Telecom Operators:
Behold The New Customer-Service Network Stack

COT WP
You’ve come a long way since rotary phones and 10-cent pay phones ruled the telecom infrastructure. You’ve been through mergers, breakups and other industry traumas; through difficult migrations from analog to digital technology; and through the specter of new competition from startups in all shapes and sizes.

A lingering challenge, however, is one of image, of being viewed as little more than a “dumb pipe.” In these days of WiFi, Bluetooth and value-added everything, you’re still considered a commodity service. In a 2018 survey of customer attitudes by UK-based TechForge, nearly nine out of ten said they perceived their telco provider as a utility company.

TechForge said “Breaking free of this ‘utility’ label is going to take customer-focused transformation,” yet “telcos are finding that they cannot rely on historical data to understand customer behavior and meet their needs.”

IoT To The Rescue

To the rescue now comes the Internet of Things, and the wealth of new customer data that it promises. Also coming are new customers, by the millions. A 2017 McKinsey report notes that by 2025 telecom companies can expect one billion new middle-tier customers.

But are telecoms ready to exploit these opportunities? Only if they recognize that customer support and services will require a direct, real-time link to their network infrastructures in order to take advantage of the rapid changes in customer demands for new services, and to avoid the rapid disillusionment that can result from mediocre support commitments.

Retail customers want omni-channel transparency, for instance, so they can change touchpoints, say from online to mobile-phone to retail shopping, without having to re-enter information or refresh redundant screens. Travelers want up-to-the-minute weather and traffic reports, and vehicle-to-vehicle communications.

Businesses want even more. Logistics companies want real-time vehicle and asset tracking that can do everything from optimizing delivery routes – especially valuable in times of storms or high traffic density – to generating proactive alerts about faulty vehicles. The medical industry wants real-time imaging diagnostics, clinical trial monitoring, and even medication adherence.

The trick, however, lies in choosing the right solutions for you, based on your abilities and strategic goals.

That’s why recognizing the new stack, with network infrastructure on the bottom and customer applications at the top, requires a top-level, cultural commitment to change and a similar, top-down commitment to making the most of IoT analytics.

Why is cultural change difficult? Because of the long-held animosity between the data domains of IT-managed business support systems, or BSS, and the signal domains of operations support systems, or OSS, which is where telecoms made their fortunes as network operators.

Digital married analog decades ago, but the negative vestiges can still be seen today, in hiring practices and budget allocations, for instance – and in cultural and real disconnects between customer services and network underpinnings.

Transformation Starts At The Top

These disconnects are why real improvement in customer service must start with a serious commitment from top management.

Just last year, for example, multinational broadband/telecom supplier Telefonica announced the addition of a fourth platform to its corporate technology stack. The new platform, which offers customer-focused cognitive intelligence, sits atop Telefonica’s three other corporate platforms: physical assets: IT infrastructure, and products and services.

According to Telefonica, the fourth platform will “make cognitive sense” of the full data flow. Among other things, it will let customers “ask questions about the products and services they use; create and track a claim; manage and unblock device access to the WiFi router provided by Telefonica; get information about their favorite shows and program their recording; or be alerted when their data consumption is greater than usual.”

Telefonica’s customer services will be mindful of privacy concerns, too, making it easy for customers to see the data they generate when using the company’s products and services, and determine whether to share data-generated insights with third parties.

Where IoT Analytics Fit

For Telefonica and other telecom companies, bringing the new customer-service stack to life will be real-time IoT analytics. Any customer tracking data flow or seeking to unblock device access to a router will expect a response that’s both instantaneous and accurate.

One of the greatest competitive advantages of telecoms is what’s called “scale,” the experience and technical insight gained from years of managing vast network ecosystems. As this experience and insight bubbles up to customer devices, it will have to be in the best possible working order. Not only that, but it will have to be more useful – offer better and faster features – than the competitor’s device.

The only way to assure both these outcomes will be to employ real-time IoT analytics all the way from predictive and pre-emptive network diagnostics up to real-time vehicle routing or collision avoidance.

That’s not all. Expect real-time customer-facing analytics to grow into profit-making services in their own right, with telecoms offering analytics-as-a-service to their managed virtual network partners. This will let MVN operators add value to their customer stacks by opening new B2B markets, for instance, and, as a result, calling to the telecom for more services, and more bandwidth.

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