Customer service in the 5G era

Telecoms.com periodically invites third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece Simon Osborne, Head of Nokia Software Portfolio, offers some insight into customer service best practice as we move into the 5G era.

When reflecting on the word “service,” it can clearly be defined as the act of serving. But who exactly are communication service providers (CSPs) serving?

In the telecom industry, traditional service development has either been driven by what the network can do or what competitors are doing. This service tactic doesn’t always have a lot to do with the customer, and is ultimately a reactionary approach to innovation. The old define-and-push approach no longer works, and service providers everywhere know this has to change if they want to stay relevant.

Today, the vital approach needed is a demand-and-pull model that embraces the new ways people and companies consume services and content, rooted in the best possible experience. It requires reimagining the entire process to be based on “experience outcomes” and it has a direct impact on service provider operations.

Opening up the ecosystem to integrate the business

In order to embrace a demand-and-pull model, service providers must understand their business in totality, rather than simply the infrastructure elements behind individual customer touchpoints. The service is not just about what they provide or how they provide it or troubleshoot it when there are issues. It’s about all of those things combined.

CSPs who get this right by leveraging their customer insights will have the power to drive a different experience — and different outcomes.

The good news is that they don’t have to do it alone. In the 5G era, networks can be transformed into a platform that providers and their partners can utilize together to create services that meet customer needs, whether it be online gaming packages with the network built in or industrial automation services. The sky’s the limit.

Prioritizing the User Experience Above Everything

The ways people use their devices and data today aren’t yet reflected in the structure of the service provider industry. I think about the times I’ve tried to use online banking or a rideshare app while traveling, only to be hit with a roaming charge. As a user, I don’t care whose network I’m on – I just want to use my apps.

Imagine a scenario in which my provider offered me a premium to use my apps anywhere, rather than penalizing me for trying to use my device. I’d feel more taken care of – and I’d likely take the offer. For service providers, this is about seizing the moment in order to monetize it while also fostering relationships.

It is vital to begin viewing the network as a fluid platform for services that support those kinds of relationships with end customers. In order to make that happen, traditional processes need to be re-centered around the customer’s need so that all the handoffs within the network are geared toward meeting that need.

Designing service-centric operations

It takes more than putting a digital veneer on existing processes in order to shift to an outcomes-driven demand-and-pull model. Traditional CSPs have to become digital service providers. It’s a mindset that alters everything from service delivery to the innovation journey and requires being much more service-centric by getting past the idea that operations are simply the network operations center.

5G is changing the network and the customer journey — profoundly, and operations will need to change, too. We must break down the silos and move to a closed-loop approach that’s driven by business outcomes – not by simply what the network can do. It is vital that better balance be found between supply and demand based on intelligent, on-demand processes that support the management of digital services from end to end over a software-based network.

These kinds of services will be more complex than the ones offered today, without a doubt. However, this outcome-driven approach to service is vital for the 5G future by putting the focus on serving, above all else, the customer.

 

simon osborne nokiaAs the Head of Portfolio Strategy, Simon is responsible for the direction of the Nokia Software Portfolio. While the industry embraces all aspects of digitalization, Simon works with CSPs to solve these challenges by ensuring they have new software tools, approaches and architectures to be successful. During 25+ years in the OSS/BSS industry he has held senior positions in professional services, consulting, product engineering, product management and product strategy.

Is the consumer the broadcaster of tomorrow?

It’s an interesting thought that might force telcos to rethink how networks are built; will the increasingly influential trend of consumer created content demand greater upload speeds?

Download will of course always be more important than upload, we will always consume more content than we create, but with video messaging, social media and remote working becoming increasingly important aspects of our daily lives it is worth asking whether the upload metric, often ignored by the vast majority, will need some love in the future.

At IBC in Amsterdam this year, the opening keynote was made by YouTube. This is hardly unusual, it is one of the architects of the OTT revolution, though the focus on content creators was much more apparent than in previous years. Cécile Frot-Coutaz, the head of YouTube’s EMEA business, claimed the number of YouTube channels which generate more than $100,000 per annum has increased 30% from 2017 to 2018. The creation of content is becoming increasingly fragmented and straying outside the norms.

