Email a colleague    

November 2010

Making the Strategic Leap From Billing to Merchandising

Making the Strategic Leap From Billing to Merchandising

Success in the telecom business — or in any creative pursuit — is a cyclical process of taking action, evaluating results, and making adjustments.

Take the process of writing this blog opener.  Hopefully, what you’re reading right now reads smoothly and hangs together well.  But realize: you can’t plan a piece like this because the mind takes unpredictable turns.  The article grew (and is growing) organically.

The unconscious mind first produces a stream of ideas.  Then the critic in the brain looks at it all, makes changes, moves things around, and deletes a ton of stuff that misses the mark or makes no sense.

So for me, writing a column is a real-time, closed feedback process that’s repeated sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph till you’re either satisfied or your eyes glaze over.

Now they say that the great newspaper pundit H.  L.  Mencken (1880-1956) could pump out a masterpiece column in one pass on his typewriter.  Well, that’s amazing if true.  But for the rest of us mere mortals, the word processor is an invaluable crutch for evaluating, modifying, and perfecting thoughts on the fly.

OK, so what’s this got to do with telecom?

Well, a closed feedback system is what telecom services has been missing for decades.  In years past, getting feedback and understanding the customer’s reaction to services took way to long.  And billing was not so much a conversation with the customer as a series of hand written letters you exchanged with a long lost uncle in Siberia.  It takes you 30 days just to get a letter back.  That’s how old the data warehouse data was by the time you got a chance to analyze it.

But all that’s changed.  Today, billing/charging technology has progressed to the point where the usage intelligence, the charges, the user behaviors, and the analytics can all come together in near real-time.  And a platform like that can truly revolutionize a telecom business.  It allows you to experiment and accelerate the marketing changes driven by customer behaviors at a much faster rate than you could ever achieve before.

Humera Malik, head of Global Marketing for Redknee Systems, knows a great deal about these new-fangled, real-time billing systems.  Her company has been quite successful selling them around the world.  And in this interview, she shares insights and perspective on marketing’s expanded role in new service design and the power of a billing platform that drives promotions and service innovation.

Dan Baker: Humera, you managed marketing at a wireless operator in the years before you joined Redknee.  Tell us a bit about the challenges you faced back then, and how the environment has changed.

Humera Malik: Dan, the battlegrounds have changed considerably in the past few years.  When I ran marketing, we created our own portal and generated our own content and it was mostly an on-net activity.

But if you look at how it’s evolved, the over-the-top players like Apple and Google with their own app stores and services have created a very competitive environment for the operator.

As voice revenues fade, the only way a telecom can remain profitable and retain subscribers is to give marketing what I call a merchandising platform.

A merchandising platform takes billing to the next level.  It manages prepaid and postpaid revenue transactions, but it adds a strong analytic component that gets marketing engaged in creating tailored services and all sorts of up-sell and cross-sell offers based on real-time intelligence.

I don’t want to downplay the role of the senior network team who’s obviously critical to an operator’s success, but marketing needs to lead the way and define what services should be created, how they should be created, and where to push those services out into the marketplace at the right times.

In short, it’s about proactively monetizing your network investment.  Instead of sitting back and hoping subscribers will come to buy your plain-vanilla commoditized services, you’re leveraging a real-time analytic and marketing engine to create highly personalized and time-sensitive offers that push people’s unique buttons.  When that happens, your business truly becomes a merchandising machine.

I like the sound of “merchandising platform“.  When you hear the term “billing”, it’s hard to shake the notion of sending out invoices or simply charging the customer something.  We know that billing is more conversational and flexible today, so the word “merchandising“ conveys that concept very well.

At Redknee we try to work with the strategic side of the operator business and help them grow revenues, mature their services portfolio, or gain more subscribers depending on what their particular strategy is.

But in every market, we’ve found that it really matters where you focus your attention.  If you treat all customers as the same, you’ll be only marginally effective, because you’re not serving customers’ unique needs.

The problem with legacy billing and charging platforms is that they provided a very one-sided interaction.  It was almost like you were spamming the customer because millions of people who signed up for a particular service got the identical promotion.  This has changed.  Now we can get very personalized.

