There’s no doubt that, for the majority of telecommunications service providers, the network is king. With more customers than ever relying on fast, easy access to data and voice services on their mobile devices, the battle to lead the way is intensifying amongst operators. But should network speeds be the only barometer by which these service providers should be measuring success?
Traditionally, attaining top marks in speed, performance and reliability of a network have been a key hygiene factor and differentiator for service providers. However, as the industry evolves to meet the ever-changing demands of their customers, isn’t it time we asked ourselves whether or not this intensive focus on the network is enough?
Clearly, any service provider worth their salt must have a network that is capable of matching, if not exceeding the speed of their rivals. However, that is not to say that it immediately follows that operators must necessarily divert the lion’s share of resources into the network as a result. Consider, if you will, these operators as circus performers, walking a fine tightrope. An imbalance in either direction might still get them some way across, but ultimately it could lead to them tumbling into the safety net below.
The difference is that, for telecoms providers, there is no net when things go wrong. Many of today’s service providers have to deal with increasingly complex legacy infrastructure at the back-end, much of which has been integrated over a period of time as a result of a number of acquisitions and mergers. The complexity involved in maintaining back-end systems, such as billing stacks or CRM systems, combined with the sheer age of the systems involved means that many of these systems are likely to fail sooner rather than later, particularly if sufficient resources are not diverted to ensure that they remain stable.
It’s a problem that is exacerbated by the fact that today’s customers use more data than ever before across a multitude of devices, and expect every aspect of their experience to be perfect. Customer loyalty is increasingly becoming a thing of the past and if, heaven forbid, operators were to suffer a network outage or, even a billing problem, it’s more likely than not that they will lose their customers to a competitor. What many operators are failing to take into account is that although the network underpins the value created by the operator, the value from the customer’s perspective is increasingly found in other areas.
More than ever before, customers are looking for a more holistic, positive ‘experience’ from operators. In order to meet expectations, service providers are, as a direct result, facing a dilemma. Do they continue to divert the majority of their resources into ensuring network performance, or do they concentrate on providing a more holistic customer experience instead? The truth is that with the right approach, there’s no need to choose and it’s possible for them to both have their cake and eat it, by achieving both at the same time.
By modernising and simplifying back-end legacy stacks and reducing the complexity involved, it will become easier for operators, to return to our earlier analogy, to find the balance they need in order to make it across the tightrope successfully. At the same time, it’s important not to forget about the network, which will still require attention to ensure that it functions properly. Perhaps the real issue is that at the moment, all of the value that is derived from maintaining network performance at present is being creamed off by OTT players, while the operators themselves are left to get the blame when it fails.
In theory, achieving this balance is a win-win scenario. By finding a more even way to distribute resources, it will be easier to have the best of both worlds. Fewer IT-related errors and issues will, after all, enable a more consistent experience for the end-user as well as strong network performance. In turn, a strong network provides a stronger platform for OTT players, while more efficient back-end systems provides an opportunity for operators to differentiate themselves through customer experience.
The bottom line is that network operators will always be judged on speed, performance and reliability, but it’s important not to lose sight of the fact that customers vote with their feet. In today’s social media-focused, reactionary world, end-users are more inclined than ever to hold service providers to account if their experience does not live up to their expectations. Finding the right balance can play a pivotal role in ensuring that service providers are able to stay ahead of the competition, while also retaining the loyalty of their customers.