And this is not only visible on YouTube. Snapchat is a platform which was primarily designed to offer a platform for consumer content creation. In January, Facebook said there are now 500 million daily active users of the Stories feature on Instagram. Even the way we communicate is becoming more visual, with more consumers opting to video chat on the go.

Nexmo claims a 175% increase in regular live video usage in the last three years, with millennials leading the charge. 25% of young people use video chat on a daily basis. These trends will only increase as more banks, retail and healthcare companies offer live video services, and more of our lives revolve around the smartphone.

The video trends which we have discussed to great lengths over the last few years have primarily focused on the consumer downloading content. It is a one-way street of information, though this is not necessarily going to be the same in years to come. The big question is whether telcos are deploying networks which can compensate for the slight twist of strain. It is a nuance, but often the biggest challenges emerge from nuance.

A few weeks ago, the New England Patriots opened their Super Bowl LIII against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Over the course of this game, 11.58 TB of data traversed across the wifi network. The peak spike for the network was during the Super Bowl LIII banner reveal, with 34,982 concurrent users and 23.24 Gbps network utilisation. The breakdown of download and upload has not been revealed, though the team prepared themselves for an increase in sharing.

“The home opener for a Super Bowl champion is special,” said Fred Kirsch, VP of Content for the New England Patriots and Kraft Sports Productions.

“The team unveils its championship banner and every fan in the stadium wants to capture that moment along with all the other festivities leading up to it. We’ve been lucky enough to have done this before and saw huge spikes in social sharing during this game so our IT department, along with Extreme Networks, made sure we were prepared.

“Man, are we glad we did. At more than one terabyte, social sharing volume during the Super Bowl LIII banner unveiling at Gillette Stadium represents the highest data throughput rate of any moment during any sporting event.”

It might be a trend which irritates some technophobes and traditionalists, but social media is a genre for sharing. It started with the written word, users simply penning their thoughts, moved into sharing of existing content, and now it is increasingly becoming defined by the user creating and sharing their own content.

This creates a new dynamic and a new consideration for those who are deploying networks. Experience is often defined by download speed or latency, however there are will be an increasing number of people who will pay attention to the upload speeds moving forward.

Another interesting element for the upload speed metric will be the fast-developing gaming ecosystem. Download speeds are all well and good, but if you are playing a game which requires you to interact with other players online, uploads speeds are just as important. They do not need to be as high as download speeds, but there do need to be continued improvements to ensure connectivity meets the demands of gaming performance.

For example, Xbox currently suggests a consistent 3 Mbps download and 0.5 Mbps upload speeds for minimally acceptable performance. PS4 suggests 3 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload, as does Nintendo Switch. For PC gaming, download speeds are suggested at 3-6 Mbps, while upload speeds are 0.75–1 Mbps.

These speeds might be achievable in the home, but with the cloud gaming segment growing, these titles can be taken onto multiple screens and onto different networks. Will upload speeds offer a consistent and reliable experience on the mobile networks which are so consistently put under strain.

All of these factors don’t even take into account the increasingly complex or immersive content which will emerge over the next few years. Or the more advanced cameras which smartphone manufacturers are putting on their devices. More tech means more data which needs to be uploaded.

We are all narcissists deep down, craving for attention. Social media is allowing us to do this by sharing video content of our own experiences, and now the networks will have to deliver on the promise.

Giffgaff managed to find a way to overcharge prepaid subscribers

UK telecoms regulator Ofcom has fined MVNO Giffgaff £1.4 million for double-charging some of its pay-as-you-go customers.

Giffgaff specialises in prepaid SIM-only mobile phone deals, in which subscribers buy chunks of data, etc, marketed as ‘goodybags’, in advance and then buy more when those are used up. Any data used when a goodybag isn’t active is charged at 5p per MB. It looks like there was some delay in properly recognising when a fresh goodybag had been purchased from a billing perspective, resulting in people continuing to pay the metered rate at the same time.

