As customers gain access to more choice and become ever more demanding, the telecom industry is slowly shifting its main focus from the technology side to customer service. While service providers face an array of hurdles - from declining ARPU to low entry barriers for new competitors - they now understand that customer-centric operations are the future.
Operators are realizing what media and cable companies already know: the network - wireline/wireless, circuit-switched/IP - no longer allows a company to differentiate itself from the competition nor is it the most important focus for long-term corporate success. The challenge, of course, is how to implement a customer-focus strategy when the network has always been the priority.
A joint Telecom Asia and Stratecast Partners survey found that operators are striving for a consolidated view of the customer because true customer-centricity requires real-time services - real-time rating, charging, notification and payments; real-time provisioning and allocation of service/network resources; and real-time assurance for customer service management.
Competitive pressures, from other telcos and non-traditional entrants, means operators need to understand the customer experience in near real time so they can exploit up-sell opportunities based on usage patterns.
'The results of the survey mirror what we are seeing in both the North American and European markets' noted Karl Whitelock, senior consulting analyst with Stratecast Partners. 'A shift to more closely look at the customer first and then network operations is now the norm throughout the industry.'
The online survey of more than 105 Asia-Pacific operators was conducted jointly in February and March by Telecom Asia and Stratecast Partners, a division of Frost & Sullivan, and focused on BSS functionality rather than a full end-to-end definition of all BSS and OSS functions. The BSS supplier table (page 24) includes OSS functions critical to supporting today's complex service offerings that now must address real-time components relating to call/session control and dynamic management of network resources. This is a representative sampling of the most significantly emphasized BSS operational functions service providers need for delivering and billing.
Margaret Lee, SingTel's director for consumer billing, pointed out that customer experience is the differentiating factor in a highly competitive market. 'Providing a superior customer experience can encourage customer loyalty, thereby reducing churn.'
Globally operators are focusing on the services, not the network, as their most important differentiator, said Whitelock. 'Understanding the customer experience is a goal that mobile operators have been working on for some time. Many are still contemplating the importance of customer-centric operations.'
He said that a focus on the customer is today's converged communications industry mantra. 'Failing to realize this will result in long-term business failure, as competitors that understand how to manage the customer will win.'
Vivek Srivastava, Oracle Communications' director of solutions and strategy for Asia Pacific, said customer experience management (CEM) has the potential to genuinely differentiate new service offerings, especially with the rich media services today.