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June 2014

The Customer Engagement Era: How Personalization & Backend Integration Leads to a Richer Mobile Biz

The Customer Engagement Era: How Personalization & Backend Integration Leads to a Richer Mobile Biz

In the midst of fierce competition, how does a mobile operator move its subscribers to higher levels of spending?

It’s a huge challenge.  After all, mobile users receive a steady stream of offers from rival operators via TV, email, web, and direct mail ads.  And it’s easier than ever for unhappy users to flame an operator on a Twitter or Facebook for treating them unfairly.  In short, it’s harder and harder for an operator to stand above the pack.

Moving to LTE/4G is certainly a differentiator tactic, yet that move is not an answer by itself since the greater investment in these new technologies needs to be monetized too.

Well, Rita Tochner, Head of Corporate Marketing at Pontis, believes the secret to moving a mobile business forward today is a better way of engaging with customers.  It’s getting more personal and being more sensitive to their individual needs.  And these are lessons applied by Pontis‘ analytics managers and marketing solutions as they serve Tier 1 mobile operators and provide individual life cycle for more than 400 million users.

In my interview with Rita, she explains the new rules of superior customer engagement, how operators can build trust with users, and the BSS/OSS integration moves that enable better engagement.

Dan Baker: Rita, how has the mobile user’s expectations changed and what can an operator do to satisfy them in this new “customer engagement era”?

Rita Tochner: Dan, the users at the mobile operators we serve around the world are becoming more sophisticated and expecting much more from the operator now.  For instance, many people have multiple mobile devices and there’s an expectation that the information, apps, and services on the primary device are also available on the other devices.  This is a huge operational challenge to get right.

But what can you do?  If we don‘t take action and respond, then there’s a competing operator or OTT who will — and get the user to switch brands.

The strategy behind the customer engagement era is to communicate with customers in a deeper way.  And no matter what type of engagement occurs, it needs to be done in the larger context.  So if we send an offer to a specific customer via SMS, we need to make sure when the customer calls the help desk CSR, he gets the same offer.  So integrating with backend systems is critical.

But the good thing is that if we engage with customers in the right way, we can actually increase loyalty and capture more business even in a climate of severe competitive pressure.

For years, Pontis has been a champion of contextual marketing analytics or treating a customer in terms of long term value and where they are in their life cycle with you.  How does that mission change in the customer engagement era?

We still need to look at the customer from a contextual marketing point of view, but we need to add to that his usage patterns, his profile and how he prefers to communicate via channels and what’s best to offer considering where the customer is in his life cycle.

It’s no longer an engagement with marketing alone, it’s a holistic communication with the customer.

Say you are a new 4G network customer, the operator’s challenge is put the right services in front of him and help create a journey for him.  And as the customer gains greater value from his mobile experience with your brand, you can steadily move him from an adopter of 4G to heavy user of 4G.

Now how does an operator do that?  In some cases, it means promoting certain applications — not all of them require the user to pay more by the way.  For instance, a particular plan you recommend might redirect the user’s large downloads to a non-peak network time.

Analytics determines the particular journey we put the customer on, with a goal to achieve greater long-term customer satisfaction and higher revenue.

Here’s an example.  If the customer likes watching sports clips on his mobile device, we will try to interest him in another application that offers more information about sports.  If he does not accept that idea, that’s fine.  We note that and will not offer it again, recognizing that the customer is choosing a different journey, so we adjust our engagement path accordingly.  If the customer accepts our offer for the sports information package, then the pre-defined journey continues.

Tell me more about this “journey”.  It sounds very different from the common approach of sending offers based on a user’s recent actions.

We used to emphasize “make the right offer at the right time”, but the focus is no longer on triggering a specific action based on what the customer just did.  It’s about taking actions based on the continuous journey.

Even the way you communicate with the customer makes a difference.  You are interacting with him through many channels — IVR, SMS, mobile apps, call center, and even social media — so when he goes to the web to interact with you, the web engagement portal needs to be aware of the on-going conversation and current journey with the specific user.

The operator needs to be tuned into the preferred channel of engagement for the user.  And how I want to hear from my service provider may be very different from how I want to hear from my husband, my bank, or my insurance company.

Rita, in what mobile markets do you feel these techniques are a priority?

Well, since voice services are no longer as profitable as they once were, the industry’s priorities have clearly shifted to boosting revenue from data services.  Trouble is: 4G is a very expensive network and it’s a real challenge earning an ROI there.  This is why there’s a need among our clients for Pontis to help them monetize data services and give more personal experience to the customers, which therefore positively increases customer perception of the operator’s “brand”.

The way we solve the 4G monetization problem varies.  From experience, simple price plans and offers do the job as long as the marketing strategy is in place.  For instance, let’s say a customer has a basic data service for 2 Gig of data usage for $15 per month.  Well, if it’s the end of the month and she runs out of capacity, she ends up paying high fees because she went over her limit.

Now in the past, the Operator would recommend looking at her usage and perhaps call her to suggest switching her to a 4 Gig plan.  Pontis modified that approach.  If you know her usage averages around 2.3 Gig for the past three months, you can offer her a specific rate for 2.3 Gig a month of usage utilizing Pontis Virtual price plans option, without the need for a long implementation process on the back end systems.  Customers like this idea: they save money and get the level of usage they need at a reasonable price, with the understanding that the operator understand them and their real needs.

The solution’s capabilities go beyond this particular customer’s specified “journey”, and may be used in a range of use cases.  Again, each customer will have his or her own unique path that Pontis will help steer and then fulfill.  For example, a new customer that has just signed up for a service plan has been identified as a “light” user — for now.  This individual would receive different offers tailored to their own needs, even if many customers happened to be accessing the same online content.

If you offer a 2.3 Gig plan, doesn‘t that hurt the operator’s revenues?  Moving the subscriber to the next price/usage tier is common practice.

Yes, I know recommending an in-between 2.3 Gig plan goes against conventional marketing strategy, but given today’s highly competitive situation, it truly is the best action.

Winning the customer’s trust is more crucial that immediate profits.  And if the user’s usage is low and he’s being charged for 4 Gigs, he feels cheated and looks for an operator that has a 2.5 Gig program.

So our experience working with dozens of mobile operators is that if you aggressively push people to plans that don‘t fit their actual usage, that practice will bounce back and hurt you.

Offering a special price plan for individual subscriber sounds great in theory.  But aren‘t you creating a revenue assurance nightmare by creating price plans that are not in the product catalog?

What we do is create a price plan like that on the fly in our system and tell the billing system what to change in the bill.  Yes, this is very hard to do because it requires back end BSS/OSS integration, but that’s a Pontis specialty.  It requires bi-directional integration with billing.  Basically the billing system goes to the Pontis system to find out how to rate the customer.

We have a lot of experience creating these virtual price plans for feature phones.  And going forward we are moving this capability into data services.  The plan will fully integrate with PCRF policy, DPI systems to enable the operator to provide a unique data services experience and price plan for individual subscribers.  Time to integration is only a few short months, adding another level of expertise and efficiency for potential clients.

And we have partnerships with Amdocs and billing vendors to push this new concept into data services at a few accounts.

Your last point about virtual price plans is an innovative one.  Look forward to hearing how well that idea is received in the marketplace.  Thanks for the nice insights, Rita.

Copyright 2014 Black Swan Telecom Journal

Rita Tochner

Rita Tochner

Rita Tochner is Head of Corporate Marketing at Pontis, joining the company in 2013.  Prior to Pontis, Rita served as VP of Marketing at Alvarion.  She has held several senior positions with Amdocs and brings 20 years of experience in telecommunications marketing and IP technologies.

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