Aiming for accuracy

Operators can boost customer satisfaction and reduce churn by acting on data gathered from their network operations.

Tags: Tektronix IncorporatedUnited Arab Emirates
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Aiming for accuracy
By  Keith Cobler Published  December 21, 2009 Communications Middle East & Africa Logo

Two levers drive financial success in today’s telecommunications arena: driving top line growth (revenue) while minimising cost to deliver it. More than ever, the consumer holds tremendous power given the ultra competitive nature of today’s market and the variety of choices available to them.

Not only are there more customer segments that need to be served, but each segment has become more demanding, requiring unique product attributes at variable price points. For a large Tier-1 or Tier-2 carrier, there are significant challenges that must be overcome to deliver many personalised services.

Fortunately, a great deal of information already exists within the network that can reveal a lot about a carrier’s customers. In principle, this information can be used for two key purposes. Firstly, to understand how a carrier’s customers are using their services in a bid to more accurately predict future customer needs and trends, and secondly to quantify the level of satisfaction among customers.

Although the answers to this puzzle lie somewhere within the networks themselves, many operators do not have the facts and figures they need to make better business decisions that will ultimately impact on their success.

What network operators need is ‘Network Intelligence’, a broad concept that in practice is accomplished by collecting data from the network and turning it into actionable information that can be leveraged by multiple groups within the organisation of the operator.  Network Intelligence not only helps operators more efficiently run their networks, but also make better operational and business decisions based on accurate, real-time information to ensure that the end-customer is satisfied.

Although the necessary data is flowing through the network, it is surprising that this information is not available for many operators in an easily assessable format that can be leveraged by multiple groups within an operator. Those operators who are empowered with Network Intelligence solutions can leverage the information to drive business results and allow significant competitive advantages to be realised in what is becoming a very competitive and uncertain market.

Need for network intelligence

Telecom subscribers now have more choices than ever before as similar services are being offered by multiple service providers. Some operators have tried to compete on the basis of cost, while others try to continually differentiate themselves from the competition by adding new services.

In either case, attempting to wring unnecessary costs out of a network or more effectively bring new services to market are impossible goals if the operator cannot quantify how its network resources are being used, or how satisfied its customers are, based on their personal experience.

Future strategy

The importance of customer satisfaction cannot be underestimated. Financially, the cost penalty of losing a customer is significant and is brought about by a customer’s dissatisfaction with one or several of the following factors: discontent with billing/payment/credit options; handset choices; service features; service plan options; customer service; network quality; and price.

In addition to the cost of losing a customer, there are costs associated with having to replace a subscriber (via marketing and sales), lost revenue due to early termination of the service agreement, the cost of returning subscriber equipment, in addition to any costs incurred by the call centre processing the termination request.

In the future, the ability to quantify and continually track an individual customer experience will become more important and significantly complex. From a technology perspective, the network infrastructure is migrating from individual, stand-alone networks to a single, integrated multimedia network.

In addition to supporting the patchwork of underlying legacy networks, added complexity is also being introduced for a given user session related to signalling and media protocols and quality of service. Although carriers face challenges and complexity in bringing multimedia and personalised services to the market, ultimately, the consumer does not care how hard it is to deliver those services. The consumer cares about the quality of their individual experience in using those services.

Today, there are a growing number of cases where the network is working well in terms of delivering services and applications, but the consumer may be experiencing problems that the operator may not know about such as the time it takes to download or set up an application or the customer provision has been incorrectly set.

Closing the customer experience gap – the difference between what your customers expect and what the network is delivering – is the key to ensuring customer satisfaction and retention. To close this gap, network operators require accurate, actionable information from every point where the customer touches the network.

Valuable data

Information is power and having access to network monitoring solutions that collect data from the network, correlate it and then make it available for upstream processing and analysis is fundamental to implementing a Network Intelligence strategy. At the same time, it is equally important to have the ability to get actionable information into the hands of those who are empowered to take action back downstream in the network. Departments such as network operations, engineering, customer care, marketing, sales or other OSS/BSS departments are all in desperate need of  accurate, real-time (or historical) information to make better decisions that impact their customers and how they are served.

To embark on a Network Intelligence strategy, network capabilities must be aligned with well defined business objectives. For example, with a mobile operator whose value proposition is targeted at business users who require high-speed, reliable data services, then its network needs to be optimised so that it is able to deliver high-quality, high-speed data services.

As is often the case, there can be multiple sub-levers that contribute to a given lever that must also be identified. After identifying what levers impact a desired business outcome, Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are then assigned to each lever. Depending on the nature of the KPI, a nominal and threshold value can be assigned and monitored. In the high-speed data service example mentioned above, the key levers that affect the operator’s desired business objective might be ones related to the network quality of service, of which KPIs related to monitoring data rates, packet loss and delay might be used.

Finally, and fundamental to any Network Intelligence strategy, is the ability to collect and correlate - cost-effectively - signaling and media data from across the network.  Depending on the amount and type of traffic specific to the network, probes are selected and placed at key points within the network infrastructure to collect the right data that will be transformed into actionable information.

Positive feedback

Market dynamics and the realities of today’s global economy have resulted in fierce competition in today’s telecommunications market. To succeed, telecom operators must focus on the quality of their network and ensure that everyone of their customers is having a high quality experience at all times. This is not easy given the diversity of customer segments and ever-changing customer needs.

By adopting a Network Intelligence strategy, multiple groups within a network operator are empowered with actionable information; meaningful, real-time information that allows them to more efficiently run their network, make better decisions on customer satisfaction and retention and close the customer experience gap. As a result they will gain a significant competitive advantage and be better equipped to deal with the harsh climate the industry currently faces.

Keith Cobler is network intelligence manager at Tektronix Communications, a US company that provides a suite of network diagnostics and management solutions for fixed, mobile, IP and converged multi-service networks.

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