Operators need for Baby Steps in Business Intelligence, More TMO Customer Service Woes, and the ITization of Telecoms

Amazon provides amazing customer service, I’ve never had to call them through the hundreds of transactions, everything is just there online.  Its respectful of my time and lack of patience.  Comparing this to my latest TMO (T-Mobile) experience has me wishing Amazon would take over TMO’s customer service.  The week before last my wife had her unlocked iPhone pick-pocketed at Short Hills Mobile in NJ, I called TMO on Friday 9th to report the theft and request a new SIM be sent through.  I couldn’t do it online so I had to call and navigate an immensely frustrating IVR (Interactive Voice Response) system.  It took until the 15th for the SIM to arrive, there was no order status on TMO’s website, I had to again call to find out what’s happening.  The IVR kept misinterpreting what I said, it was like a comedy, it was the worst and most frustrating customer service experience this year.  I was left thinking their call center provider was a competitor.  And through all the frustration I was reminded of my transparent, near real-time, online Amazon.com experience that simply works and leaves me feeling satisfied as a customer.

This comparison to Amazon is important because operators not only need to copy Amazon’s online customer service they also need to copy Amazon in how they use their vast repository of customer data.  I’ve been a customer of TMO for many years, they’ve earned thousands of dollars from me and not once have they contacted me.  Amazon tells me about tons of good, relevant things, like stuff for my 7 month old son just before it turns out I really do need it – they’re amazing.  TMO are not in the same league, and they should be.

Operators have access to an immense range of data, they know everything Google / Amazon knows plus: where you are at all times of the day, how fast you’re driving, where you like to go on weekends, where you have dinner, where you had lunch, how long you were at lunch.  When you entered a country, how often you enter that country, how much you spend on communication services, what web services you use when in that country.  When and where you use value added  / web services.  If you use lots of data services at home.  The phone numbers of your friends, who you ignore, when you ignore calls.  The phone numbers of your business associates, who you talk to most.  Your favorite TV programs, when you like to watch TV, what interactive TV services you use.  All your SMS (why are they not searchable and stored in the network?)  All your voice messages (why are they not searchable?)  The list goes on…  Yet operators some how believe they can monetize this information without first proving they can use it.

What’s stopping telcos adopting what Amazon has done for years?  Its actually a mind set issue not a technology or business issue.  Jumping up a level and comparing telecom and IT to explain that I mean.

From a technology perspective we’re witnessing the ITization of Telecoms, not a merger: IP was an enterprise technology (when it achieved scale) that is now the core of telecoms, not ATM; SOA is an IT work-flow bus that is now the core of an operators’ service delivery and business operations.  Similarly, the TMF will be replaced with ITIL, because enterprises use ITIL not TMF.  Operators must talk the language of their customers.  Its a scale / TTM (Time To Market) issue, enterprise has scale and rapid evolution (starts small and feature rich and rapidly evolves into 5 9s).  Telecom continues to try to create a custom world in 7 days and fails.  As an example the Apple iPhone app store implements an on-device portal that telecom operators had offered to them since 2002!  As an industry we’re missing opportunities because of an insular attitude that ignores the methods of IT’s success – start small, focus on a high value problem and grow from there.

Put simply operators should copy Amazon’s service development model, putting small 5-6 people teams together to solve a specific high value problem.   For example in customer relationship innovation, perhaps examining a segment of small medium businesses and finding ways to save them costs through the operator’s services using the business intelligence the operator has available.  Granted Amazon has a loosely coupled service oriented framework to make this work efficiently, but there’s nothing stopping operators doing the same.

The communications industry continues to struggle with its IT spend.  Compared to industry averages, operators spend 9% of revenue on IT compared to an industry average of 4%.  70% of that spend is on legacy systems, and 75% is on custom systems rather than COTS (Commercial Off The Shelf).  Are operators’ business processes so different they require custom systems?  Are customers even aware of such differentiation?  The answer is no.  These figures are perverse, 80% of spend should be on new customer facing platforms and COTS – a minority on legacy and custom solutions.    We’ve got to fundamentally change the industry’s mindset else customers will choose Amazon – as they already are for VAS (Value Added Services) such as movie rentals.  Just compare the Amazon on Demand experience with that of your IPTV provider – they’re not in the same league.

Its not a technology or business issue we’ve got to fundamentally rethink how we solve problems.  No grand all-encompassing architectures that take 5 years to build, rather a loosely coupled service oriented system with lots of small teams solving high value problems that if successful grow and if not die.

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