Contact Center Solutions Featured Article

Getting Clear on Customer Visibility

November 12, 2012

A New Era of Service Assurance Is Enabling Operators To Monitor And Improve Customer Experience.

Customer-centricity. That’s the goal for any communications service provider (CSP), given the increasingly competitive nature of enterprise services as well as the expanding universe of service options in the marketplace. The ability to offer a differentiating level of customer experience, particularly to high-value or high-margin customers, can be a competitive linchpin.

Unfortunately, achieving that goal is easier said than done, given the heterogeneous nature of CSP networks and the information silos contained within them. One effective approach however lies in correlating cross-technology network performance data with customer information in order to gain a comprehensive, end-to-end view of service performance and customer experience.  That information can then be parlayed into differentiating customer service approaches for an operator, by passing on network visibility to the end customer through web portals, and by rolling out real-time network performance information to customer service organizations.

The Power of Service Visibility

CSPs are looking for ways to bolster their value proposition in a market where connectivity, in and of itself, is not a differentiator. Third-party applications and a range of smart devices have captured customer loyalty and brand value, which in turn threatens to relegate CSPs in many cases to being the proverbial “dumb pipe,” competing mainly on price. As we’ve seen in the past with traditional voice services, this becomes a race to zero, and necessitates efforts to make products compelling in other ways, to improve “stickiness” and overall value in order to differentiate from the competition.

One of the ways that service providers can engender this is through the rollout of innovative service functionalities for customers that offer beyond-the-pipe differentiation. For instance, an operator can leverage its assurance platforms within the network to offer enterprise customer portals that give end-users the ability to see the health and status of their services. These can offer a series of Web-portal graphical views and reports that provide information like real-time and historical bandwidth availability, bandwidth utilization, SLA metrics, trouble ticket reports and more.

Because of the need for competitive differentiation, contracts are starting to move towards more stringent SLA guarantees. Enterprises are interested in quantifiable commitments, such as guarantees of availability, jitter range, acceptable round-trip averages, and so on. Offering a granular and demonstrable level of compliance, rather than a general percentage of uptime or upload bandwidth, can be a big differentiator for an operator.

Taken in total, the ability to not only guarantee better metrics, but also to offer customers the ability to access a portal to see the status of those metrics at any given time, all wrapped up with a comprehensive report every month to back contractual commitments up, is a powerful, unique message.

Customer Service Gets a Boost

While enterprises themselves will appreciate visibility into the performance of their own services, another dimension to leveraging assurance platforms in this way is the ability to positively impact customer service operations.

By providing customer portals, an operator will reduce customer support calls. If there’s an issue, the enterprise IT or telecom director is likely to check the service provider portal first, which will give insight into where the issue lies. It could be a router or customer premise issue in the office, which can be fixed on-premise and thus save a customer service call or truck roll.

If an issue is in the service provider network, arming customer service representatives (CSRs) with service metrics and service correlated network information to help with first-call resolution in the event of a trouble ticket significantly reduces cost and customer hassle. Through a portal strategy, CSRs and the customer can have the same view of the service at the same time, improving the customer service experience throughout the call thanks to the information transparency.

Giving CSRs access to customized assurance information via their own portals is another strategy to consider, because it offers them the ability to do smart upsell and cross-sell, through reporting showing monthly usage and the ability to see associated trending. If bandwidth utilization information shows, for instance, that a customer is using 4.8MB of its 5MB pipe on a steady basis, it’s time to upsell the customer to the next tier of service.

The upsell process also can be automated through a customer portal. Dashboards showing monthly utilization reports are a perfect venue for the strategy because the page can alert end users when they are reaching their capacity cap, asking if they would be interested in upgrading from, say, gold-level service to the platinum tier. Further, this can be integrated with billing and provisioning systems to create an automated click-to-order experience.

Ancillary Customer Perks

The opportunities for service providers to differentiate with portals, greater end-user visibility and better-tailored customer service are not the end of the story when it comes to customer-centricity. A savvy assurance strategy also allows CSPs to manage the network for optimal network shaping, which helps ensure the business service quality is never impacted.

Assurance platforms can provide a range of dashboards across the CSP, not just to workers in the NOC. For instance, a view of the most-trafficked service routes, utilization by region or network type can help set CapEx priorities in the CFO’s office, to stay ahead of network congestion and related service impacts to customers.  

Proactive monitoring will help determine network trends before they impact services, thus preventing problems before they escalate and impact SLA compliance. Traditionally, trending reports have been done offline, once a week or once per month, or perhaps once per day in best-case scenarios. In a more flexible system, the ability to set multiple thresholds for service performance can provide a real-time view of service trends. For instance, a CSP can set an alarm threshold for escalating percentages of congestions: 25 percent, 50 percent, 60 percent, 90 percent and so on, and be able to graph those alarms for a full picture of usage across any time period.  Also, if critical issues do arise, a CSP in this way can be made aware of issue in real time.

And finally, next-generation service assurance should enable a CSP to know its high-usage customer, so an operator is aware of which companies are super-users: consistently above a 90-percent utilization rate. If services are being delivered over a shared infrastructure like Ethernet, this kind of information becomes crucial for managing oversubscribed links and setting throttles or availability limits to avoid over-utilization.

Edited by Brooke Neuman