Leveraging predictive analytics to enhance the telecommunications customer experience

CMO, Symplegades

For years, businesses have evangelized the importance of data. While collecting data is crucial, we see challenges in aggregating the right data and then using it in a timely manner to gain insights that can be used to enhance customer experiences, drive innovation, and optimize operational efficiencies and bottom-line results. These changes allow players in the telecom space, and other industries, to uncover trends, discover patterns, recognize monetization opportunities and create markets—while better serving their customers, partners and shareholders through “actionable insights.”

That’s what the insight economy is all about.

The telecommunications industry has shifted from being mere providers of infrastructure, bandwidth and capacity to enablers of communication, information and interaction in what Mike Rhodin (Senior Vice President, IBM Watson) and Bob Picciano (Senior Vice President, Information & Analytics Group at IBM) noted as “scaling knowledge.” This scaling of knowledge will be how organizations across industries empower their teams to create valuable experiences for their constituents.

Creating a competitive advantage with analytics

Analytics has become a crucial piece of this puzzle. Without them, telecommunications organizations would be paralyzed from the mounds of data. However, this can’t just be reactive. Organizations are now learning more about customer behaviors through predictive analytics to identify opportunities and challenges before they arrive. The telco space is incredibly congested and competitive, so this insight is the foundation for creating competitive advantages.

Throughout the IBM Insight conference, I’ve learned more about the following IBM solutions:

Many telecommunications providers are searching for opportunities to expand and stand out with better holistic experiences across their customer’s lives. It goes beyond landlines and mobile access. Video demand on mobile is surging, along with social activity and overall data versus simply voice and texting. Content consumption is huge. We’ll likely see more traditional and specialized merger and acquisition activity—such as Verizon’s acquisition of AOL and AT&T grabbing DirecTV. We’ll see more head-to-head competition with cable companies and start-ups also. It’s an interesting road ahead.

Gaining customer insights

Customer experiences are how businesses survive, thrive or disappear. Innovation is crucial, as it creates new value propositions and benefits for customers to explore, use and buy. However, without a proper customer care strategy and team in place, we see abandonment—or the infamous “churn” stats in the telecommunications space. This is why 83 percent of telecom CEOs identify customer insights as their most critical investment area (IBM Institute for Business Value).

Being proactive means taking both individual customer data and overall insight to better anticipate issues and resolve them as soon as possible (hopefully before the customer needs to contact the service team). When issues arise, service representatives need the information and ability to resolve the problems. Bill Gates said that an unhappy customer is one of a company’s best sources of learning. Does it cost money? Absolutely. But service quality can’t be compromised for operational efficiencies; otherwise, you’ll see droves of customer abandonment in a time where people have many platforms to share their experiences and influence others.

Most communications service providers (54 percent) are still in the early phases of embedding analytics within business processes (IBV). The main use is descriptive: using business intelligence and data mining to learn what has already happened. However, the diagnostic phase is underway.

Contextual marketing is key

Marketing has gone through an incredible transformation over the recent years, where brands and teams focus on listening and learning to customers and engaging in communities. By fostering this understanding and using the empowering forces of real-time and contextual relevance, telcos can uncover opportunities with individuals and more widespread customer segments while addressing pain points.

Basing marketing campaigns on contextually-relevant areas, subscribers can get the details, services, interactions and upsell offers that are valuable to them instead of spam noise. These personalized triggers and notifications are the future of marketing, where companies like Verizon and Telstra—Australia's leading telecommunications company—transform real-time outbound contextual marketing campaigns from a more cost-intensive effort to a sustainable profit center.

This isn’t just a traditional marketing focus with television, the web, social and email. It expands into the growing realm of mobile and the Internet of Things (IoT). For example, Abu Dhabi-based Etisalat is engaging with city planners and retailers to use information from intelligent devices and the IoT to create customer profiles. Here in the United States there are companies like New York-based Mobiquity Networks that provide a robust mobile proximity advertising and data platform to over 320 of the leading malls in the country. These real-time contextual marketing campaigns will continue to grow as the “always connected” mobile population expands. We’re on a path to becoming context-aware, predictive, prescriptive and real-time, at scale.

Taking a predictive and proactive approach

As Peter Diamandis says, “Everything is a crazy idea...until it goes mainstream.”

Predictive analytics, insight and even the Internet of Things will provide us with new opportunities, but they’ll also be able to help address challenges. Telcos are a backbone to the economy and when they have network outages, it’s a drain on the businesses they serve, individuals, productivity and the economy. Recovery time must be minimized, but without sacrificing quality of service that leads to future outages. NTT Communications is one of the many telcos that has used analytics to gain real-time insight into potential failures as well as predicting network recovery times when those failures occur. These analytical and maintenance capabilities help technicians in the field, but they’re also imperative for the call center representatives who need real-time details to mitigate customer backlash and loss. With proper and reliable information, telcos can aim to manage—and hopefully surpass—expectations with customers around outage tensions.

Why is real-time insight so important? Consider this: recent survey by Procera Networks showed that telcos generally have a huge customer service problem. In fact, in this study the telecom industry ranked only slightly better than the government and 20 percentage points higher than the healthcare industry when it came to customer dissatisfaction. In order to resolve this, telcos must be customer-centric and the representatives serving them need to be empowered to act based on actionable insight from the data.

Verizon Wireless often highlights its commitment to customer service and operational efficiencies. It has addressed this by using Predictive Customer Intelligence solutions to analyze the purpose of calls and other feedback mechanisms—like social media—to customer service channels. Through historical and real-time data, the company then proactively reaches out to appropriate customers with relevant messages and help. According to Verizon’s Syam Suri during his IBM Insight session and presentation, this has reduced irate and timely customer service calls—thereby better managing overhead costs and improving customer satisfaction.

Telstra also embraced the power of technology to improve their customer service strategy through social channels. In 2011, Telstra Digital was launched with the initial focus of improving the use of digital channels for customer service. It’s clearly become a much more significant and strategic area of the company’s efforts—and its market share reclamation goals. In October 2012, Telstra said that, "The rise of online and social media 'fundamentally changed the way' which the company communicated with its customers." In June 2015, Telstra announced that "more than 50 percent of all service transactions were done digitally". In September 2015, it announced that its social service team had reached a cumulative 1 million customer care responses.

The value of predictive customer intelligence

Predictive customer intelligence is an intriguing area. On one hand, we want to use all of this information at our fingertips to better serve the customer and improve the business. By using these analytical capabilities like profiling, customer experience history and beyond, we can often predict likely events, responses and outcomes. However, a great deal of this valuable information often goes under the radar.

According to IBM CEO Ginni Rometty’s discussion at the recent Gartner Symposium, 80 percent of the data in the world is dark to computers. This is why advancements such as IBM Watson and cognitive computing are so important—as it goes way beyond simply structured and unstructured data that is increasing at a remarkable rate. Digital intelligence is transforming businesses as a mainstream activity to drive the always-discussed return on investment factor. This study found that digital transformation is being driven as a coordinated strategy across a majority of organizations (55 percent), with many projects underway in multiple areas of the company, including customer services, sales and marketing, and product/service development. The result?

  • Increased revenue at a two times higher growth rate
  • Over two times higher profits

The industries with the strongest representation? Telecommunications and financial services.

How are you going to harness data to gain insight into customer needs while improving networks, managing costs and growing profits? Are you exploring how data and analytics enable personalized customer engagement and drive loyalty? Are you transitioning from a merely reactive to proactive and predictive approach? We’d love to hear your experiences.