This resulted in 2.6 million customers being overcharged by a total of £2.9 million, which might seem like a lot but is only a quid per punter. Once Giffgaff realised what it had done it grassed itself up to Ofcom, which proceeded to spend the next ten months ‘investigating’ what it had already been told. This resulted in Giffgaff being fined £1.4 million, which would have been more if Giffgaff hadn’t fessed up and already attempted to refund the overcharging.

“Getting bills right is a basic duty for every phone company,” pronounced Gaucho Rasmussen, Ofcom’s Director of Investigations and Enforcement. “But Giffgaff made unacceptable mistakes, leaving millions of customers out of pocket. This fine should serve as a warning to all communications providers: if they get bills wrong, we’ll step in to protect customers.”

Thanks Gaucho, but didn’t Giffgaff tell you what it had done and hasn’t it already taken remedial measures? What, exactly, have you done to further protect customers other than spend ten months mulling over how much to fine them? Even regulators can never resist an opportunity to self-promote.

Giffgaff seems to have missed a PR trick here too. There is nothing on its website or social media addressing this, so people are largely left to interpret the background to the fine themselves. For a prepaid brand that makes a virtue of transparency and value for money, this apparent shiftiness and surrendering of the narrative could end up being far more harmful than the fine itself.

T-Mobile US combines phones and tacos for some reason

Ever the disruptor, TMUS CEO John Legere has identified a combination so obvious that everyone else missed it: fusing mobile phones with tacos.

We’ve all been there, right? That listless, empty feeling while forlornly prodding our smartphone screen, just knowing there has to be more to it. But only now, thanks to T-Mobile US, do we realise that all we needed to do was nestle it in a warm, crispy taco shell and then slop spicy beef, salsa and guacamole all over it. Go on, give it a try, you’ll never look back.

Not really, but TMUS has genuinely teamed up with Tex Mex fast food chain Taco Bell to create some kind of hybrid store that will ‘…give the people even more of what they want: smartphones with a side of tacos.’ This is a bricks-and-mortar extension of come kind of promotional partnership the two organisations had previously.

“When we launched free tacos every week on T-Mobile Tuesdays, TacoBell.com had its highest online order day ever and T-Mobile Tuesdays was number one in the App Store,” said Legere. “Since then, Un-carrier customers have snagged more than 14 million free tacos from the app. People love tacos. And they love their phones. T-MoBell is the ultimate fusion of those two loves, and we can’t wait to show everyone what we’ve cooked up.”

They chose not to give whoever runs Taco Bell a canned quote in the press release, but it would presumably have followed similar lines. We would imagine Sprint is being lined up to run the delivery service while other rivals, having been caught flat footed by this bold move, must be scrambling to catch up. Expect to see Verizon 5G Guys and AT&FC before long.

 

Ericsson looks to Metallica for customer experience tips

US metal band Metallica has been revealed as the surprise inspiration for Ericsson when it’s mulling over how to keep its customers happy.

Well, for VP of Business Operations Dan Kerber at least, for it is he who chose to blog on the matter recently. Kerber’s central point is that Metallica consists of a bunch of middle-aged men who performed their first track (Seek and Destroy, see below) 37 years ago, that remain one of the most successful bands in the world because they do a great job of catering to their audience.

Of course the main reason is that they continue to produce great music, but Kerber maintains that there must be more to having such a large fanbase, encompassing all ages and demographics. He cites a broad range of price tiers and associated ‘experiences’ as one example of the kind of flexibility and attention to detail required to please all the people all of the time, as well as a constantly evolving set list.

This all leads to Ericsson’s own customer experience strategy, which is currently being referred to as ‘The quest for easy’. As you can see from the video below, this seems to be more of a 5G/IoT utopia or dystopia depending on how you look at it. “We all can’t be Metallica, but we can learn from their example,” concluded Kerber.

To be honest the whole blog felt a bit like a thinly-veiled excuse to bang on about Kerber’s favourite band but that’s just fine because the same accusation could certainly be levelled at this story. Your selfless correspondent even trekked down to Twickenham, with son in tow (who will be doing work experience at Telecoms.com next week) for Metallica’s recent gig (see photo). It was great, but one piece of customer experience advice we would give them is to pick a venue that’s easier to get home from in the middle of the night next time. \\m//

scott jack metallica

 

Ofcom’s latest ruling underlines the need for proactive personalisation

Telecoms.com periodically invites third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this article, Martin Morgan, VP Marketing, at Openet, considers the latest move from Ofcom in forcing UK operators to tell their customers when their contracts are ending, and points out why it is a blessing in disguise.