What we say is: Treat the customer as the core asset of your business, then everything that you do is revolving around them -- the services you design, the rates plan that are designed, the packages you put together, the promotions, the targeted services and targeted offers.  And you realize that one size doesn‘t fit all.

And real time is being able to offer what the customer demands at the time they want it rather than wait for the legacy system to respond a month later, which is way too late in the game.

You need to enable impulse-buy opportunities which means you need highly-targeted offers for customers.

And to do this effectively, you also need to converge the services across the various telecom protocols: GSM, CDMA, 3G broadband, and WiMax so you create a unified customer experience.

Up to now, you’ve talked about mobile operators, but can merchandising principles be applied at other operators.

Dan, all of this certainly started with mobile operators, but multi-service operators are looking to provide that unified customer experience too.

We have a set of customers around the globe who are multi-service operators and initially launched their mobile services with our real time converged platform.  Over the course of time, they have replaced their legacy billing systems and migrated over to our converged billing platform to reduce the operational costs and leverage the real time capabilities to better serve their customers.

This kind of initiative requires a major cultural change.  The banter at the leadership level is less about network build outs and IT timelines, it’s more about things like customer loyalty, increasing ARPU, profitability, and enhancing the brand.

And part of what’s spelled the difference for making a transition to a consolidated and real time system is the fact that marketing is now armed with a tool for designing tailored services.  And it allows them to launch things like a Christmas season promotion program that can tie mobile voice — either prepaid of postpaid — with broadband services and fixed line.

So marketing is one of the key drivers for this change although they partner with network and IT side to share the benefits of cost reductions and consolidation of the billing systems.

Humera, at one point does the marketing enter the picture?  And at what stage do they actually use the merchandising platform?

Let me walk you through the process.  First, our Converged Billing Solution offers the end-to-end converged billing from the point when the subscriber enters the store and you offer them the rate plans available and the device they choose.  Then you provision them on to your network, activate it, so they start using the services.

Well, from that point on, the marketing teams now knows what subscribers have registered for.  Then, on an on-going basis, the marketing teams gather intelligence from these systems and design the services.

Now back in the days when I worked for a telecom, marketing meant looking at the churn and ARPU factor only.  Today you also look at the uptake of services to determine where to go next and that information is readily available so you can act on right away.

Let’s say, for a particular multimedia service, we saw the youth market picked up on it more than the rest of the market.  Well, the next set of services or the tariff plans that we design around that kind of service will be targeted towards the youth market.

Merchandizing is also about bundling services together and creating a seamless experience for the subscribers.  It is about optimizing the network investment and cross selling and upselling services to your subscribers with promotions that lead to subscriber loyalty and reduce churn.

How does a carrier merchandise to different subscriber profiles or demographic groups with your system?

Basically you need to manage the treatment of subscribers throughout their full life cycle with you.

As a simple example, the marketing team use its intelligence in the system to define three sets of subscribers by their value: low-end, medium, and high-end customers.

Now the strategy for a low-end subscriber is quite different from the one you use for medium- to high-value customers.  At the low end you basically want to reduce the cost of delivering services.

At the medium and high tier, however, you would define a set of merchandising strategies for them.  And this will involve creating some cross sell and up sell services, targeted services because these are the customers you want to convert to become high value customers.

Finally, for the very high-value subscribers, you look at the usage patterns and behaviors, and offer them incentives to buy additional high-value services.

Now to do it right, you need pull as well as push promotions.  And you do this by having them provide you their preferences and the sorts of communication they want to receive.  And in this way, they also feel they have control and you’re not choking them with offers they have no interest in.

So it’s all about working at various levels, defining a strategy around the various subscriber segments, understanding their payment methods, and treating them based on their value.  And what makes this all possible is the merchandising platform.

This article first appeared in Billing and OSS World.

Copyright 2010 Black Swan Telecom Journal

Humera Malik

Humera Malik

Humera Malik a consultant with the Quexor Group,a strategic marketing agency focused on the communications sector.  She helps clients with business planning, product and marketing strategy and go to market plans.  Humera is the former director of Global Marketing at Redknee.

