|Latin America III 1998
|Fixed Mobile Communications Customer Care & Billing: More Than Just Getting the Bills Out
|Vice President of Marketing
|Saville Systems, USA
With the majority of the telecommunications industry embracing Fixed Mobile Communications (FMC), how will one operator be more successful than another? In many cases, it will come down to innovative marketing and quality customer service. Indeed, billing is only one of many critical issues. In order to succeed with FMC, operators must be supported by systems that provide convergence for all their mission-critical requirements, which is more than just the production of an integrated bill.
It is difficult to read any telecommunications publications these days without noticing that yet another service provider has announced a Fixed Mobile Communications (FMC) package in Latin America, Europe or the US. FMC – which provides a range of fixed and mobile services bundled into a single package – is appealing to operators because users want to do one-stop FMC shopping. Single-Vendor Theory This is borne out by recently published figures from telecommunications consultants The Yankee Group reporting that within the wireless user base, 63% are interested in a single provider. When analysing customers who spend over US$50 a month on wireless services, the study further found that 73% are interested in a single provider, and 67% would prefer receiving a single bill. A recent quote from one of the world’s leading Global system for Mobile Communications (GSM) switch vendors further enforces this single-vendor theory and neatly summarises a position held across the industry: “In the future, a single operator will supply all the corporate user’s fixed and mobile communications needs.” Although billing for FMC is relatively straightforward, it is also technologically obsolete. Operators typically take feeds from existing billing systems and create invoices by electronically stapling these feeds together. This is at best a myopic approach and, at worst, a clear-cut waste of money. Integrated Bill Those operators who succeed with FMC will be those who take the view that FMC billing systems must support much more than the production of an integrated bill. These systems must offer fully convergent functionality for all associated processes within billing and customer care. These include call (event) collection, service order, marketing, customer care, billing and post billing. Convergence: Organisational Impact FMC will change the way many operators do business. It is fine to have a functionally rich FMC billing and customer care system, but the system needs to be backed by business processes that dovetail with the underpinnings of FMC. In Scandinavia, for example, Telia, Tele Denmark and Telenor have all brought their mobile operations back into the corporate fold. Customer Service Representatives (CSRs) who once only dealt with GSM questions may now be trained to answer fixed line queries. Also the culture of traditional fixed line operators and relatively young mobile operators may be different and this will have to be accommodated. The sales and marketing channels for mobiles have traditionally differed from fixed services. Again this is another area where operators will need to analyse the effects of FMC. We are also seeing partnerships and mergers between fixed and mobile operators in the competitive quest for FMC. This creates a multi-pronged situation wherein competition may not only create choices for customers but also, choices for a GSM operator seeking a fixed wire partner or other partners with whom to offer seamless convergent services. Such alliances could become confusing and conflictive as partners attempt to deduce who ‘owns’ the customers. A Good Example In order for operators to provide a seamless convergent telecommunications solution, they need to be fully supported by convergent systems, unified business process and even a new convergent organisational structure and culture. A good example of this convergent organisational structure can be viewed in organisations that segment the marketing and customer care functions by customer type, as opposed to technology type. In this environment, a customer could call up a customer care representative and get information on their GSM, fixed wire, Internet and Cable TV services via a single phone call. Can you imagine calling your telecommunications operator, placing an order for a pay-per-view event and then inquiring about GSM coverage in Australia because you have got a business trip coming up? This is a very simple example but clearly demonstrates the very real benefits of convergent customer care and billing systems. These remarkable new capabilities are made possible by the fact that CSRs can access a wealth of customer and marketing data very quickly from a convergent system. The key is building the databases within the customer care system around the customer. To improve efficiency and minimise the time that any inquiry takes to reach successful resolution of all issues, a good customer care system should interface with integrated voice response (IVR), computer telephony integration (CTI) and automatic call distribution (ACD). System Implications Any FMC billing and customer care system must be designed as a convergent system from the beginning. Integrating different billing systems to produce a FMC solution can be a dangerous and costly exercise. Traditionally billing systems have billed a telephone number, which is unique to a type of service (GSM, fixed line voice, etc.). With FMC, however, the customer may be using multiple services from a single supplier, and therefore have multiple telephone numbers and network IDs. Fortunately, these multiple services can be made transparent to the customer by using intelligent networks which route calls to a mobile or fixed network, depending on the location of the customer. FMC systems must take the traditional billing system model and invert it. This means the customer must be at the top of the structure, and the billing point within the system. In this scenario, it is possible to have numerous different service types (GSM, Wireless Local Loop, Fixed Voice, etc.), drilling down to specific services within those service types (calling card, SMS, etc.). By utilising systems with a customer centric architecture, operators will be able to realise the true benefits of FMC without resorting to stapling bills electronically. Benefits of a Convergent Solution There are many benefits that convergent customer care and billing solutions can provide for both operators and customers. From a customer’s perspective, the most visible benefits include: · multiple network services on one bill and cross marketing opportunities; · one stop service for customer care; and, · one Bill/Cross Marketing. Providing all network service (GSM, fixed wire voice and data, Internet, etc.) on a single bill can bring many benefits to end-users. They can see very quickly how much they have used their telecommunications service in a specified time period. They can also arrange one payment to cover all the services. Some industry analysts say that providing a convergent bill creates ‘bill shock’ and leads to customers cutting back usage in order to save money. This scenario is only likely to occur in the cases of specific markets and individuals. Convergent customer care and billing systems should allow the operator to give the customer the choice of receiving a convergent bill for all network services or single bills for each service. In order to produce convergent bills, billing systems need to be able to capture call detail records (CDR) and event records from multiple sources, filter them based on class of service (GSM, local fixed calls, data, etc.) and rate, based on multiple usage types associated with each class of service. Each type of use may have a specific tariff scheme; for example, incoming GSM roaming calls. A major benefit of having a vast array of tariff possibilities in a convergent solution is that specific packages can be created for target markets and even target customers. This can include the bundling of tariffs, including cross-service discount and usage-based bonuses. Most billing systems currently available contain inventory modules and this can be useful in cross-marketing. As an example, if the customer spends over US$100 per month for three consecutive months on long distance fixed wire calls, he or she receives a data card for their mobile phone. One Stop Service for Customer Care Although many new operators initially view price as the main differentiating factor, that focus can shift to an emphasis on providing solutions that produce value. A key component of value is good service and customer care. If a customer has to make several calls to various CSRs in order to inquire about different telecommunications services, there will be no perception of value. By making all information available through a single call to one CSR, FMC systems will make the customer care operation more efficient and minimise the time customers spend resolving issues. Conclusion With the majority of the telecommunications industry embracing FMC, how will one operator be more successful than another? In many cases, it will come down to innovative marketing and quality customer service – the strengths of an FMC billing and customer care system. It is not just a case of, “if you can’t bill it, kill it.” Indeed, billing is only one of many critical issues. In order to succeed with FMC, operators must be supported by systems that provide convergence for all their mission-critical requirements.