Monday, June 20, 2011

It's now all about the experience

Or how customers experiences and expectations of mobile communications have changed over the years and are now driving innovation and evolution in the telecommunications industry.

During the induction to my first job in the Telecommunications industry (well over 20 years ago), one presenter claimed that within a matter of a few years everyone that wanted one would carry a mobile phone. This doesn’t seem very radical now, but back then it seemed a pretty ambitious target and we weren’t all convinced. Remarkably he was correct, by the mid-1990’s mobile phones were pretty much common-place, albeit not the throw away commodity they are now.

Technological advancements in the industry over the last 20 years have been enormous, but what I find almost as interesting is the change in customer expectations.

When mobile phones first became generally available in the UK it was common to not have sufficient signal to make or receive a call. Dropped calls were the norm rather than an exception and connections to other mobile networks expensive and often unreliable. Though often frustrated customers rarely complained, most accepted the situation as the cost of using such new and novel technology. These days phone users expect immediate, reliable connections and in most cases not just to any other phone but also to the internet where they can access email or surf the internet. A quick browse on some of the network forums provides a useful insight in to the expectations and demands of current customers.

This increased expectation of service delivery has been coupled with a decrease in the price customers are willing to pay. After investing billions in the rollout of network infrastructure, mobile phone companies are now watching traffic increase rapidly over their networks but revenues remain static. Customers simply demand and expect more for less. This scenario is mirrored across all countries with established mobile communication industries.

The role of mobile phone companies has also changed. Most have grown from simple network operators, building and managing mobile networks, to providing completely integrated communication services earning their new communication service providers (CSPs) moniker. This change has also blurred the lines between types of service provider, with technologies and consolidation driving a shift to convergent operators providing mobile phones alongside internet, fixed line and even cable services. Providers need to be able to offer customers a seamless service across a wide range of products, competing with increasing demand for services at an ever reducing cost.

My own career has followed this evolution in the industry quite closely. The first role I had was as a manufacturing engineer building switches for a telecoms equipment vendor. I was quickly seduced by computers with the power and flexibility of software applications to provide solutions and enhancements to the basic hardware. 

As mobile networks started to gain traction and coverage expanded to more users, my career shifted towards software products designed to manage these networks - operations support systems (OSS). Initially these were focused on network performance and fault management but with a subsequent migration into overall service assurance solutions. As the business and operations support (B/OSS) functions began to merge so did the solutions I was delivering, until finally the concept of customer experience solutions (CES) and management (CEM) were introduced. 

As their customers demand more for less, CSPs are increasing looking at how they can monitor, manage and control the experience of their customers. Software vendors are likewise striving to meet these requirements  by providing more and more integrated solutions across the whole spectrum of customer, business and operations support.

Industry sources are starting to suggest the next big steps for CSPs will be customer experience transformations (CET). Which is just as well, because I’ve had my sabbatical away from the industry over the last couple of years and I’m keen to jump straight back in where I left off...