She has been in the telecom industry for the more than a decade working for Bell Canada and AT&T Wireless, where she defined innovative mobile & wireless productized solutions targeting several key industries — Financial Services, Health Care, Retail and High Tech.   Contact Humera via

Black Swan Solution Guides & Papers

cSwans of a Feather

  • Telecom CVM: From Scattered Campaigns to Unified & Consistent Communication with Customers interview with Cretièn Brandsma — Despite the many failures Customer Value Management has faced in telecom, CVM’s future is very hopeful.  A carrier expert explains why telecoms have faltered, how customer experience programs can be revitalized, and where telecoms should invest in better tactics and technology.
  • The Key to Driving 4G Profit: Sell Value, Not Bandwidth by Miri Duenias — Are you struggling to earn a profit on your 4G investments?  Many operators are failing today on the marketing side.  But aligning 4G products with a customer’s personal preferences and desires provides the necessary sizzle to boost sales and earn a handsome ROI.
  • Batting for More Churn Reduction and Revenue Assurance Home Runs interview with Peter Mueller — What’s it like to transform an IT shop to big data and cloud?  In this interview, the CTO of a boutique revenue assurance explains how his firm made the leap.  He shows how project-oriented programs and working with carrier customers to explore RA and churn reduction “hunches” is where much of the action is.
  • Sharing Intelligence, Services, and Infrastructure across the Telecom Galaxy interview with Gary Zimmerman — The telecom industry is an industry of sharing.  In fact, the rise of mobile broadband is driving a greater reliance on real-time intelligence, services trading, and infrastructure exchange.  In this article, a leading info exchange provider explains the value of its services portfolio and points to other interoperability and sharing ideas under development.
  • Data Monetization: Why Selling Intelligence is a Hot New Revenue Stream for Mobile Carriers interview with Joe Levy — Data monetization is a revenue dream come true for mobile carriers: a highly profitable sideshow where the carrier analyzes and sells data it already collects for other purposes.  In this article you’ll learn how operators monetize their data through use cases in corporate advertising and media branding.
  • Back Office Streamlining to Enterprise Support: The Many Flavors of Wireline Analytics interview with Tom Nolting — Mobile analytics gets plenty of press coverage, but analytics is just as crucial for wireline operators.  In this article, a billing VP at a leading wireline operator discusses several diverse uses of analytics in billing, enterprise sales/retention, and network partner margin assurance.
  • Analytics Guru: Are Telecoms Ready for the Biz Intelligence Explosion? interview with John Meyers — Business intelligence is evolving from the creation of dashboards and reports to taking action based on a deep knowledge of the environmental context.  The article explores the implications of “big data” in terms of IPTV, storage requirements, hardware, event collection, and deep packet inspection.
  • Making the Strategic Leap From Billing to Merchandising interview with Humera Malik — Today billing/charging technology has progressed to the point where the usage intelligence, the charges, the user behaviors, and the analytics can all come together in near real-time.  This article discusses the organizational and marketing strategies that enable a operator to create a true “merchandising” system that can revolutionize a CSP’s business. 