UK telecoms regulator Ofcom recently announced that it is to introduce rules to ensure broadband, TV and phone operators tell their customers when their contracts are coming to an end. This is intended to prevent consumers rolling back into largely uncompetitive ‘standard’ tariffs without them knowing. According to Ofcom, this practice typically sees UK consumers paying 20% more for the same service received during the initial term.

The end of consumer inertia?

Consumer inertia has always existed, across all industries in all countries. The fact remains that it is always easier to do nothing at the point of renewal, rather than shop around for the best deal. Times are changing, however. Telecoms operators, much like utility companies and financial services providers are having to endure consumer facing product comparison websites, a rise in third-party digital switching companies and generally, a greater consumer awareness of new offers. The truth is, it has never been easier for UK consumers to find and take a better deal from elsewhere. With Ofcom now forcing telecoms operators to tell customers it’s time to renew their tariffs, a lack of awareness will no longer be an obstacle to ‘shopping around.’

UK telecoms operators must embrace this significant opportunity. They must use the data they have on their customers to create targeted and personalised offers to them as renewal time approaches. If Ofcom forces operators to share the best deals available to their customers at the point of renewal, then this should be treated as the final link in the chain to encourage retention. The fact remains, operators will have a long window available to them, and have an individual usage and preference perspective on each customer that the competition won’t. This creates a significant window of opportunity for an operator to convince their customers that they truly value their business.

Coming out of the shadows

Telecoms operators in general have struggled to maintain brand awareness in recent years. Much has been said about operators being forced to accept utility-like status in the minds of their customers. Content providers, social media providers and OTT messaging communities hold most of the cards when it comes to mobile consumer engagement, with operators becoming an increasingly invisible part of the service value chain. This is incredibly surprising given that operators enjoy a regular monthly billing relationship with their customers, when most others don’t.

UK telecoms operators, much like their global peers, are looking to build or strengthen a series of partnerships with well known brands, to try and boost customer engagement and position themselves as the 5G operator of choice. These partnerships will include teaming up with content providers like Spotify, Netflix and Apple Music. They will include device partnerships with the likes of Apple and Samsung and, also include deals with the social media networks too. These partnerships will create differentiation but knowing where best to target this content and these services will be critical to drive the required levels of customer satisfaction and retention.

The technology exists to act

Operators have the data and the means to focus these offers to the right users at the right time. What is more, thanks to the agile and flexible nature of digital BSS technology, they can be quick to trial new offers, should some not have the desired impact at the first time of asking. Ofcom’s new rules will present UK consumers with more choice, while placing them in a buying mood – UK operators know exactly when this will take place for every one of their customers. Every customer that churns will herald a failure for operator marketing teams and underlying digital BSS technology. The solutions are available to help UK operators prevail. They must react positively to Ofcom’s rules and quickly, if they are to take full advantage of the enormous opportunity facing them.

 

openet-martin-morgan-BWMartin Morgan is the VP Marketing at Openet. With 30 years’ experience in mobile communications software, Martin has worked in mobile since the early days of the industry. He’s ran the marketing teams for several BSS companies and served on trade association and company boards. In that time, he’s spoken at over 50 telecoms conferences worldwide and had a similar number of articles published in the telecoms trade press and served on trade association and company boards. At Openet Martin is responsible for marketing thought leadership and market interaction.

Loyalty penalties for broadband, mobile and TV finally tackled

Ofcom has introduced rules which will aim to tackle ‘penalties’ imposed on renewing customers by broadband, mobile and content providers.

As part of the new rules, providers will have to inform customers 10 to 40 days prior to the end of the customers contract, the period where financial penalties would be applied for changing providers. In the notification, customers will be told the end date of the contract, differences in contract pricing moving forward, termination conditions and availability of cheaper deals.

