Customer Experience 2.0: learn from Apple - simplify

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One of Apple's great strengths is the simplicity and elegance of its product design, delivering an outstanding customer experience born from on an extraordinarily effective and single-minded product management ethos. We'll be discussing optimising the customer experience at the EMEA brainstorm in London next week, and also previewing findings on Apple from our 'Dealing with the Disruptors' report.

In this guest post, Ernest Margitta, VP Marketing of Telco 2.0 partners Tribold argues that simplifying and explicitly managing products in a single enterprise product catalogue, telcos/CSPs can deliver enormous benefits including lower costs, greater commercial and operational agility, and increased customer satisfaction.

Introduction

Investments aimed at improving the customer experience will be undermined if CSPs do not also invest in better product management, since the product experience is such an integral part of the customer experience. Likewise enhancing product management also complements investments made in business intelligence and analytics, as it supports a 360° view of products, enabling CSPs to monitor and optimise their performance.

The importance of the product to a successful commercial strategy, and to the customer experience, means that CSPs now urgently need to consider how they manage their products so as not to risk undermining both their strategic goals and investments.

The need to deliver a good customer experience

The Communication Service Provider (CSP) industry is currently awash with talk about the importance of optimising the customer experience. The customer experience is considered to be a key area of differentiation, and delivering a good customer experience as essential for those CSPs who wish to retain existing customers and attract new ones from rivals.

However, in order to truly optimise the customer experience, there is a vital dependency on optimising the product experience. The product experience is what underpins a satisfying customer experience: the products are what drive a customer to engage with a service provider; the diversity and attractiveness of offers and services are what generate additional revenue; and the quality and consistency of the use of those products is what keeps the customer loyal.

Ultimately, the customer experience is substantially defined by the customer's interaction with the CSP's products, from purchase, to delivery, to use, to payment. At the same time, communications products and services are no longer static, long-lived or few in number. CSPs are increasingly defined by the products they offer, and to stay competitive and deliver against customer expectations they must manage and refresh a complex and dynamic product portfolio. And to add further pressure, the increasingly competitive CSP market requires that service providers closely monitor how their products are performing, so that they can make better commercial and strategic decisions, and continually evolve their product strategy.

The business challenge behind the experience comes down to a basic premise: what should I be selling to my customers and what do I need to do to effectively deliver and manage that? So the successful retailers who deliver on customer experience are the ones adept at product management and at understanding the relationship between customers' wants and needs and the products designed to fulfil them. However, delivering on this targeted style of customer management on a large scale is only possible through an "industrial" (ie automated and scalable) approach to designing and managing products; not through the "artisan" (ie labour-intensive) approach we commonly see throughout the industry.

The central role of 'product' in the customer experience

When we consider what the customer experience actually involves we quickly discover this is a rather more complex question than it first appears. It encompasses far more than just customer service or customer service channels, as important as these are to the customer experience. Rather it is defined by the sum of all the touch-points a customer has with a CSP.

There are in fact a wide variety of touch-points that together create the customer experience. The common element throughout an end-to-end experience, as Figure 1 shows, is the product: the product is being offered, sold, provisioned, used, billed for, or enquired about at a given touch-point. The lure of a particular product offer is often what attracts a customer to a CSP in the first place. How these products perform in terms of delivering against the customer's evolving wants, needs or desires contributes substantially to customer satisfaction, retention, lifetime spending and support costs.

Figure 1 The central role of the product in the customer experience central_role.jpg
Why the product experience needs to be explicitly managed

The central role of product in the customer experience makes it essential that CSPs have explicit control over the entire end-to-end lifecycle of products, as well as having accurate and timely insight into how these are performing operationally, commercially and from the customer's point-of-view.

However, delivering this level of insight is often far from trivial, since the concept of "product" is fragmented throughout the order-to-install-to-cash-to-care process. Moreover, the proliferation of CSP products, the increasing velocity of product rollout, the speed of change and decreasing product lifespans mean that CSPs need to centrally and explicitly manage products.

It is now broadly recognized that using a common reference of product information throughout the selecting, buying, using, paying and customer care phases holds the key to centralized control and effective management. And with the product portfolio central to running the business itself, the requirements are obvious: a product management strategy that delivers simplification and accuracy; standardization with flexibility; reliability and low cost.

Delivering this type of centralised product management not only optimises the product experience, but also increases operational efficiency in a wide range of processes and supports greater commercial agility.

The benefits of delivering a better product experience

Understanding, and ultimately managing, the key role that the product plays in the customer experience delivers a wide range of commercial, operational and customer benefits, as shown in Figure 2.

Making the case for such an approach can be challenging, however, if trying to quantify the total losses as a result of a sub-optimal product experience: direct losses (such as higher operational costs and billing errors) are spread over a number of operational areas, while indirect costs (such as opportunity costs or sub-optimal competitive positioning) are notoriously difficult to quantify.

Alternatively, the upside of such an approach can be more easily quantified and even proven.

Figure 2 Benefits derived from better product experience management

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