Related Articles

  • Black Swan Guide: Araxxe’s Revenue Assurance Consulting, Testing, and High Definition Billing Analysis Service by Dan Baker — How Araxxe’s end-to-end revenue assurance complements switch-to-bill RA  through telescope RA (external and partner data) and microscope RA (high-definition analysis of complex services like bundling and digital services).
  • Subex’s IDcentral Monetizes Telco & Enterprise Data to Deliver Digital ID & Risk Metric Services for Financing, KYC & More interview with Shankar Roddam — A new digital intelligence service that monetizes the idle data of telecoms and enterprises while also earning a good return for the owner of the data.
  • Opportunities & Obstacles: Consultant Luke Taylor Muses on the State of the Telecom Risk Assurance Business interview with Luke Taylor — A rambling discussion on the state of the risk assurance business with Luke Taylor, independent consultant in telecom revenue/fraud assurance and solution requirements and marketing.
  • LATRO’s Tips for Launching a Successful Revenue & Fraud Assurance Program for Mobile Money Operations in Developing Countries interview with Don Reinhart — A company building mobile money RA/FM tools and  managed services gives a concise, but detailed tutorial on how the Mobile Money Ecosystem works.  Revenue assurance pros will get tips on  what to look for in analytics/assurance tools, controls, and professional services.
  • A WeDo Conference Talk: Consulting & Analytics: Improving your Business Today, Enhancing it Tomorrow interview with Carla Cardoso & Bernado Lucas & Thomas Steagall — Leading risk management consultants explain their mission and walk-through RA, subscription fraud, and collections cases.  They also explain how analytics and machine learning can supplement process optimization.
  • PrologMobile’s Simple and Brilliant Plan to Save US MNOs Billions a Year in Recovered Phones & Retained Customers interview with Seth Heine — An expert in the mobile phone reverse supply chain explains how MNOs — via a neutral third party information exchange — can recover their original phones on the used market and save huge sums in multi-year customer retention.
  • WeDo Explores the IoT Ecosystem in Search of Tomorrow’s Pivotal Fraud & Business Assurance Solutions interview with Carlos Marques — A veteran product manager scans the IoT terrain, discusses key fraud and assurance challenges, and explains the preparatory steps WeDo is taking to become a key player in this emerging market.
  • New Report: Telecom Fraud & Business Assurance Solutions, Services & Strategies by Dan Baker & Luke Taylor & Colin Yates — TRI publishes a new market research report, Telecom Fraud & Business Assurance Solutions, Services & Strategies.  Free executive summary available.
  • Subex Juggles a Wide Variety of Business Assurance and Big Data Analytics Use Cases interview with Rohit Maheshwari — A expert in business assurance solutions explains top use cases such as: IoT security, big data analytics/AI, network asset optimization, multi-player gaming assurance, onboarding mobile subs, and AI customer analytics.
  • MTN Agility: Mastering Exponential Technologies in Revenue/Fraud Assurance and Beyond interview with Danie Maritz & Tony Sani & Luke Taylor — An in-depth look at RAFM operations and innovation at the MTN Group.  Topics discussed include RA/fraud control challenges, strategies, and MTN’s journey to exploit exponential tech (AI, robotics, and ML) in its RAFM program and support of internal non-telco businesses.
  • From Byzantine Software Contracts to Simple & Flexible RA Managed Services interview with Philippe Orsini — Is the way B2B/enterprise software is sold and delivered today progressive — or is it Byzantine in the age of cloud?  An expert lays out the case for managed services in RA and billing verification.
  • Premiere Experts Set to Speak at Summer RAG Conference in London, July 7th and 8th by Dan Baker — The Risk and Assurance Group (RAG) has announced that its 2016 summer conference will expand into a two-day event and feature many premiere experts. 
  • WeDo Hosts Revenue Assurance & Fraud Management Conference in Washington DC by Dan Baker — Black Swan is pleased to announce what looks to be a first class revenue assurance and fraud management conference being put on by WeDo Technologies, on October 1st and 2nd in beautiful Washington DC.
  • Test Call Generators: An Essential Test & Debugging Tool in Mobile Billing Assurance interview with Steffen Öftring — An “active” test call generator (TCG) can see problems that a “passive” revenue assurance system is blind to.  Here’s a discussion on the test call RA  process, over-the-air calls versus core call injection, and test call networks in global roaming RA.
  • The Revenue Assurance Game: How the Rules Change in the Era of IoT & Mobile Broadband interview with Rene Felber & Gadi Solotorevsky — Revenue assurance is perhaps the hardest of telecom functions to define because the term is used in so many different senses.  This discussion on the evolving role of revenue assurance was catalyzed by a survey of experts in the profession.
