The emergence of pre-integrated CRM and billing solutions is helping operators to provide not only the highest quality service possible, but also the most straightforward, and so, says Dominic Smith, help prevent customer churn
In today’s converged telecoms market, there is greater diversity than ever before in services, providers and pricing. For operators, it means managing an extensive array of network infrastructures and partners while, at the same time, developing a broad service set is an increasingly complex business. One of the greatest challenges in delivering simple but effective customer service is the sheer range of solutions on offer.
There is a vast array of packages and price schemes available in the mobile communications sector alone. Operators' portfolios typically include 2G GSM, SMS, MMS, GPRS, 3G and HSPA basic services, not to mention the range of value-added services, content and applications accessible on top. In addition, there may be slightly different versions of some of the services, depending on the user's handset capabilities, and these in turn can mean alternate pricing plans.
In addition, in all sectors of the market, operators have to maintain and bill for a broad array of legacy services. And they need to be able to tailor their offerings to meet the specific needs of a wide variety of market segments - from large enterprises to individual consumers.
The challenge for operators is to simplify this often convoluted tangle of different service types. After all, looking beyond the headline prices, most end-users are interested in three key elements of the operator's service.
First, they want high quality and easy-to-use services. Second, they need clear and accurate billing. Finally, if they do encounter difficulties, they want a straightforward and reliable way of sorting them out.
This means access to an efficient single point of contact, with the necessary knowledge and expertise to resolve any issues quickly. From the operator's point of view, the most effective way of delivering this type of simple, effective service is through the provision of pre-integrated CRM and billing solutions which customer-facing staff can use to support the interaction process.
By implementing high-quality CRM and billing systems and integrating them with their surrounding network infrastructure, operators have all the information they need in one place, ensuring they can provide a consistent, responsive and professional service to customers. They also have the reassurance of knowing that no data will be lost between systems, that updated information is available instantly to other users and that their systems provide a joined-up integrated 360° view of their customers.
The best of this new breed of fully convergent CRM and billing systems also give operators a bi-directional view of their customer management activities. In other words, they enable them to manage the dataset from the point of view both of the customer and the business itself. They can, for example, highlight not only the types of complaints made by one individual customer but also the total number received by the organisation as a whole, over a given period.
To deliver this functionality, it is critical that operators have not only a tightly integrated component set but also a single unified database, which links to these components. This optimised technical infrastructure enables them to examine all of the system data associated with a given customer and acts as the foundation for simple but proactive customer service.
At one level, it allows operators to escalate events. As part of most corporate service level agreements, they can define exactly how long they have to action certain events. If this time limit is exceeded, an alarm is triggered, notifying both operator and end customer of an infringement. Receiving this type of information in advance of a customer complaint helps the operator to deliver proactive service to end users, by acknowledging a fault on their system but at the same time reassuring them that the problem is being addressed and rectified.
At another level, the technology enables the operator to define its own business rules about how it sells services. In particular, by providing a stable and robust platform, it allows the operator to configure processes and procedures that build on the functionality of the systems infrastructure and ensure that customers receive a consistently high-quality service.
Currently, few UK businesses are collating or leveraging their customer data as effectively as this. According to the findings of UK CRM consultancy firm, Detica, only 13 per cent of companies can be categorised as leaders when it comes to collating customer data and subsequently using it to improve customer relationships, while 40 per cent are categorised as 'strugglers', having very little good data and limited ability to exploit what they do have.
The results of the survey clearly illustrate the challenges businesses face in achieving a good understanding of their customers and using the insights gained effectively across the enterprise as a whole.
To be successful in building customer loyalty, operators need to focus more clearly on the customer. With the help of closely integrated CRM and billing solutions they can manage the relationship from a single entry point. This means ensuring that customer-facing staff have all relevant data about a given customer instantly available as and when required.
There is a multitude of information to be gathered: typically including details of previous interactions with the customer, payment histories, information about average monthly spend, the types of services previously used and so on. Critically, having access to this kind of intelligence should enable the operator to deliver 'right first time' customer service.
Ease-of-use is also important. Any such systems need to be intuitive. When they purchase a bundle of services from an operator, customers must be sure that each service is activated on the network in a logical order and that follow-on services are provisioned, as and when required. The operator's customer service representative (CSR) should also be able to view the status of these services at any one time.
In addition, particularly in today's fast-changing telecoms environment, chosen systems need to be flexible enough to manage a broad spectrum of technologies from PSTN to 3G and from ISDN to ADSL. This is critical for operators who are migrating into new technology sectors either through business growth, merger or acquisition.
Today, with an ever-growing number of players in the market, it is increasingly easy for users to switch from one operator to another. In order to prevent churn, therefore, it is vital that operators provide not only the highest quality service possible but also the most straightforward.
The emergence of pre-integrated CRM and billing solutions is helping to achieve this. Equally, with the onward march of convergence and the consequent desire of many of the larger players to try to be 'all things to all people', these solutions can play a key role in enabling alternate operators to offer a bundle of services tailored to a specific market segment.
Operators can do very little about the increasing complexity of the telecoms marketplace. However, what they can and increasingly will need to do, in order to maintain their competitive edge, is to mask this complexity from the customer. Operators will need to ensure that their multi-play service offerings are straightforward to use, that billing is accurate and that the latest customer information is available to all service staff. Pre-integrated CRM and billing solutions offer an excellent means of enabling them to transform this vision into a reality.
Dominic Smith is Marketing Director, Cerillion Technologies