Telecoms Blaze the Trail

Forget three strikes and you're out. A recent survey of telecom customers in the United States and the United Kingdom found that a whopping 85 percent would change service providers after only two negative customer service experiences. Lured by endless promotions and a plethora of plans and options, switching carriers has never been easier for consumers. As a result, their tolerance for less than superior service is at an all-time low. Customer churn can be dramatic. J.D. Power estimates that 20 percent to 25 percent of customers switch carriers annually, with an abundance of services, plans, and options creating a buyer's market. Churn is costly because retaining current customers costs less than acquiring new ones--for example, the Wireless Association puts the average cost of acquiring a new customer somewhere between $250 and $300. Due to these factors, telecoms have become industry innovators by giving their customers even more control over their accounts through customer portals oriented toward self-service. In doing so they have outpaced many competing industries, including cable companies that are now challenging conventional telecoms in the market for voice communications. Typical online services include the ability to add new features, download ring tones and games, obtain reports of billing activities, order new handsets, troubleshoot problems, send text messages, and take advantage of special promotional offers. Many telecom Web portals also include extensive documentation, and even video demonstrations, showing customers how to change their voice messaging system or put a call on hold. Among the innovations:
  • Verizon recently created a unified portal for customers and former customers of MCI, a considerable feat in light of Verizon's acquisition history. As one analyst put it, "There are a lot more moving parts than what AT&T has." The one-stop shop not only gives both sets of customers a single unified port of self-service, but adds to the perception that Verizon and MCI have truly merged. The Verizon site is also a central gateway for all customers, including residential, small and medium businesses, as well as large businesses and government agencies.
  • Cingular recently gave Cingular.com a complete makeover, making it even easier to access sales, service, and technical assistance from a single site. The site remembers the products and services of interest to returning customers. Services include tutorials on voice mail setup, using phones overseas, and reporting lost phones. The company's featured rollover minutes are viewable, as well as detailed calling records. Cingular expects the new design will increase the percentage of online sales at a lower cost per customer, as well as raise the average revenue per user.
  • AT&T has expanded its BusinessDirect Map service, giving customers a global view of network operations in 88 countries. The interactive maps provide point-and-click network management and monitoring capabilities, including a single, integrated view of inventory, service ordering, and trouble reporting tools that can proactively identify and resolve problems.
  • France Telecom's Orange mobile division has launched an application portal aimed at SMBs. The company noted that small and medium enterprises seldom employ an IT person, at least one with the time to follow industry innovations. For example, the company estimates that only about 23 percent of SMEs actually know that mobile handsets can access email. The same demands are also found on the service rep side. For example, AT&T now provides click-to-chat support for its customer representatives, thereby elevating troubleshooting queries instantly. Verizon answers more than 3 million landline and wireless directory service requests not only from its own customers, but nearly half the wireless industry. These and other services require giving service reps real-time information. For service-related calls, the rep needs to see at a glance who the customer is, what features are on the plan, and what trouble ticket items are outstanding or resolved. In more sophisticated call centers, automated identification of upsell opportunities is also often part of this equation for the customer service rep. All of these components contribute to business success via satisfied customers who are less likely to move to a competitor. To ensure that these services and promotions are delivered consistently and efficiently, the industry is relying on application performance measurement technology to provide data collection and reporting. This information enables IT administrators to monitor performance, conduct more accurate capacity planning, and rapidly identify and eliminate performance problems. Sophisticated management solutions that provide visibility into the individual transactions allow operators to better understand the real experience customers go through when interacting with their service providers' applications, which is unique in the world of fully automated customer self-service most telecom customers are exposed to. In many cases real-time application performance monitoring and customer experience management can enable IT staff to identify and detect problems before the end users start feeling them. Proactive management benefits organizations by ensuring their applications have high availability (self-service is by definition 24x7), as well as performance, defined as fast response times for customers. For example, one major operator found that a way to increase the speed of data delivery for its customer rep screens was in identifying bottlenecks in information gathering and display--the results were an average call time reduction of 20 seconds and an increased capacity of two calls per rep, per day. The company stands to save 7.3 percent in resources servicing existing volumes, or can channel the savings into reducing customer response time at peak periods. Telecom self-service sites can be a challenge to monitor because the data comes from so many disparate sources. For example, calling records are typically amassed by in-house IT, while Web browsing and other multimedia data functions may be provided by a partner company specializing in these services. For the customer, however, both data sets must be accessible from the same Web site using the same user interface, and be equally available at all times. This can be a considerable challenge because of the sheer number of services most telecoms have in place and the fact that many of these services intersect with each other at various points that must also be monitored and evaluated. The best practice, already identified and followed by some of the major operators, is to take a proactive, end-to-end performance management approach that looks at the IT and network operations infrastructure, points of integration, as well as connected applications and systems themselves: services, Web applications, and connected back-end OSS/BSS systems. Comprehensive, end-to-end performance monitoring and customer experience management software can monitor critical applications and services around the clock, detect problems proactively, and perform root-cause analysis when issues arise. When reviewing this type of technology, look for a solution from a single vendor that can monitor multiple application types so you can generate a single, unified view of enterprise performance. It's also important you look for a solution that offers low system overhead and requires no code changes to ensure your performance management solution itself doesn't become a drain on your business. More sophisticated application performance management solutions allow customers to build role-based, customized dashboards and reports that deliver the right type of information to multiple stakeholders within the modern distributed enterprise like executives, business managers, and technical staff. With the proper monitoring solution in place, all of these groups can work together to ensure the customers hit a home run every time they require service from telecom providers. As for the three strikes, how about no strikes at all? About the Author Matt Price is general manager of worldwide telecom business, Wily Technology Division of CA. Please visit www.wilytech.com.
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