  • Day in the Life of a Revenue Assurance Analyst interview with Michael Lazarou — Revenue assurance is much more than a software category.  It’s individual analysts struggling to help their larger organizations get a handle on system errors and coordination problems.  In this interview, an analyst reveals the many challenges of getting the revenue assurance job done at a small GSM operator in Europe.
  • Revenue Assurance: History and New Beginnings in RA Maturity interview with Daniela Giacomantonio & Gadi Solotorevsky — The Roman Forum was the center of commercial life in ancient Rome.  Now, two millennia later, the Forum lives on in the exchange of ideas across countless professions and  media.  In this interview, two Revenue Assurance experts discuss both the new RA Maturity initiative of the TM Forum and the value of telco/solution vendor collaboration.
  • Migrating systems or launching LTE next year?  Don‘t forget transformation assurance & optimisation by Efrat Nissimov — System transformations and network migrations are major  revenue impacting events and they should raise a big red flag.  Why?  Because data integrity issues are bound to crop up as CSPs move vital data from a legacy system to something new.  It’s time for transformation assurance.
  • How can Cable/DSL Internet Providers Meet the Usage-Based Billing Mandate? interview with Ryan Guthrie — The popularity of YouTube, Netflix, and Hulu other video outlets has turned the tables on service profitability for cable/DSL service providers.  Many are moving to usage-based billing, but that largely unprepared for the revenue assurance aspects of this move.  This interview explains the technical challenge and points to solutions in billing, speed caps, and traffic revenue monitoring.
  • CABS Revenue Assurance: How Rural LECs can Recover $284 Million in Revenue Shortfalls interview with Kelly Cannon & Darrell Merschak — Independent rural LECs in the U.S. still rely on the AMA/EMI billing formats for CABS billing, even as that format has proven to be highly inaccurate as a source of inter-carrier records.  This interview includes an analysis and discussion of revenue recovery techniques ILECs can use by leveraging SS7 probes.  Also discussed are billing strategies, traffic dumping threats, and the possible fallout from the FCC’s bill-and-keep mandate.
  • Make Business Assurance Progress Every Day: How to Set Goals, Automate, and Energize Your Team interview with Kathleen Romano — Business assurance (BA) skills have wide applicability outside the revenue assurance and fraud mangement domains.  In this article, a telecom executive explains how she’s applying her BA skills in the Payments area.  In addition to discussing the key operational challenges in Payments, the interview also provides keen insights on setting goals in business assurance, leading a team, and making critical decisions.
  • LTE Rollout: Make it a Smashing Success with Risk Assessment, Controls, and Marketing Offer Analytics by Gadi Solotorevsky — LTE brings splendid new capabilities to mobile users.  But like 2G and 3G deployments before, operators can only make money if they successfuly plan, coordinate, deploy fast, and pay attention to pricing plans and the customer experience.  This article lays out a 3-phase tactical guide on  how revenue analytics professionals can add value in LTE service risk assessment, controls, and marketing offer analytics.
  • RA Prevention: How to Manage Revenue Risks and Communicate RA’s Value to Senior Execs by Shaul Moav — The era of revenue assurance prevention and risk assessment is here.  Several of the mature operators of the world have developed their own methodologies and tools.  Using firefighting and fire prevention as a metaphor, the article details a new commercial software approach explaining the goals, method of risk evaluation, and senior executive dashboards developed for the process.
  • Precision Clockworks: How Revenue Assurance Synchronizes with the Business at Swisscom interview with Marco Pollinger — An expert revenue assurance department is one whose work dovetails well with the lines of businesses it supports.  In this interview you’ll learn how Swisscom manages its revenue assurance function for maximum effect.  The article discusses: the operator’s innovative RA organization, the screening and RA approval of new services, its pre-production bill audits, and its coordination with corporate risk management.
  • Versatile, Portable & Corrections-Savvy: Quest for the Swiss Army Knife of Revenue Assurance Software by Mark Yelland — Revenue assurance maturity models are not cast in stone.  Since  best practices will change over time, it’s healthy to explore moving maturity models forward.  For example, great gains have been made in leakage detection, but RA corrections has been harder to master.  The author dreams about seven functions that should ideally come together in a single all-purpose revenue assurance software tool.
  • Bringing Strategic Planning & Value Engineering to Revenue Assurance interview with Maged Fawzy — Engineering and architectural techniques have a role in revenue assurance.  This interview with a top Egyptian RA consultant explains how continuous risk assessment and long range — yet flexible — RA planning can sharpen a carrier’s RA program and lead to better use of revenue assurance software and integration services.
