When historians of the mobile sector look back on 2010, what events will they pick as the year’s signature moments – LTE’s explosive growth, the evolution of prepaid to a broader market or perhaps the exciting run-up to Verizon’s iPhone launch?
Allow me to add my own candidate for the honor: the day the cellular industry began to put an end to the $68,000 phone bill.
It may not have the technical cache of a cool iPhone app, but the idea that customers no longer need dread opening a monthly bill for fear of what they’ll find may mean more to people than all the rest combined, particularly in today’s economy. This new level of certainty signifies a tipping point in customers’ attitudes toward mobile operators that choose to demonstrate the following principle to the public: “You can trust us.”
Whether we realize it or not at the moment, the business world has turned the corner on a whole new approach to customer management and revenue management. In many cases, nobody had to twist companies’ arms to get them to do the right thing. To be sure, “bill shock” stimulated government intervention in the United States, and we may soon see new rules emerge from the FCC that prevent operators from ever again dunning customers for any amount out of the ordinary without advance notice. What’s more telling, however, is that in a number of instances, service providers voluntarily took steps to end “bill shock.” These enterprises stand out because they were wise enough to see that customers’ interests closely mirror and support their companies’ own business objectives.
If you step back and consider the big picture, resolution of “bill shock” is one small part of a broad and revolutionary engagement in customer management and revenue management. The basic premise: recognition that ensuring customer satisfaction through a superior service experience at all levels, including billing, is essential to customer retention and has a direct spillover effect in revenue growth via improved financial performance, increased cash flow, and innovative ways to leverage and profit from a strong customer relationship.
After years of incredible, mind-blowing service advances, mobile operators now are committing an equal degree of time and energy to customer management and revenue management. They can do so thanks to major BSS advances whose sophistication in every way matches the technological prowess that stands behind commercial products and services. Customer management and revenue management are no longer step children or afterthoughts. They’ve grown up and come of age.
Mobile operators now have access to sophisticated BSS solutions that add important new functionality expressly designed to boost customer satisfaction and loyalty, while simultaneously creating new efficiencies to improve cash flow and profitability. On the customer management side, this functionality includes:
- Self-Defined Bill Limits: Forget “bill shock.” Customers can now set service-specific cost restrictions for usage to preclude unexpected charges, or define individual credit limits for organizations or families on a single billing account.
- Application Management Forum (AMF) and Web Services Support. Customers also can monitor usage in real time via web tools that provide detailed dashboards any time of the day or night, on-demand.
- Future Proofing: What if a service provider or one of their partners develops a stellar new product or service that customers can’t wait to get their hands on? No problem. Advanced rating and billing engines are “service agnostic” and can be quickly adapted to handle any upgrade, including support for third-party products.
- Real-Time Policies. On the other hand, what if the customer doesn’t want everybody in the office or the family having access to a new product or service? Now the customer easily can control access by opting in to rules-based policies for parental controls on phone calls, runaway teen messaging, or any mobile content that might raise Dad’s or Mom’s eyebrows. You’d prefer that kids’ smart phones show family-friendlyToy Story instead of Iron Man rocketing off to scourge evil-doers? Consider it done.
As more operators embrace robust revenue management solutions, they’ll find that the enhanced control they grant to customers is matched by a new set of “super powers” on the business side. Among the feats service providers can now perform: operational costs while giving wing to cash flow and profits. Important features now available in advanced BSS solutions include:
- Product Control Manager (PCM) Integration. To keep pace with the ever-changing interests of the marketplace, service providers need the ability to instantly pull together components across multiple sources to create hot new mobile apps – then decommission the service just as quickly and re-use product and rate modules to make way for the next day’s “must have” app. New simplified interfaces let service providers implement product lifecycle management capabilities in real time and at reduced cost, to develop and deliver new products in the instantaneous framework customers demand.
- Bill Time Discount Extension Point. Maybe an operator wants to offer a 50 percent discount on streaming video to every customer who uses 100 pre-approved minutes over a monthly plan’s allotted talk time. Now the provider can boost revenue opportunities and customer satisfaction with the ability to rapidly add any type of new discount, with only minimal coding required.
- Greater Control over Call Authorization. Prepaid just got a lot more flexible, to the improved satisfaction of customer and service provider alike. With advanced BSS solutions, once a threshold on usage is reached, the operator can refuse pre-authorizations for further calls, reducing risk and eliminating losses. At the same time, customers can recharge their allowance for certain types of usage.
- Cash Flow Improvements. Tired of getting dinged on taxes you don’t yet owe? Then take greater control over tax payments. BSS features can be set up to pay tax only when a service is consumed versus on the date of an invoice, improving operators’ monthly cash flow.
Such features are state of the art for BSS and mobility in 2010, but by no means the end story. As the evolution of customer management and revenue management progresses, expect to see increasingly fine-grained controls that further empower customers and service providers. The goal: an environment that operates so smoothly for the customer and profitably for the business that every day brings a superlative experience – on all sides.
For customers and the mobile operators that serve them, the main event will be a day when every point of interaction produces a new and entirely pleasurable kind of shock – the jolt of excitement that comes when you’re in control.
Morag Lucey is global vice president of marketing and product management for Convergys’ Smart Billing and Customer Care Solutions for the telecom, cable, satellite, broadband and utilities markets.