opinion


Customer experience remains elusive

Nokia and du claim first VoLTE call in the Middle East

I would be a (relatively) rich man if I had a dollar for every time someone mentioned ‘customer experience’ at the Managed Services for Growth Markets conference in Dubai.

The number of terms and acronyms was dizzying – Quality of Experience (QoE), Service Quality Management (SQM), Customer Experience Management (CEM), Key Quality Indicators (KQIs) and the relationship of all these to network KPIs and contract SLAs figured a lot in discussions.

There is no question that vendors and operators alike have latched on to customer experience as something to focus on but there is less agreement on how to define or measure it. Customer experience is a slippery topic. It is something that everyone is in favour of – after all who would admit to not wanting to improve customer experience – but once you start looking at it more closely it becomes more elusive.

When it comes to measuring customer experience do you first and foremost focus on a customer satisfaction index or do you send packets into the network, collect data from OSS, probes, terminals, drive tests or analyse behaviour in some other way, or do you try to focus on all of them more or less equally? And which of these measurements, if any, comes closest to representing the end user experience?

Not surprisingly at one point during the discussion one operator was moved to exclaim “if you can’t measure it don’t do it”. I can understand the frustration. Monitoring network KPIs a lot less elusive than monitoring customer experience, you are on firmer ground when tracking well specified network KPIs. But dropped calls are not the same as dropped call rates. It is the end user experience that counts. As another speaker neatly summarized it: “CxOs often say to us we’re meeting our KPIs but lots of customers are still complaining”. Clearly it is the linkage between the measurable indicators and the customer experience that is key, not the indicators themselves.

It is also worth mentioning that less is more in the context of customer experience. If in a managed services relationship you can convert multiple SLAs into a small number of key ones then it provides a better focus for the partnership.

As several vendors pointed out, the relationship between key indicators and experience need not be elusive, you can set up rules at the service application level that allow you track the customer experience more closely. The Key Quality Indicators (KQIs) then sit on top of the KPIs rather than existing as something separate and distinct.

We were also reminded that if you want to deliver a full user centric approach you need to focus on a lot more than just the network KPIs. The Huawei speaker, for example, pointed out that you need to have full visibility across all the following areas: the network (including visibility of radio quality, capacity management, resource utilization, etc), services (including service usage reporting, SLA monitoring and assurance, and end-to-end QoE evaluation) and last but not least the user (including user behaviour analysis, user preference analysis, etc). You then use a KQI and KPI mapping relationship to identify the QoE problem areas which need to be targeted in order to improve performance. This in turn allows for a switch away from passive complaint handling to more active management of the end-user experience.

Why the interest in customer experience?

The strong focus on customer experience in a conference dedicated to managed services makes sense if you consider current changes or at least emerging trends in the telecoms managed services market.

The early phase of the managed services market, especially that involving network management and maintenance, was very much focused on cost control. It was all about decreasing CAPEX and OPEX, which was relatively easy to measure. But now increasingly vendors are turning to managed services partnerships to implement operational efficiencies, to bring new services and technologies more quickly to market, to manage network complexity and capacity more efficiently and even to implement business transformation.

In this context monitoring the customer experience becomes critical. It may take a while for the most effective strategies to emerge but it is already clear customer experience management is something that vendors and operators need to get to grips with.

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2 comments

  1. Mobile Thinker 14/04/2011 @ 6:11 pm

    Measuring and ensuring the customer experience is certainly essential. In the era of smart phones, so is one other key area: controlling the cost of service. As smart phone use multiplies, providers find that the cost of care is rising, too. Thoughts on how to control and reduce costs while delivering the service experience that keeps customers satisfied and on-board: http://bit.ly/hS57h3

  2. Anton Van Vuuren 09/05/2011 @ 3:58 pm

    Tracking the customer experience via performance data is extremely complex due to the fact that you need to track performance from the Radio Interface, through back haul and right through the core network so see the end to end user experience.

    In addition, most operators have a variety of different vendors and technologies deployed in their operations which again adds a layer of complexity. To compare apples with apples across so many changing platforms and technologies is virtually impossible, and leaves an operator at the mercy of their vendors in assuming that the KPI’s they are monitoring do in fact represent the end users experience.
    The only way to monitor a subscribers true experience is by monitoring it directly at the source…i.e. directly from their handset. This is the only method that is vendor agnostic and technology independent and provides an unbiased reflection of the users experience.

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