  • Forensic Fossils: Is Your Revenue Assurance Shop Fit for Display at a Natural History Museum? interview with Jim Marsh — Without the continuous guiding light of seasoned revenue assurance leaders, even the best teams of RA professionals, technology, and business processes can fossilize and lose their vitality.
  • Revenue Assurance: The Magical Market Cap Multiplier by Van Howard & Curtis Mills — Many operators today consider revenue assurance yesterday’s opportunity.  But this article shows why significant revenue and cost leakage can still go undetected, even in companies with dedicated RA departments.  Also discussed are the benefits of a broader or more “forensic” approach to revenue assurance, an approach that boosts the bottom line regardless of the automated tools already in place.
  • From Risk to Robust: Turning the Big Picture Into a Real Agenda for Change in Telecoms by Eric Priezkalns — Inspired by a Financial Times article written by Nassim Taleb, author of “The Black Swan”, here is an insightful and entertaining primer on telecom risk management.  The article takes ten risk management lessons from Taleb and applies them specifically to the communications industry.  You’ll learn about the value of small scale trials, organization accountability, cures for a blame culture, incentives that work, the power of simplicity, and more.
  • Synthesizing the Telecom Business Assurance Practice With the Analytics World by Dan Baker — Business assurance is a wrapper term that allows you to draw a circle around various telecom assurance, control, and optimization activities.  This article maps business assurance as a subset of telecom analytics, constrasting it with marketing analytics while a diagram shows where biz assurance fits in the larger B/OSS world.
  • CABS Revenue Assurance Disputes: May the Carrier With the Best Data Win by Cheryl Smith Rardin & David West — Revenue assurance innovation is far easier when partners cooperate to make it happen.  This articles shows how a U.S. operator, software vendor, and consultant teamed to develop a breakthrough in Carrier Access Billing (CABS) assurance.  Learn about: the dispute resolution data gap that needed to be filled, the partnering strategy, the implementation challenges, and payback results.
  • Revenue Assurance vs.  Business Assurance: Who’s the Rightful King of Controls Software? interview with Sergio Luis Silvestre — Business controls software, originally developed for RA, is finding application in other areas of the business such as internal audit, collections, security and risk management.  This article argues that “business assurance” is the best term to describe this broader set of  controls software that can find a home in numerous departments or functions of a CSP’s business.
  • PwC on the Business of Revenue Assurance Consulting & Mentoring interview with Tim Banks & Dan Stevens — Revenue assurance consulting firms offer a broad range of services to clients these days.  The article explains the practice of mentoring RA mangers and providing a CFO with visibility on the status of an operator’s business controls.  Perspective is also offered on the value of RA software and the opportunity to broaden the RA practice scope.
  • Robots for Hire: Verifying Accuracy In the Age of Complex Mobile Billing/Charging interview with Xavier Lesage — As real-time charging and complex lifestyle calling plans gain credence across the globe in wireless, billing quality issues will rise in importance.  This article discusses a unique managed services approach to invoice testing and roaming fraud protection that checks results against advertised or published source data for the utmost accuracy.
  • Ericsson: Revenue Assurance Consulting With an NGN Flavor interview with Thomas Steagall — Helping operators detect billing and provisioning problem is merely table stakes in the RA services business these days.  The article discuss why operators need to ramp up their RA function with service experience and group-wide financial health monitoring.  Advise is also offered on: key RA maturity questions, risk-and-reward contracts, and how to extract greater value from software investments.
  • Do-It-Yourself RA for Small Operators and MVNOs interview with Mark Yelland — Budget-minded small operators and MVNOs are no longer hamstrung in RA capability anymore.  This article offers high-leverage strategies for operators who cannot afford expensive RA software tools.  With  data access, brains, and a DIY philosophy, any small operator can map a  path to greater RA savings, maturity, and program growth.
  • Revenue Assurance Maturity: Report From the Arena interview with Eric Nelson — Revenue assurance maturity can‘t be easily computed.  How do you  compare the KPIs of Comcast billing with that of mobile money RA in Western Africa?  Even still, this article offers some universal RA wisdom from a straight-shooting veteran of carriers large and small.  Topics discussed include: dashboard or process, COTS vs. inhouse solutions, and tips on gaining internal support for the RA practice.