Customer experience management and the demand for mobile data services: Tekelec one-on-one

Thanks to a boom in mobile devices and the popularity of mobile data services, customer appetite for mobile bandwidth is growing. The challenge for mobile operators is that demand is outpacing revenue growth, creating a gap that threatens the technology's economic promise. TelecomEngine spoke with Lane Liley, Director of Product Management at Tekelec, to discuss how customer experience management, among other strategies, might provide a way for operators to stay profitable while keeping their customers happy.

TelecomEngine: Obviously, operators want to cash in on the takeoff of mobile data services. But if the need for mobile bandwidth growing faster than the revenue stream, how much can operators really benefit from it? Is the gain purely economic or is it more a play to grab customers?

Lane Liley, Director of Product Management: Mobile data services present both opportunities and problems to the operator. The opportunities are available because these services personalize subscribers' devices and socially connect to others via the networks, generating new revenue streams. They generate problems because of the large bandwidth required to communicate effectively. These services therefore also represent the best way for operators to measure and improve customer satisfaction overall. That primarily translates into reduced churn and the opportunity to upsell existing subscribers with new services, new levels of service and new creative packages. Certainly this differentiation also provides opportunities to entice customers from competitors, but the top priority is understanding and serving the current subscriber base.

Analysys Mason's 2011 study, Connected Consumer Survey, indicates that nearly 35 percent of mobile broadband users want to abandon their provider within the next six months. Why is that number so high, when it seems like all the providers would have approximately the same issues?

Liley: There will always be some degree of customer churn for a variety of reasons. Some of these are within the operator's control, like network quality, and some are beyond the operator's reach, like employees switching providers when they change jobs.

The difference-maker for operators is if they can demonstrate improvement in both the network and customer service experiences -- for example, if you dial a carrier's call center and the representative responds to your problem with specifics about your individual service, device, location and root cause of the issue you're calling about, going well beyond the typical first response of suggesting you reboot your phone.

Dealing with the subscriber level is one of the things that will make a significant difference for the carriers' ability to retain customers. Even though the customer care group has the ability to talk to you about your problem, in the past they lacked detail about a cell tower that was down in your region or handset software problems. Carriers have been searching for tools that will give more network and subscriber granularity, and once they start deploying these tools and applications, satisfaction will increase and churn will decrease.

Customer "experience" seems like a subjective concept. How does one translate perception into a metric that can be quantified objectively?

Liley: Customer experience management covers a large gamut of metrics and interactions between subscribers and their service providers. At the recent TM Forum Management World conference, Susan McNeice at Yankee group defined the customer experience into four groups:
- pricing and offering simplicity
- network/services performance
- customer care
- billing

Broken down into those areas, each one has its own desires and metrics. Our focus is around the network services and performance area, and in parts of customer care. We look at the overall network traffic and subscribers' individual traffic from devices all the way through the network, quantifying it into discrete metrics such as how long it takes for a website or application to open, how many times that happens successfully, and the quality of voice calls. We focus on the network metrics in messages and transactions themselves to build a complete picture of the network and the experience for each subscriber and groups of subscribers.

The next step is where service providers gain the most value. We filter all of this data so any group within a service provider can analyze it. The network operations team, for example, will have different uses for the information than the marketing department will. The underlying information is the same, but the analysis, reports and next steps will differ based on who's reviewing it.

Are there multiple ways to approach CEM? Which do you think are most effective?

Liley: Carriers are very much interested in seeing data from the subscriber perspective and end-to-end performance data. They'd like to link the four categories Yankee Group defined (pricing and offering simplicity, network/services performance, customer care and billing) together, but that effort is in the early stages.

At this point, operators have to prioritize the network and service performance metrics.

Other than using a CEM solution, what can a provider do to ensure that their various business units -- network operations, customer care, billing and ordering -- are no longer siloed, treated as separate organizations, but can work together for cross-functional coordination to create enduring and productive customer relationships?

Liley: That's what OSS and BSS are really about. The problem is the effort and money it takes to bring those systems together. What we've done is bring a portion of those together and focus on the network and customer care elements, presenting that for different departments. We've developed a suite of seven applications specifically for those points of view, and in addition to that, to provide a seamless picture of the data. Those applications are: subscriber activity, data services management, marketing, roaming management, handset and devices, network operations, and network planning.

For example, say you're looking into subscriber activity data, and you want to investigate from the network planning perspective. You can choose to look directly at the network planning data or pass that information on to the customer care department to drill down into subscriber activity information, and then either side can run tests. The point is, these modules give service providers a seamless way to look at the data.

A CEM solution can be a helpful dashboard in terms of understanding QoE, but it has to also be tied to tools that can actually manage the network's performance. How does CEM fit into the overall network management landscape?

Liley: Step one is associating an issue down to a group of subscribers -- such as linking them to a tower with poor coverage in an affected area. At some point the operator will have to act on it and manage customer complaints.

One of the things Tekelec is doing with our other products, like our Diameter Signaling Router, Subscriber Data Management portfolio and Policy Server, is creating a closed-loop solution so that we can resolve issues as they come. We've created a feedback loop of reporting information in real time to service providers, enabling them to respond on the fly. This approach enables a network team to monitor traffic and change the dynamics of traffic flow in real time if it's affecting a particular area.

Use cases like this show the link between CEM and network management, where operators can leverage multiple products to provide applications that not only provide network visualization, but also the capabilities and "hooks" to provide a closed-loop system that carriers can monitor and address.

Are tiered-rate plans (where subscribers pay for guaranteed throughput, etc.) a good way to ensure quality of experience? Or do they just make matters more complicated for providers?

Liley: Tiered services, going beyond buckets of data, are an elegant and simple way to define the quality of service and help ensure that everyone has the network access they're paying for. Andy MacLeod at Vodafone presented at the Broadband Traffic Management event last year showing a direct link between network management and tiered plans. Once Vodafone began actively managing users based on their tiers, customer satisfaction rose across all groups. We believe this is because subscribers knew what to expect and still had quality network performance.

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