Although customers will still have to be proactive in contacting rival competitors for better deals on the market, the hope is a more transparent approach with spur consumers into finding the best possible option. Telcos will have a year to ensure the right business processes and technologies are in place to action the rules.

“We’re making sure customers are treated fairly, by making companies give them the information they need, when they need it,” said Lindsey Fussell, Ofcom’s Consumer Group Director.

“This will put power in the hands of millions of people who’re paying more than necessary when they’re no longer tied to a contract.”

The initial idea was put forward back in December, with the belief as many as 20 million UK consumers have passed their initial contract period and could be paying more than necessary. The Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport escalated the issue in February with a public consultation aimed at moving the industry towards a position where loyalty was rewarded, ending aggressive cultures towards customer acquisition.

In September last year, the UK Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) launched a super-complaint with the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) suggesting service providers over-charging renewing customers to bring in an extra £4.1 billion a year. Research commissioned by Broadband Genie has found many over 55s could be paying too much for their broadband service but lack the knowledge or confidence to choose a new package.

“Pre-emptive alerts and information about broadband and TV contract periods are good news for consumers since many have in effect been paying a premium for their loyalty once out of contract,” said Adrian Baschnonga, EY’s Telecoms Lead Analyst. “Today’s rules pave the way for a more proactive dialogue between service providers and their customers, which can unlock higher levels of satisfaction in the long term.”

While it will certainly take some work to bed in, such rules have the potential to move attitudes in the industry to prioritise customer retention over acquisition to meet profitability objectives. Much research points to this being a more rewarding approach to business, though few in the telco space practice this theory.

“uSwitch’s research found that the aggregate cost of out-of-contract charges to telecoms consumers is £41 a second,” said Richard Neudegg, Head of Regulation at uSwitch.com. “This is why time is of the essence – everyday spent waiting for these notifications to be rolled out, another £3.5 million is overspent on these services – meaning that more than £350 million has already been wasted since the consultation closed in February.

“While it has been a long time coming, this is an important step by the regulator to address what has long been a clearly unacceptable gap in the rules, penalising consumers to the tune of millions.”

This is a step in the right direction, but it will take more to ensure telcos shift their culture. The idea of customer acquisition over retention is deeply engrained in every aspect of the business and will define how the business operates. That said, progress is progress.

UK MNOs suck compared to MVNOs – Which

Consumer publication Which asked its members to rate UK mobile operators and found the small ones tend to do better across the board.

Vodafone sucked the most, according to Which, managing only a one-star rating for each of customer service, value for money and technical support. 19% of Vodafone customers surveyed said it was poor value for money, while 18% said its customer service was poor and 13% thought the same about its technical support.

There are various other unflattering datapoints attributed to EE and O2 too, but you get the general point. It turns out that market leaders can be a bit complacent, which challenger brands try harder. Who knew? Thee UK, accordingly, scored better than the other three MNOs, but MNVOs such as Giffgaff scored more highly than the lot of them.

“The continuing reign of smaller networks over the big players goes to show exactly how important customer support and value for money are to mobile users,” said Natalie Hitchins, Head of Home Products and Services at Which. “If you think you are paying too much or are not getting the level of service you expect from your provider you should shop around for a better deal – you might find you save yourself some money and probably a lot of grief too.”

Great advice Natalie, thanks. Some other people said things that amounted to much the same. In response Vodafone sounded contrite but EE defiant. Which also had a look at average contract prices and found that the bigger operators have the nerve to charge more for their substandard service.

Telefónica pulls its SOCs up with Nokia’s help

Operator group Telefónica is changing its UK Network Operations Center into a Service Operations Center to show how customer-centric it is.

That was the distilled message from a press launch in central London this morning, co-hosted by its vendor for this project – Nokia. Building a SOC will allow O2 UK to make customer-led, as opposed to engineering-led, decisions about its network, we were told by Brandan O’Reilly, the CTO of O2 UK.

Telefónica has apparently already got started on this process in some of its other markets, including Chile and Germany, but this is a first for the UK and also the first time Nokia has been the vendor. So this seems like a big deal for them – hence the press event.

