Do CSPs Need to Make the Most of Social Media?

A Tan
Author: Andrew Tan CIO
Date: 20th June 2017
Categories: Technology, Data, Telecoms, Billing & Charging, Neural Technologies, Big Data

A long-time companion and I were recently reminiscing about how much the telecoms industry has changed in the last 20 years. I remember my parents were unable to have a decent long-distance conversation with my sister who was studying overseas, and would then receive a bill shock at the end of the month. For the same reasons, those conversations tended to be short and to the point. And yes, I remember using a phone booth regularly!

Now worldwide video calls for business on your smartphone are normal. Exchanging ideas, moods, opinions through all kinds of media, and especially through social networks, has taken global communications to unimaginable levels. Our entire way of interacting with each other has truly changed; the future has arrived quicker than we thought.

With information now everywhere and travelling faster than ever, everyone is better informed than just five years ago. That’s true for the Communications Service Providers’ (CSP) customers, too, of course. If they are unhappy with the service, they will let their friends on Facebook or WhatsApp know. Found a better deal? They may spread the word. Experience an outage on their cable service? They can instantly look up the complaints coming from their neighborhood on the web and discover whether the issue is limited to their part of town or a wider region. And while they are at it, they can vent their anger instantly on the social media of their choice.

So as new technologies provide new possibilities, customers have more choice on how to communicate and benefit. This has an impact on customer behavior and customers will adapt according to their individual wants. They will also have more questions around on how to mix their services and needs in order to satisfy their specific requirements. Telco operators must take this into consideration and constantly adjust their strategy accordingly. In order to do this sensibly, they must know a lot more about customers than ever before. Social media plays an important role here, especially with the younger generation, and it is not a question of if CSPs need to engage, but why their efforts aren’t already underway.

Most CSPs are already active within social networks in one way or another, making sure to reach existing and future customers and defend their turf against the competition. Most of the efforts, however, are more in the form of broad advertising within social networks, e.g maintaining a corporate Facebook page, Twitter, etc. CSPs tend to be slow in adopting strategies aimed at connecting directly with the individual end-user through social channels. A direct connection, however, provides much more benefit than just having a “point-of-presence” within the various social media environments. Again, taking Facebook as an example there is a lot that CSPs can learn about their individual customer when connecting with them. Depending on the individual settings users share information such as friends, photos, other pages they ‘like’ e.g. products, music, movies, even political movements and much more. Or imagine being able to automatically follow individual customer’s twitter accounts and auto-scan the data for relevant information. The list can be extended almost endlessly.

The examples above prove that information is readily available “in the social cloud”; it’s really a matter of harvesting it and doing something meaningful with it in order to drive marketing and sales activities, provide additional customer care channels and connect with Generations X, Y and Z in the way they prefer.

CRM systems have traditionally been the center of information around a customer. Now with all these new technologies, this is changing. Extracting information from social media means entering the field of Big Data analytics to detect which customer has problems with the service, who is a supporter and influencer, and better understand individual interests to identify upselling opportunities not merely by segment, but down to the single user.

This also provides the opportunity to not just react to customers once they decide to vent their dissatisfaction with the call center, but possibly proactively approach and manage them before they decide to leave (churn prevention).

Such an effort could be accompanied by an improved custom tailored offer to the customer’s profile. Today very few can imagine that CSPs would offer such individualised tariff packages in practice. But looking at how online advertising works it is evident that offers can not only reach the audience but actually increase conversion rates! It’s only a matter of time until CSPs will be able to tailor product packaging to such an extent that no two customers have exactly the same conditions of service.

Traditional business processes must change and will require a whole new generation of backend systems. It will take years for operators to adapt. Sometimes the better choice may be to start a new corporate brand for specific customer segments and run it on an already adjusted, future-oriented and experimental OSS/BSS environment geared towards the new possibilities. This can be used to practice and learn and then subsequently use it as a launchpad for additional brands, or simply migrate it to the main brand and gradually replace the legacy environment.

The daily routine of the customer service representative (CSR) will likely change as well. There will still be people in call centers, but they will be complemented with CSRs taking care of customers through social media, messaging applications, forums and more. Whoever is in touch with a customer will have so much more information at hand that it will become very important to extract and present what’s really relevant to the CSR, and make sure that he not only draws the right conclusions but is presented with a choice of actions he can take towards the customer.

It’s a very interesting time for IT managers within CSPs to manage these challenges, and it may require a new generation of professionals to pull this through, keeping all options open. An agile infrastructure and systems landscape will be key to successfully transforming enterprises and the real threat for the CSP here may not come from their traditional counterparts but from companies like Google who are already buying and setting up their own networks. Sometimes the light at the end of the tunnel is the train approaching you.