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Preparing for the age of customer-centricity

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Content service providers (CSPs) need to become more customer-centric than ever in a rapidly changing market. But what does that mean in practice? Adhish Kulkarni, head of Customer Value Management and Loyalty Business Unit for Evolving Systemsexplains

It’s common knowledge that the telecommunications industry has been experiencing a multi-level shift over the past 5 years. New subscriber growth has slowed and profits have been challenged through price wars, often leading to the self-destructive commoditization of services; this, in turn, reduces monthly ARPU at the same time that the cost to serve consumer demand for connectivity speeds continues to increase, as does the sheer volume of data consumption.

Furthermore Mobile, Fixed Line, Broadband and Media/TV convergence or partnerships have driven an increase in products and services available to consumers while IoT, other new delivery paradigms and new types of devices are driving the trend for individuals to use and pay for multiple lines simultaneously.

Among the many ramifications of the new landscape, the industry can no longer treat or charge customers at the SIM card level. Today, how CSPs engage customers at a household level is the key to future profitability.

This is a reality underscored by and based on research. Leading analyst firm, Ovum, noted in its 2019 Trends to Watch: Telecoms Operations and ITthat among the most pressing requirements service providers face today is:

(The) need to make (their) organizations customer-centric and data-driven in the same way that the web-scale DSPs have done. This requires not just investment in platforms but also the implementation of appropriate data management strategies and customer-centric processes.

To achieve this, Ovum’s research further hightlights the vital role of partners who offer ‘agiledelivery models, provide solutions that can be deployed and integrated quickly, and make effective use (within reason) of cloud-based delivery models and cloud-native architectures.

The critical nature of being able to address these requirements, illustrated in the chart below, cannot be underestimated.

Effective customer enagagement in the ‘Age of Customer-Centricity’ requires a deeper understanding of users’ preferences, profiles and requirements in order to capture their interest in relevant products and services and thus to maintain brand loyalty. Traditional approaches to customer engagement — batch-based, below-the-line campaigns and static, transactional points-based solutions — must therefore give way to a set of new, highly engaging, offer and loyalty programs that are built for a generation of demanding, social media-empowered digital natives.

The four pillars of engagement

At Evolving Systems, the recognition of this accelerating technology-led change and the rise of the digital consumer has led us to identify four key pillars of action, the response to which we believe will define how brands drive customer loyalty in the nascent, always-on, connected world…..and how successful they are at doing that.

These pillars are:

  • Intelligent Customer Engagement– A focus on customer engagement must now be a priority for any business operating on a digital platform. With particular regard to Loyalty, this is critical in order to keep customers satisfied and to maintain long term, active relationships with the brand. The digital channel allows CSPs to engage with customers in real-time at the ‘moment of truth’, no matter where they are. Intelligent customer engagement, for example via gamified mechanics, keeps subscribers excited and satisfied.
  • Deeper Insight through Analytics– The amount of data available to brands continues to grow at an exponential pace as consumers use digital channels to interact and transact, thereby leaving digital footprints that provide insight into the entire customer journey from initial awareness through to post-purchase satisfaction. For CVM Campaign and Loyalty programs, this data will form the basis for personalization, reward relevance and designing superior customer experiences and it is therefore critical that CSPs are able to access solutions that fully leverage the insights that data holds.
  • More Choice through an Open Partner Ecosystem– The walled garden approach of traditional rewards programs is giving way to a more open ecosystem of partners where loyal customers can ‘spend’ their credits with a host of different partners. The digital channel has opened the opportunity to integrate with physical and digital partners at a global scale. This trend of openness is here to stay and will remain a key element for brands to remain relevant and secure ongoing customer engagement within their loyalty programs. For CSPs, the technologies required to manage such open relationships with important brand partners is now critical.
  • Catering to Always-On and Omni-Channel – Customer Value, Retention and Rewards Programs have to adapt to an always-on consumer who is channel agnostic, expecting the brand to engage on email, app, or twitter or SMS in real-time. This is difficult, but it is also an opportunity to engage with customers in a highly relevant and timely manner. Telcos must find ways to provide meaningful cross-channel experiences at the right level of frequency.

Investment required. But in what?

The Four Pillars of Engagement, combined with the nascent digital landscape described at the start of this article, suggests that CSPs urgently need to revitalize or even reinvent their customer enagement tactics and processes. This is because they have to manage their customers’ journeys more effectively and in so doing they also have to deliver a far more personalized experience.

It is almost certain that neither of these goals can adequately be met using legacy technologies. This means, over the coming months, that CSPs will face making vital investment in customer engagement.

This is recognized and it would be innacurate to suggest that the process of investment has not already started. Applications addressing requirements in areas such as self-care and provisioning in particular have seen increasing attention in recent months. Ovum’s survey, referenced earlier, suggests that this year the top three investments that CSPs intend to make are in customer lifecycle management, digital product catalog, and chatbots and virtual agents. These, furthermore, are likely to be significant investments.

However, a piecemeal approach to solving the problems of operating effectively in the new digital landscape is unlikely to be enough. Joined-up thinking and joined-up operations are needed; a new, lean customer-centricity, where experience is prioritized by both operations and IT systems, has to be the goal.

Data also represents a challenge as it is axiomatic that improving customer-facing processes requires better access to data sources. This is why data management has been a focal point for early CSP digital transformation efforts. Effective customer engagement means bringing together multiple data sources. Good-quality data and improved data storage are the backbone of improved customer engagement and innovative use cases.

Engagement, driven by personalization,demands the unification and standardization of communications across multiple channels and categories of customer-related operations. Technology therefore needs to leverage a broad mix of capabilities. New systems will need to integrate with both digital and non-digital customer channels as well as with back-office platforms, such as billing and product catalog, and front-line activities such as sales and marketing. A wide range of functions will need to be better aligned to support the customer experience including cloud infrastructure, unified customer data management, security and compliance mechanisms, interaction intelligence and process automation.

The requirement today is for a new type of Customer Engagement Platform (CEP). This will be a technology that moves away from traditional product-centric and siloed approaches and replaces legacy with a holistic approach to customer engagement. Ovum’s research confirms that CSPs are likely already increasingly investing in these sorts of broad-based customer engagement solutions rather than contunuining to rely on the point solutions of the past.

Author

Adhish Kulkarni heads the Customer Value Management and Loyalty Business Unit organization for Evolving Systems, an end-to-end digital engagement software and services provider. With 100+ customers across 5 continents, Evolving’s solutions empower brands to increase revenue per user, reduce friction, improve retention, and maximize customer satisfaction. The company’s goal is to provide operators, brands and advertisers with the tools they need to manage their brand’s interaction with consumers over digital channels.

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