(This article originally appeared in the August 2010 issue of CUSTOMER INTER@CTION Solutions)
Communications service providers (CSPs) or service providers – local and long-distance carriers, SIP trunking firms, wireless providers, cable companies and satellite firms – are the lifelines of contact centers, connecting customers, suppliers and employees with organizations. CSPs also depend on contact centers, both internal and outsourced, to attract, retain, serve and bill their customers.
Amdocs provides business- and operational-support systems (BSS and OSS), including billing, customer care, and support, along with a comprehensive portfolio of consulting, systems integration and managed services for CSPs domestically and globally. It is well situated to see what is happening inside this vital and vibrant industry.
CIS: Outline the emerging CSP marketplace. What will this industry look like five years from now compared with today?
RP: We are at the threshold of the connected world – an always-on world, with anytime, anywhere, any-device connectivity. It is predicted that, by the year 2015, there will be upwards of a trillions of devices, most of them not phones, connected to the network, affecting every aspect of our lives. Already today, connected devices and applications are commonplace and we believe this trend will only gain ground.
Amdocs has identified three emerging business models for service providers, each with its own growth potential:
1. The experience model, where service providers seamlessly deliver a highly personalized experience to end users across all screens, wherever they may be.
2. The vertical model, where service providers focus on delivering end-to-end solutions to a specific market vertical, such as healthcare, financial or automotive.
3. The partner enabler model, where service providers focus on delivering infrastructure and back-end capabilities in wholesale mode to enrich partner services.
The connected world constitutes both a challenge and an opportunity for service providers to drive new revenue streams, expand their reach across new verticals, and provide completely new customer experiences. To succeed in the connected world, we believe they will need to expand quicker, drive the customer experience and run leaner operations.
CIS: What are the key challenges facing CSPs and how do you think they are going to or should meet them?
RP: While every industry is facing challenges, we believe service providers have ample opportunities to evolve their models to compete with the likes of Google (News - Alert) and Skype. A recent Amdocs and Economist Intelligence Unit report looked at service provider competition with “over-the-top” Internet players, such as Google and Skype (News - Alert). The report concluded that service providers’ unique assets, such as their existing relationships with customers and their ability to deploy services over multiple technology platforms, provide competitive advantages and better partnering opportunities with large Internet players.
In addition, service providers are focused heavily on how they are going to meet the demand for increased capacity while increasing profits. Based on a recent survey with analyst firm Analysys (News - Alert) Mason, service providers have a strong desire for a planning tool that will give them a consolidated timeline, along with ‘what-ifs’ and the effect of change on key performance indicators. This would allow network planners to adjust their plans to accommodate rapidly occurring changes to the network when needed. Furthermore, through FTTx networks, service providers have the opportunity to deploy high-speed, high-bandwidth broadband access, which will enable them to deliver converged next generation services with differentiated levels of quality.
CIS: Poor customer service and high churn have long affected CSPs. Customers have great freedom to shift, and poor service has been cited as one of the reasons. Can you discuss how service providers can reverse this trend?
RP: Service providers continue to focus on how they can differentiate and innovate to provide better service to avoid churn. We see service providers focusing on these key areas:
Flexible pricing models
Not all customers have the same needs, and personalization of specific plans is vital to keeping customers satisfied. Adoption of new pricing models that better reflect actual network usage, such as pricing models based on time-of-day usage and speed, will safeguard profitability for service providers, reducing churn in the process.
Creating an integrated customer experience through both the online and retail channels
Sales success is driven by how successfully one can get customers interested in learning about, shopping for, and purchasing the entire range of product offerings. Yet, too often CSPs have disconnected shopping and purchasing processes. The Amdocs Universal Storefront enables service providers to offer, sell and service their physical, network, and value-added services with one back-end architecture in a Web 2.0 portal framework, thereby creating a consistent experience across all channels.
According to industry statistics, one out of four consumers who walk into a service provider’s retail store intending to make a purchase, leaves without doing so, which represents approximately $2.5 billion in lost annual revenue for device sales in the U.S. alone. The primary reason is the poor experience that customers often receive, and can be attributed to the complexity of systems and processes with which store representatives have to cope. Amdocs Retail Experience is a new solution that empowers service providers’ retail sales associates to seize every revenue opportunity in their stores while delivering a differentiated brand experience.
Focusing on outsourcing core operations
We also see CSPs focusing on outsourcing core operations to enable them to focus on bringing new services to market and enhancing the customer experience. They have a dual challenge. One is cutting costs; the other is focused on innovating and bringing new services to market quickly and lucratively.
CIS: Provide a picture of the business services, in particular to high-volume users, such as contact centers, offered by CSPs. What does it look like now and how do you envision it five years hence?
RP: For service providers, the call center is the primary channel for handling customers’ purchase, technical and billing issues. Other channels (e.g., retail, dealers, field service) also depend on the call center for assistance to complete their business processes, which further increases the call center workload.
As a result, most service providers face high operational costs in their call center, and most are launching various programs to reduce these costs (e.g., training and tutorial tools, employee incentive plans, outsourcing and telecommuting). However, some of these programs focus on operational metrics, like average handling time, and often end up impacting the customer experience. And although more customers prefer to use the Internet to serve themselves, most CSPs’ current online environment is not sufficient and, therefore, these customers continue to call.
The connected world will further intensify this situation, as customers will have to face an even broader portfolio of connected products and services they could purchase and use and, as a result, will require more assistance.
To address this new world in a cost effective manner, service providers need to invest in enhancing all their sales and support channels, making purchase and service transactions more simple and consistent. This can only be achieved by harnessing all the channels to work together to provide a superior multichannel customer experience.
This includes empowering first-line agents to resolve issues without escalation, streamlining systems and processes for other channels so they become more self-sufficient, ensuring consistent and accurate customer and product information across all channels. It also entails facilitating the transition of purchase and service transactions between the channels (e.g., transition the customer’s online shopping cart to be picked up in a store).
Finally, service providers must drive self service adoption by making it simpler and more intuitive, as well as by providing incentives for every assisted channel to train and encourage customers to use self service. Only with a holistic multichannel approach can service providers drive growth from the connected world, contain their operational costs and ensure a delightful customer experience.
CIS: What is new and coming down the pike from Amdocs to meet CSPs’ needs?
RP: Based on our vision of the connected world, Amdocs recently introduced its Amdocs CES (News - Alert) 8 Portfolio, which allows service providers to improve the customer experience by better integrating end-to-end business, operation support systems, and delivery of services.
CES 8 is designed to help service providers expand more quickly by realizing connected-world opportunities and turning possibilities into profits; exposing existing network, IT and data assets to innovate and profit; and rapidly defining and launching complex products while reducing time to value. CES 8 enables CSPs to differentiate themselves through a unique, real-time customer experience across touch points, personalize and monetize customer interactions and build customer loyalty and competitive advantage. CES 8 permits them to run leaner by such as by maximizing network and IT utilization and improve operational performance and lower costs.
The business imperative to do more in the connected world may seem daunting, especially when today's challenges – fast-growing capacity demand, insufficient ARPU, aggressive competitors and more – are taking the bulk of resources. But, by leveraging their unique assets and core capabilities, service providers can succeed in today’s world and thrive in a network-connected future. Amdocs will continue to invest in the CES 8 Portfolio to enable service providers to thrive in the connected world.
Brendan B. Read is TMCnet’s Senior Contributing Editor. To read more of Brendan’s articles, please visit his columnist page.
Edited by Stefania Viscusi