Boy, have things changed for us veterans. Cable companies have telephone customers; ILECs are serving television consumers; and mobile carriers are catering to teenagers with online gaming. Many of us (my household included) have so many services from one provider that we get bills in full length envelopes with additional postage. We have so many discount programs, promotional offers, and FCC (News - Alert) reminders that the once simple bill has become nighttime reading material.
Honestly, I have been in telecom for over 13 years in the billing and OSS space and, embarrassingly enough, I couldnï¿½t explain my friendï¿½s bill to her upon request. Is this really the personalization we strive for? Are our newly acquired capabilities around data collection, customer relationship management, and bundled billing seeing the payoffs promised?
Understanding your customers and the types of things they want to see is all about understanding and interpreting data that will be portrayed to them in a meaningful way. With so many of the new IP services being provided by the same provider, the opportunities to communicate to their customers are not just part of the invoice messaging anymore that has been typically linked solely to the ordering and billing system. The most useful information is data that tells you how your customers use your services. Could you imagine what would happen in the ï¿½Amazonï¿½ model of customer information management if they knew their usersï¿½ behavior? Personally, I have ordered nine books from Amazon in the past two months and most of them were for my sonï¿½s college classes. Consequently, every time I log onto Amazon, I get bombarded with ads for new philosophy books. I am wondering how long it takes to shake off that image. . . maybe Iï¿½ll order a book on Metals Used by Medieval Knights just to throw them a curve ball.
Customer usage data is the most important aspect of creating a comprehensive strategy to reach your customers. For far too long, service providers have relied on ordering data or pure billing data to determine marketing messages to their customers (i.e., what messages to put on a bill, etc.) In todayï¿½s ï¿½flat rateï¿½ billing world, itï¿½s no longer acceptable to use this data in marketing to customers. There is a goldmine of ï¿½hiddenï¿½ data in your network that few have the sophistication or knowledge to use extensively.
Integrating your back office systems, such as ordering and billing functions, with service cost data and your network information is no small task, and neither is keeping your customers in the face of multi-tiered competition. However, finding data in your network need not be as complex as it seems. The data is usually available and quite easy to record and track, as the requirements for data are known. A crucial piece in defining the data required involves understanding the crucial points of service used by customers. In an IPTV (News - Alert) service, anticipate that your customers will use both broadcast and recorded viewing, purchase and watch movies, use the guide function, and possibly keep the television on when they are not watching programming. When we build specifications in our working groups, use cases always begin and end with a consumerï¿½s behavior and experience. They should be the building blocks from which all things are driven, whether it be ordering processes or how services should be introduced.
Many times over the past 10 years, competition has been based on price. I told a story a couple of months ago about my long distance company offering me a plan for $24.99 for unlimited calling. That plan got my attention and I sang the merits of my provider until last month, when I had to call my local provider for a customer service issue. I discovered that if I switched my service to them and bundled my wireless, I could get it for $10.00. Needless to say, I now have a new provider for my long distance calling. Price doesnï¿½t buy loyalty, but good service and good products do. Alternatively, Iï¿½ve had several offers from other providers for my wireless service, but the Blackberry benefits I get from my provider are enough to keep me from even entertaining the thought; in fact, I never even think about switching. If my provider could trend and predict future behavior so as to give me better service or faster downloads on my Blackberry, I would probably buy it without thinking too much about it. I often work remotely, and ways of more seamlessly making me appear as if Iï¿½m in the office are very important to me.
Understanding your customersï¿½ ï¿½buy buttonsï¿½ is important to them as well. Customer usage is a mandatory component to serving your customers, whether that usage is billed for or not. I hear so many times from very competent and knowledgeable architects in the industry that crucial usage data is either not recorded or ï¿½thrown awayï¿½ when billing is not needed. There are few service provider architects and managers who understand the wealth of the data they have right at their fingertips, or how to obtain it. I believe we all have to wear a marketing hat in todayï¿½s world and fundamentally decide what it will take to obtain and retain profitable, high-valued customers. Using information obtained for usage data is needed for the boardroom to make positioning strategies, content decisions, and product offers.
When the back office, network, and front managers work together to define and implement a data strategy that serves the company overall, success stories will be plentiful. In the market in which we all work today, short-sidedness will not cut it. As I stated earlier, consumers need products and services that are valuable to them in order to give loyalty. I believe that loyalty will be the holy grail indicator of health in the communications industry in the coming years. IT
Kelly Anderson is President and COO of IPDR.org, a collaborative industry consortium focused on developing and driving the adoption of next-gen IP service usage exchange standards worldwide.