Tim Smith, VP of Nokia Software Europe, explained its SOC platform aggregates and standardises the various network data feeds in order to be able to compare and optimise them. It’s all about being proactive rather than reactive when it comes to network management and AI seems to play a big part, as you might expect.

A lot of the questions from the grizzled telecoms hacks in attendance focused on what specific benefits a SOC offers over a NOC and how they might be measured. While reduced churn is an obvious way to track ‘customer delight’, as Smith put it, Telefonica has its own metric called NCX (Network Customer Experience), which is currently at 79 and O’Reilly hopes will jump by at least a couple of points as a result of this shift. Here are the canned quotes from the press release.

“Telefónica has always aimed to offer the best possible experience to our customers which a reactive network monitoring approach to operations could never guarantee,” said Juan Manuel Caro, director of network and IT operations at Telefónica. “With SOC we have already transformed this in three of our markets reaching the next level in automated customer experience management, granting us flexibility and adaptability that serves as a key differentiator. Nokia’s solutions and services will allow us to achieve this goal in a competitive market like the UK.”

“Telefónica is pioneering the transformation toward customer-centric operations with the deployment of Nokia eSOC,” said Bhaskar Gorti, president of Nokia Software. “Nokia is proud to support Telefónica’s digital transformations and SOC deployments across the globe and with the flexibility to adapt to existing ecosystems in local markets.”

This all seems like quite a lot of effort to go to just to labour the ‘customer-centric’ concept that has become endemic to the point of cliché in the business world. But to be fair to both companies they are at least announcing concrete measures being taken in pursuit of that aim and thus holding themselves publicly accountable for delivering it.

CMA backs super complaint against loyalty penalties

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has backed a ‘super complaint’ raised by Citizens Advice which suggests UK consumers are being ripped off by loyalty penalties on services such as broadband.

The super complaint was raised by in September by Citizens Advice, asking the CMA to investigate whether customers were effectively being punished by service providers, so called stealth price rises for example. The areas being called into question were cash savings, mortgages, household insurance, mobile phone contracts and broadband.

The CMA agrees with the points raised by Citizens Advice, suggesting the segments in question gain £4 billion a year through ripping off loyal customers.

“Our work has uncovered a range of problems which leave people feeling ripped off, let down and frustrated,” said Andrea Coscelli, CEO of the CMA. “They shouldn’t have to be constantly ‘on guard’, spending hours searching for or negotiating a good deal, to avoid being trapped into bad value contracts or falling victim to stealth price rises.”

Looking specifically at the telcos, this is a frustrating point for many consumers. UK telcos show very little desire to reward customers, setting in processes and systems which make it impossible to leave. Many will give up on trying to navigate the red-tape maze as the poor experience proves to be favourable to the frustrations of trying to leave. By making this process as difficult as possible, the telcos don’t have to worry that much about retention and can instead focus on luring new customers.

The CMA has pointed this out during its own investigation, ensuring that one of the recommendations made to government and regulators will be to simplify the exiting process. This will intend to tackle the process, systems and the fees which customers face when attempting to secure a better deal.

It appears the telcos are much better at scaring customers away from exiting than enticing them to stay with positive customer service. Your correspondent can confirm this is the case after trying to end a Vodafone contract last year. It took a ridiculous amount of time, engagement with several staff who had no idea what they were doing (or was this trained in to make the process as painful as possible?) but the mission was stubbornly completed.

“We know that the better deals are often found by switching provider,” said Richard Neudegg, Head of Regulation at uSwitch.com. “But many companies make this more difficult by not being transparent enough about the options available or how to take your custom elsewhere. We are pleased to see the CMA identify this as an area for improvement, to ensure the power to get better deals is placed firmly in the hands of consumers.”

One specific complaints which has been firmly aimed at the telcos concerns subsidized handsets. The CMA highlights telcos should not be allowed to charge the same amount per month once the handset has been fully paid for. This will be a frustration from the consumer, but like the ridiculous nature of roaming fees, because the industry has stuck together little progress has been made.

Above all else, the CMA opinion adds to the already well-known position that telcos are not at all customer-centric organizations and have a lot to do if they want to be considered relevant for the digital economy.