Service quality management offers a critical pathway to the delivery of quality of service in developing markets, says Tony Kalcina
Accidents happen. People make mistakes. Nothing or no one is infallible. We all know this. Which is why, when we buy a product or service, what is important is not so much whether or not it has faults, but what happens after a fault occurs.
It is a well-know maxim in client service that a customer whose problem has been dealt with in an exemplary fashion is likely to be more satisfied and loyal than one who has never experienced a problem to begin with. The former knows from experience that they can rely on the provider of the service or product; the latter has no idea what might happen if things go wrong.
This principle applies as much in telecommunications as elsewhere, but with an added twist: customers want to have the certainty that problems will be dealt with effectively and efficiently before they happen.
This means service providers have to provide a high level of assurance at the contract stage, typically through a service level agreement (SLA). But there are SLAs and SLAs.
In fiercely competitive developing markets, the ability to offer and deliver on meaningful, measurable and manageable standards of service is becoming a major competitive differentiator.
Telecommunications SLAs traditionally underpin service quality management (SQM) programmes, which aim to monitor performance, pinpoint faults and prevent them from recurring.
SQM is valuable to corporate customers because, in theory, it provides analysis and verification of the performance they are paying for. And, in the event of a problem, it serves to provide a measure of the recompense they might be entitled to.
For operators in developing markets, SQM also has an important role to play in the supply chain by policing incumbent operators, for instance when competition rules allow Local Loop Unbundling (LLU) for third-party providers of DSL services.
The inclusion of an SLA in the supply chain process ensures protection for third party operators and their customers; if incumbent operators fail to undertake the LLU in the time agreed, the third party operator can often claim a rebate.
At the same time, the end customer may also be entitled to compensation for failure to deliver the requisite level of service mandated by the regulatory body.
In practice, this can be problematic to claim at an individual level, but the automated monitoring and reporting of SLA violations can be a useful input to the process of managing collective performance by the incumbent.
Elsewhere, it stands to reason that savvy customers will pick suppliers whose SLAs offer the highest level of financial security; in other words, those which pay out the most in the event of a problem.
This means that in order to satisfy the most demanding customers, telecommunications operators need to embrace SQM so that any faults and liabilities can be fully verified to the satisfaction of both the operator and its customers.
SQM allows operators to measure and gauge the validity of customer complaints; whilst the customer should always be put first, operators can determine the need for - and level of - compensation required for a perceived service fault. Clearly, then, there are massive benefits to be had from being seen to possess a market-leading SQM programme. But not all operators currently have one.
Currently, performance data, where it is available, often only involves some fairly basic measurements of the state of the network. In addition, delivering SQM often relies heavily on expensive manpower.
An operator will not be able to cost-effectively differentiate its service offering unless manual steps are kept to an absolute minimum and, preferably, eliminated altogether to avoid the higher cost and delays of manual processes.
Finally, many of the current low-cost diagnostic tools that are in place can only provide basic alerts to the effect that certain pieces of equipment are failing, without identifying which customers (if any) are affected, or how.
What this means in practice is that operators relying on these basic SQM tools cannot truly be said to be delivering quality of service to their customers—and risk either losing credibility or paying over the odds for SLA failures. The situation need not be thus, however.
More complex SQM tools exist. They combine service fulfilment and assurance capabilities and can be integrated with a provisioning package to automatically identify faults or dips in service and restore the services or compensate customers with additional offers or refunds.
Clarity, for example, offers a pre-integrated product and database that features the TeleManagement Forum’s 17 electronic Telecom Operations Map model elements of Operational Support Systems (OSS) in a single suite.
These systems allow operators to see the impact that network operations are having on revenue and customers’ experience from both a service fulfilment and assurance perspective.
Clarity’s OSS is network and services neutral, rapidly configurable and widely deployed, supporting an end user base of 50 million subscribers worldwide. Companies that have taken SQM seriously have reaped significant benefits.
Sri Lanka Telecom, to take an example from the developing world, has been able to clear 84 per cent of faults within hours thanks to a single OSS information store for fulfilment and assurance data, coupled with real-time correlation and integrated SQM workflow processes.
Other operators can follow this path. All that is needed is a greater awareness of the importance of SQM as a tool for achieving competitive advantage. Telecoms operators, specifically in developing markets, must realise the importance of service assurance in helping to predict, monitor and manage in real time the availability and quality of services, ensuring conformance to the business’s strategic SQM objectives.
Investing in OSS to support state-of-the-art SQM programmes is no longer a ‘nice to have’, but increasingly a vital component of strategies to attract and retain loyal residential and commercial customers, improve operational effectiveness and to accelerate the order-to-cash process. SQM may have until now been something of a minority interest for telecommunications operators. But as the battle for customers heats up in developing markets, it looks set to become a key weapon for competitive advantage.
Tony Kalcina is founder of Clarity