In the emergent digital world, we’ve become good at talking about opportunity. Digitisation promises the mother-lode of commercial opportunities as retail businesses re-invent themselves to profit in the new landscape, we’re told.
And yet. In a world where the customer is promised he or she will be king, customer engagement is too often not keeping up with expectations. Enterprises risk generating a considerable backlash if they don’t get their tactics right.
It’s instructive to learn from the experience of the telecommunications industry when considering present realities, not least because it’s in the provision of connectivity that Communications Service Providers (CSPs) sit, at the beating heart of the Internet Age. In theory, they should be the first to get the new model of customer engagement right.
Despite this, the multi-level infrastructure and communications shift, demanded by digitization, has become a critical issue for CSPs. That’s because in the telecommunications world, new subscriber growth has slowed and profits have been eroded due to price wars that often lead to the self-destructive commoditization of services. This reduces ARPU at the same time that the cost to serve and consumer demand for connectivity speeds/volume of data consumption has increased.
What gives? At a time when their offerings are in greater demand than ever before, many service providers are struggling to compete. The end user may have reached the land of milk and honey but the enterprise serving him or her, it appears, has not.
One thing is clear: No longer can the telecommunications (or any other) industry treat or charge customers as they have done before, in this case at the SIM card level. Today, CSPs have to engage customers at a household level.
Successful customer engagement in the Age of Customer-Centricity requires a deeper understanding of user preferences, profiles and requirements in order to capture customer interest in relevant products and services and thus to maintain brand loyalty. Traditional approaches to customer engagement - batch data-based, below-the-line campaigns and static, transactional points program-based solutions - must therefore give way to a set of new, highly engaging, offer and loyalty programs that are built for a generation of demanding, social media-empowered digital natives.
At Evolving Systems, the recognition of this accelerating technology-led change and the rise of the digital consumer has led us to identify four key pillars of action, the response to which we believe will define how brands drive customer loyalty in the nascent, always-on, connected world and how successful they are at doing that. These pillars are:
Intelligent Customer Engagement – A focus on customer engagement must now be a priority for any business operating on a digital platform; with particular regard to Loyalty, it is critical in order to keep customers satisfied and maintain long term, active relationships with the brand. The digital channel allows CSPs to engage customers in real-time at the ‘moment of truth’, no matter where they are. Intelligent customer engagement, for example via gamified mechanics, keeps subscribers excited and satisfied.
Deeper insight through analytics – The amount of data available to brands continues to grow at an exponential pace as consumers use digital channels to interact and transact, thereby leaving digital footprints that provide insight into the entire customer journey from initial awareness through to post-purchase satisfaction. For CVM Campaign and Loyalty programs, this data will form the basis for personalization, reward relevance and designing superior customer experiences and it is therefore critical that CSPs are able to access solutions that fully leverage the insights that data holds.
More choice through an open partner ecosystem – The walled garden approach of traditional rewards programs is giving way to a more open ecosystem of partners where loyal customers can ‘spend’ their credits with a host of different partners. The digital channel has opened the opportunity to integrate with physical and digital partners on a global scale. This trend of openness is here to stay, and will remain a key element for brands to remain relevant and secure ongoing customer engagement within their loyalty programs. For CSPs, the technologies required to manage such open relationships with important brand partners is now critical.
Catering to always-on and omni-channel – Customer Value, Retention and Rewards Programs have to adapt to an always-on consumer who is channel agnostic, expecting the brand to engage on email, app, or twitter, or SMS in real-time. This is difficult, but it is also an opportunity to engage with customers in a highly relevant and timely manner. Telcos must find ways to provide meaningful cross-channel experiences at the right level of frequency.
The Four Pillars of Engagement, combined with the nascent digital landscape described at the start of this article, suggest that CSPs urgently need to revitalize or even reinvent their customer engagement tactics and processes. This is because they have to manage their customers’ journeys more effectively and in so doing they also have to deliver a far more personalized experience.
It is almost certain that neither of these goals can adequately be met using legacy technologies This means, over the coming months, that CSPs will face making vital investment in customer engagement.
This is recognised, and it would be inaccurate to suggest that the process of investment has not already started. Applications addressing requirements in areas such as self-care and provisioning in particular have seen increasing attention in recent months.
A survey by Omdia (formerly Ovum) suggests that this year, the top three investments CSPs intend to make are in customer lifecycle management, digital product catalog, and chatbots and virtual agents. These, furthermore, are likely to be significant investments.
However, a piecemeal approach to solving the problems of operating effectively in the new digital landscape is unlikely to be enough. Joined-up thinking and joined-up operations - a new, lean customer-centricity where experience is prioritized by both operations and IT systems - has to be the goal.
Data also represents a challenge as it is axiomatic that improving customer-facing processes requires better access to data sources. This is why data management has been a focal point for early CSP digital transformation efforts. Effective customer engagement means bringing together multiple data sources. Good-quality data and improved data storage are the backbone of improved customer engagement and innovative use cases.
Engagement driven by personalization demands the unification and standardization of communications across multiple channels and categories of customer-related operations. Technology therefore needs to leverage a broad mix of capabilities. New systems will need to integrate with both digital and non-digital customer channels as well as with back-office platforms such as billing and product catalog and front-line activities such as sales and marketing. A wide range of functions will need to be better aligned to support the customer experience, including cloud infrastructure, unified customer data management, security and compliance mechanisms, interaction intelligence, and process automation.
The requirement today is for a new type of Customer Engagement Platform (CEP). This will be a technology that moves away from traditional product-centric and siloed approaches and replaces legacy with a holistic approach to customer engagement. Investing in these sorts of broad-based customer engagement solutions rather than continuing to rely on the point solutions of the past is now table stakes for success.
Adhish Kulkarni is SVP and GM Digital Engagement and Loyalty Solutions for Evolving Systems