency while charging the customers as this will develop trust. 5G, with its Service Based Architecture (SA) and multiple lightweight interfaces between network and OCS (Online Charging Systems), supports the creation of extensive charging policies based on access type, latency, speed, QoS, the number of concurrent streams & more. Various network functions like AMF (Access & Mobility Function), NWDAF (Network Data Analytics Function), and NEF (Network Exposure Function) are armed to pass real-time KPI details to OCS (e.g. experienced latency, number of sessions, QoS) to enable charging based on ‘what customers actually bought rather than ‘what customers subscribed for.’
A frictionless service experience that stays true to promised quality levels, is one of the cornerstones of a superior customer experience. This couldn’t be truer for 5G networks that have to support mission critical use-cases (e.g. remote surgery, V2X communication, robotics etc) which need the networks to consistently deliver on quality, speed and scale requirements. To deliver on these, CSPs need to gradually evolve autonomous networks that deliver AI powered service-centric automation approaches for fulfilment and assurance. As per a TM forum survey of 2021, 83% of CSPs are still on Level-0 (fully manual networks), 52% of CSPs are on Level-1 (assisted operations & maintenance) and only 4% on Level-2 (partial autonomous networks). With 1.2 Billion 5G connections expected by 2025 (Source: GSMA) & the broader Industry 4.0 opportunity and resulting complexigties, the self-healing, self-organising and self-configuring capabilities brought in by autonomous networks are the need of the hour.
The market size for 5G services was valued at $64 Billion in 2021 and is expected to grow at a CAGR of more than 44% to reach $1.87 Trillion by 2030 (Source: Precedence Research). It’s the biggest business opportunity for CSPs for some time and as such deserves tremendous action to undertake the required transformation initiatives to keep the various customer segments engaged and excited.
Kiran Punjabi is Director of Product Management at Tecnotree, a role which sees him drive Product Management function globally. He has over 20 years’ experience spanning product strategy, product management, pre sales consulting, enterprise architecture, & solution delivery. Over the years, he has worked for a number of leading telecoms companies including MTN, Ericsson, Comverse and Tata Docomo where he built products & solutions that brought positive change to the lives of more than 1billion customers across the world.