Customer Experience is extremely tangible from the customer’s perspective; but the forces that shape and affect it can be more ephemeral. The relationship between operational processes and customer experience isn’t always easy to measure or define, but operators are beginning to improve in doing just that.
According to Sanjay Kumar, industry vice president – communications & media, for Progress Software, “more than 60 percent of [operators’] costs are associated with exceptions or variations that happen along the way. Much customer churn is a result of what happens in that space.” The customer experience is built on expectation. When expectations for delivery and performance aren’t met, it’s too easy in the current market for customers to seek and find alternatives, only do so again if and when they are similarly disappointed by a new provider. As a result, operators appear to be seeking ways to improve visibility across their product and operational silos in order to drive customer experience as a competitive differentiator.
BillingViews chatted with Kumar about operators’ changing attitudes toward customer experience and what some are doing to make improvements deep in the inner workings of their OSS/BSS systems and processes.
BV: What’s driving the demand for more intelligent customer experience solutions among CSPs?
Kumar: I think the demand is being driven from a few angles. It’s from the end customers. Their expectations are different than before because with the introduction of social media and a different level of service from different arenas, it has … changed the game so what’s good enough today is not good enough tomorrow; the speed of the game has changed dramatically. The competitive landscape has changed…and that has changed the amount of options customers have. Coupled to that, the actual services are looking more and more the same. There is less differentiation across services and customer can flip on a dime, so the ability to change providers has become easier.
BV: We’ve seen differentiation come in the form of new services coming to market. But what has that rapid change done to operations?
Kumar: The original resolution was “let’s get out to the market and we will patchwork in the back using IT integration technology.” What resulted was that they were able to get to market, but things would break down and fall through the seams. So exceptions and variations – problems customers would feel – would impact the customer and make it tougher to keep them. Order fall out and such, coupled with more options, made it easy for customers to just go somewhere else.
Now the idea of exceptions or variations is recognized as having the biggest cost, impact to churn, and biggest impact on the ability to grow, so that has changed things around quite a bit. The analogy I see is, if you remember back in the early days it was all around the network and the idea of OSS and BSS was an afterthought. Then the “A-Ha” moment came that OSS/BSS was an Achilles heel in terms of the cost to launch new services. Now [operators have measured that] it’s the exceptions ― things off the happy path ― where the costs are associated.
We’re seeing communications provider measuring order fall out and exceptions and associating that to profit and loss; it’s that profound now.
BV: Why hasn’t the idea of transformation, or end to end automation of service delivery processes, solved this set of issues?
Kumar: It goes beyond the individual service. The customer gets a whole bundle of services. So, in many cases, for some of those, I’m getting a consolidated system to make this happen. Or it may be a combination of systems that were never intended to work together. So every variation that comes in – a delay happens, a customer makes changes, there are issues around scheduling – everything that’s being planned goes topsy-turvy. What’s missing is the holistic view of what the customer has. If they want to talk about something around billing, it’s a different team than if they want to talk about QoS and that’s just for a particular service. As it goes across multiple services … the provider had no end to end visibility. They’d look at it from some application point of view, but not end to end, because there were so many siloed systems. And that’s the part that is really changing; no one person owned the customer until you got to the CEO level.
BV: So what are operators doing to attack those problems and costs?
Kumar: [The key is] not looking through rearview mirror; look out the front and react to things as they’re happening. We’re self-discovering, or correlating events in specific ways that have a unique meaning, or managing the orchestration of what’s happening across various systems. [We believe in] an adaptable layer that’s de-coupled from the underlying system and in giving business teams more control on how they want to manage things.
BV: Who in the organization owns that layer?
Kumar: It would generally be owned by business operations teams, but would work with IT, but because it is non-intrusive; you don’t have to build interfaces into systems. You can track things by timing and events. It compensates for some of the shortfalls of the underlying systems. There’s a big divide between business teams and IT teams in most service providers. This is a layer that helps and mitigates that difference. It lets business teams do what they want, when they want, but lets IT teams evolve systems at the pace they need to.