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Smart CSPs are accelerating their digital investments and making bills more effective

(Image credit: Image Credit: Billion Photos / Shutterstock)

One of the unsung heroes of the Covid-19 crisis has been our communications networks and the staff who support them. They weren’t always thanked. Conspiracy theories abounded, telecoms engineers were abused and vital equipment destroyed. Throughout the crisis though and despite the challenges, staff worked hard to keep everyone connected and able to carry on.

The scale of what they have had to deal with is unimaginable. We might have found ourselves grumbling that our connection was slower than we would have liked, or even that it sometimes dropped. But putting aside the hubris of some senior executives, no-one could foresee a situation where overnight half the population were suddenly working from home or substituting a trip to the cinema for Netflix streaming. Our networks weren’t dimensioned for this situation. But it’s a testament to our communications service providers and their staff that the industry worked so tirelessly to keep us all connected.

As the crisis phase of Covid-19 passes, and life begins to normalize, the telecoms industry has now turned its attention to what comes next.

What comes next for business customers is that they have to review their spending and the new ICT products they bought during the crisis phase just to keep the lights on and aid their survival. They urgently need to get OPEX back under control and to figure out how they best support a more distributed mode of working. Survey after survey shows that most workers are in no rush to get back to their desks and want to continue working from home for at least some of the week. That has enormous consequences for how we support business customers.

What comes next for consumers and SMEs is a worrying time in the autumn when furlough schemes and short-time working come to an end. Some have used credit to help tied them over. Eventually they’ll have to start paying back overdrafts and loans. This means they are going to have to decide what they can do without and trim their discretionary spending accordingly. While telecoms services will be regarded as essential by most, they’re still not immune. Some people might decide to spend less on mobile services, for example, and spend more on broadband. Or they spend more on digital to save on real-world alternatives – substituting Netflix for the cinema, and gaming for the pub.

Change is coming

Whatever they decide, a lot of change is coming and that change will have to be supported and communicated clearly to customers.

As if this were not challenging enough, CSPs are also in the middle of a major service upgrade, including the roll out of 5G, FTTP and Wi-Fi 6. Collectively they have spent billions on the next generation of networks and now urgently need to monetize their investments.

Thousands of words have already been lavished on the potential offered by increased network speeds, lower latency and cheaper data, and the exciting digital services these new networks will enable. But there’s a sting in the tail of all this innovation. If customers don't understand the charges for new and unfamiliar services, as well as the effect of more frequent changes to their packages, they'll pick up the phone and ring call centers in exasperation. This is disastrous for the commercial relationship between CSPs and their customers - raising frustration levels and support costs, and potentially putting people off trying new services in the first place.

Clearly communicating change to charges, products and promotions is one of the most pressing issues CSPs face. And it’s not one they’ve been historically good at.

According to recent research that Omnisperience conducted amongst North American and European service providers, 75 percent admitted their customers were calling their overworked call center staff simply because they didn’t understand their bills.

Let me be clear about this. It’s not because the bills were incorrect. In most cases the cause of customer frustration was misunderstanding, confusion and miscommunication.

Now imagine working in a call center where customer after customer is ringing you already angry, upset or frustrated. Suddenly you’re not working in a contact center but in a crisis center. And day after day you have to put out customer fires caused by poor communication. This isn’t a fulfilling career for anyone.

Speeding up digitization

Grainne Magfhloinn, SVP of digital communications specialists Soft-ex points out the conundrum: “CSPs have spent billions transforming their operations, but this key piece of the puzzle – bill communications – has been overlooked despite bills being one of the most important touchpoints with customers.” This isn’t because CSPs are unaware of the problem. Magfhloinn goes on to explain: “CSPs have known they need to fix this for a long time, but they’ve had so much to do it kept slipping off their to-do list. Now they’re facing huge and continual changes in their commercial relationships and they know they can’t delay improving this any longer”.

The current situation is far from ideal.  Lack of investment in this area has made it hard for CSPs to provide the type of digital experience and level of customer care they aspire to. At best, people are bored by their bills and throw them in drawers unopened. At worst, they’re shocked by their bill and reach for their phone to complain, adrenaline levels rising. This isn’t the sort of experience anyone expects in 2020. Telecoms bills have to improve and soon.

The great news is that this is exactly what’s about to happen. Our recent research revealed that 75 percent of CSPs are speeding up their digitalization efforts as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, and 84 percent are investing in more effective commercial communication within the next two years.

Specifically, 92 percent plan to rollout better analytical and reporting capabilities, 75 percent will introduce self-serve bills and 83 percent will improve the look and feel of their bills. They’re also going to improve the flexibility of their bills, so both they and their customers can easily make changes to them, and they’re going to tailor and personalize bills to the needs of their customers.

Great news for customers

This is great news for customers, CSPs and their staff. Better bill communication is the foundation of successful digital service provision and healthy customer relationships. Making bills more effective creates a virtuous circle of happier customers, lower support costs and more fulfilled staff who spend less time fire-fighting and more time enhancing the customers’ experience.

But how are CSPs going to unlock these benefits any time soon? Giant digital transformations have already been going on for years and still haven’t fixed many of these basic problems. The answer is that instead of trying to boil the ocean, CSPs are now adopting a LEAN approach to digital transformation. LEAN advocates focusing on where the most perceivable value can be delivered and prioritizing this. In this case, CSPs are focusing on the thin layer closest to the customer to speed things up.

Most of the customer benefits will derive from transforming this layer which will provide consolidated bills, greater flexibility to change the look and feel of bills, and a host of new features. Effectively, it provides a digital skin, leaving the underlying legacy infrastructure intact, allowing it to be modernized and consolidated in a less risky and more controlled way over time.

The challenge is to transform this thin layer as quickly as possible, so that CSPs can deliver the type of digital experience that customers will need and expect going forward.

Teresa Cottam, Chief Analyst, Omnisperience

Teresa Cottam is the Chief Analyst at leading independent B2B telecoms analyst firm Omnisperience.