By Martin Morgan, VP Marketing, Openet

The mobile market is at its most competitive since it emerged over 30 years ago.

Despite the contraction in the number of mobile service providers, a new battle emerges daily with the growing number of OTT players offering free voice and messaging services, the rollout of free Wi-Fi services and the emergence of Wi-Fi first MVNOs.

There is a real fear among mobile operators that data will head the same way as voice and text services – so long the mainstay of the operator business – in becoming commoditised.

Will the only differentiator, in the eye of the consumer, soon be price?

If this does happen, operators must have sufficient and growing revenue streams from other sources available.

The ability to develop new revenue streams, outside basic bundles, is what will characterise the next stage in mobile development.

And in order to advance to this next stage, operators have one, very large and important asset that must be leveraged: the customer base.

Most operators enjoy some degree of trust and loyalty, as well as an established pattern of payment from their customers.

However it would be a mistake to take a customer base for granted by mislabelling a lack of churn as loyalty.

A customer may gradually cut back on cellular data usage because he or she has decided that free Wi-Fi provides a more cost-effective option, or tools such as Google Hangouts, Facebook or Skype make it easier to communicate.

Despite staying with his or her current operator, this customer should not be classed as loyal.

The opportunity here is for the operator to become more relevant to customers who are not churning, but remain disengaged.

Do this, and new revenue streams will follow.

The question then is how can an operator increase this relevancy?

One way that we are seeing operators do this is by selling more digital partner services, from music and video streaming services such as Netflix and Deezer, to travel insurance and home security.

While digital partner services may not be the traditional domain of the operator, they offer an opportunity.

After all, wouldn’t mobile operators prefer that their customers bought these services from them rather than their competitors?

And couldn’t these services, as part of mobile offers, increase “stickiness” and loyalty?

The first step in increasing relevancy is to start engaging better with customers.

Once operators ensure this relevancy, they can get a bigger slice of revenue from digital services by collecting data in real-time to identify personalised sales and marketing opportunities that can be made direct to the device.

Operators have been providing real-time notifications for several years now – we all get alerts when we’re near our data quota, or when we’re roaming.

Several operators are now even using these alerts to upsell data blocks and fixed price data roaming service passes.

Operators can then take this a step further and start upselling real-time contextually-aware offers.

But to do this they need to understand customer context so that the relevance of the offer is increased: this requires the use of a combination of historical business intelligence and real-time streaming analytics.

Operators already collect data on customer behaviour and usage in real-time for charging.

This is passed to a data warehouse where can be used to provide historical business intelligence (eg, churn propensity score, lifetime value, net promotor score, customer experience indicators, etc).

While data warehouses provide a good historical view of customer behaviour, they don’t provide a picture of what’s happening here and now.

Streaming analytics used on real-time data provide a real-time trigger, along with the historical customer business intelligence, to activate contextually aware offers.

Here’s one example of a contextually aware offer: A heavy Facebook user drops off usage around day 24 of their billing cycle every month, probably due to concerns about overage charges and not using up their quota.

The operator could use real-time data analytics to identify this trend, and pre-empt the customer’s drop-off point by sending a personalised offer for a £3, 500MB Facebook-only pass valid for seven days when the customer accesses Facebook on day 23 of the billing cycle.

Another example would be a customer who spends a lot of time streaming music and has a high churn propensity score.

The operator can identify these data points and offer the customer one month free Spotify Premium membership (assuming the operator has a partnership with Spotify) the next time they start listening to a streaming music service.

At the moment there’s a great deal of talk about operator transformation, being more innovative and thinking like the digital service provider companies from Silicon Valley.

While some operators are farther along this transformation path than others, the one asset that they all have is their customer base.

It’s providing relevant engagement with these customers that will turn this transformation into revenues.

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