How telecoms can cut costs and up customer experience in digital era

Malaysian mobile user image by The Star
Max Speur, COO of SunTec Business Solutions, explores how telecoms can both cut costs and enhance the customer experience.

The days when telecoms have legions of people working in administrative and sales roles are fast drawing to a close. The telecoms industry is now embroiled in a new era that calls for a new kind of telecoms. Facing intense competition from online players in digital services, telecoms need to urgently cut costs and improve the customer experience.

That is not an easy juggling act to pull off. But it can be done. The key is to put the right levers in the hands of the right people. Firstly, customers need more control over what they are buying. Secondly, the telecoms itself needs more control over its IT.

Let’s consider the customer experience first. Instead of relying heavily on expensive retail stores and call centers to serve customers, telecoms are now following the digital playbook. That means providing straightforward, yet sophisticated, self-service tools, both on the web and as mobile apps, which make it simple for the customer to precisely tailor the service proposition to their needs.

Rather than waiting to speak to a call centre operative or visiting a retail store, a customer should be able to easily configure both their telecoms service and their tariff online. Moreover, the customer should be able to fine-tune what they are buying. If they want to use 3GB of data a month, rather than the 2GB or 4GB packages offered by the telecoms, they should be able to buy their own customized tariff plan.

The benefits of automating customer service are now well understood and most telecoms now offer self-service web sites and apps, but they also continue to employ thousands of customer service staff in call centers and retail stores. Why? Partly because the self-service tools can be too crude or too complex and partly because telecoms want to use their call centers and retail stores to sell customers additional products and services.

Efficient and effective selling

Digital channels can be very effective and very efficient at selling, but only if they are well designed. With the right data analytics platform in place, telecoms can make tailored and timely offers to customers via a mobile app or another digital channel. For example, a consumer that spends a lot of time browsing sports web sites will be receptive to an offer on a pay TV package focused on sport.

Or a design agency that uploads lots of large files should be offered a faster uplink. Using digital channels, such offers can be delivered at the optimum time rather than relying on the customer to proactively make contact with the telecoms or answer a cold call from a telecoms employee. Comcast, a leading US cable company, has demonstrated how a flexible digital architecture can be used to create innovative offers and products in a short period of time.

The case for customizing and automating offers is even stronger now that telecoms, such as BT, KPN and SingTel, are increasingly offering triple-play or quad-play propositions encompassing mobile, fixed-line, broadband and television. Given all the possible permutations of tariff plans, content and services, advanced data analytics is needed to figure out the right combination for the right customer.

Pay-as-you-go IT

As well as giving customers more control, telecoms themselves need to take more control over their IT systems. In practice, that means the orchestration of cloud-based systems, which interface via web APIs, rather than building and running their own in-house systems and data centers. This approach allows to telecoms harness the exact resources they need, when they need them, rather than having to anticipate ahead of time how much computing capacity they need. In a fast-moving market, usage of cloud services will enable the telecoms to become more responsive and nimble, as well as keeping costs down.

As pressure on costs mount, telecoms will increasingly move their IT architecture into the cloud, as long as they can adhere to local regulatory requirements around the location of data and safeguarding customers’ privacy. Instead of maintaining computer systems, telecoms’ in-house staff will increasingly focus on understanding and harnessing the data their networks produce.

At the same time, telecoms are simplifying their systems and processes both for their own benefit and that of their customer. In the billing domain, for example, large operators used to employ 300 to 400 people to manage all the complexity associated with prepaid and postpaid tariffs. As chargeable events can now be tracked in real-time, the customer has clarity and control over what they are paying and the telecoms has less need for separate postpaid and prepaid systems. That allows for the redeployment of many of the staff working in their billing department in more productive roles.

In summary, telecoms are adapting their cost base to the new digital era, while actually improving the customer experience. Before too long, a new kind of telecoms will emerge – one that gives its customers the control they crave. These new telecoms will be better equipped to compete effectively with online digital players, boost their revenues and increase their relevance.

Max Speur, COO of SunTec Business Solutions