Anyone looking for evidence of the changes in telecommunications need look no further than the bid by industry giant Comcast to purchase media conglomerate NBC Universal. The Philadelphia-based operator’s move underscores the continued push among the telecom players to expand beyond the basic voice, Internet, and cable options that have been their lifeblood for decades.
“There is a real pressure on [the price of] voice dropping to zero,” says William Hahn, principal research analyst at Gartner. “Really, we could be having this conversation on Skype and pay nothing. More people are willing to do that, especially since you can download Skype [onto] your mobile phone.”
Ashvin Vellody, senior vice president of enabling technologies at Yankee Group, says the “hyperconvergence” phenomena—the combination of Internet, communications, media, and traditional business models—is real. “Finally, there’s technology and business support to tell you about hyperpersonalization,” he says. “Who you are, what you want, when you want it, and…at your fingertips—independent of device. Control, choice, and convenience with the consumer at the center will be the big story for the next five years.”
Telecom companies seem to be responding by trying to innovate—either organically or through partnerships—the types of services provided. One type of attempt Hahn points to involves bundling at the application or content level by combining location-based services, revenue via digital online music and advertising, and video-on-demand. “A lot of them are turning to look at other markets, content, media, Internet and mobile advertising, and vertical plays with other industries,” he adds.
With all of these moving parts, the biggest fear is leaving customer service in the dust, the very customers who may have been loyal to a particular telecom company when landlines reigned. Simple things that matter greatly to consumers have fallen by the wayside, says Shari Lava, senior analyst at Info-Tech Research—a circumstance Lava blames on recent innovation and consolidation.
Case in point? A comprehensive customer record. “It’s much more important to know that my spouse and I have different last names but have the same address to do buying together,” Lava says. “There’s a lack of mature data structures and business intelligence to be able to see that there is one person and should be treated as such. This is where we’re seeing a lot of problems, yet many opportunities.”
One such opportunity involves the use of billing information to better target consumers with unique marketing. Telecom has always been “first on the CRM bandwagon,” Lava says—and the sector is embracing this latest trend with self- and e-billing to enable consumers to take control of their own expenses. Verizon Enterprise Center’s online billing services, for example, have expanded 50 percent in the past year, thanks to a self-service application customers use to manage spending and business processes.
To Vellody, this billing relationship is gold. “Operators have relationships with customers many would really give an arm and a leg for,” he insists. “Every operator has a billing relationship with its consumers. The operator knows who consumes what services, and what they’re going to pay.” The archive of customer complaints is also ripe for analytics.
Lava thinks the next frontier should involve social media integration, to keep a better pulse on what the consumer base thinks about a provider’s offerings. Motorola Mobile Devices, for example, is utilizing SPSS, an IBM company, to analyze unstructured text from consumer Web comments, online forums, agent notes from the contact center, and text within emails to help on three fronts: market and sales positioning; immediate product changes; and future product revisions.
Vellody says he recognizes the impact of social media, but that telecom companies must get their internal customer service and CRM processes together and break down historical silos between their different lines of business—wireline, cable, video, and wireless—if for no other reason, because the services themselves continue to blend together. “The desire is there, but in the quest to sell point solutions—to solve one niche problem for one line-of-business manager in one business unit—you now have a plethora of systems,” Vellody says. “It’s our duty to make people understand how specific projects should fit into the big picture of relationship management. Telecom has an opportunity to take advantage of CRM in its totality…. Companies are making strides, but aren’t there yet.”
As more telecoms begin to bundle a customer service offering, Vellody warns that an important aspect is often forgotten: bricks-and-mortar stores. In an attempt to fill in that gap, he says, vendors such as Amdocs have begun to offer solutions that help connect the customer experience across all channels, including the retail store.
“Stores have been neglected as part of the holistic customer relationship strategy,” Vellody says. “Customers don’t care where they are—they want to be treated consistently. To me, that’s the last mile of CRM.”