For operators to remain competitive in the current tough economic climate, the ability to create a desirable user experience that will win new customers, and then retain them, is a critical market differentiator.

In order to meet this objective it is absolutely vital that an operator presents a consistent, integrated and effective interface across multiple channels, both on- and offline, throughout the entire buying cycle. This is because today’s savvy consumer expects a seamless interaction through any touchpoint they use – online, mobile, call centre or in store.

This can present a real challenge, but the rewards for getting it right can be significant. For example, an appropriate personalised offer, presented to the customer in the right way, has been shown to increase ARPU (average revenue per user) by up to a fifth, and represents the perfect opportunity for operators to forge closer links with that customer and avoid the churn that afflicts most of the Telco sector.

But the obstacles to achieving this are considerable in what is a fiercely competitive market where customers are always on the lookout for a better deal and, as a consequence, churn-out is high. To enable them to win this battle, operators are increasingly looking to consolidate systems onto a single platform capable of supporting their entire customer sales, management and services channels.

However, most e-commerce or omni-channel solutions are not suitable for Telco’s – at least not without costly and fundamental re-engineering and customisation. This is because too many vendors simply re-label a retail e-commerce solution as “Telco” without building in any of the resilience or heavy lifting needed to support the complex inventories, contract offerings or billing analysis that’s characteristic of the Telco landscape. For a Telco commerce platform to deliver real value, it has to meet a number of unique requirements.

Omni-Channel Is Happening

Customer experience, customer loyalty and retention, and higher ARPU – they’re all linked. It’s the same as any other business, where there’s a need to first acquire and then retain customers. The starting point is where customers look before they buy.

An operator needs to deliver a consistent, seamless experience whether this is with telesales, in store or online. When the customer contacts an organisation, it has to be easy for them to find what they want, then hop from one channel to another if they so desire and finally, with some help, make the purchase.

This means providing comprehensive product information online with guided selling tools. For example, a customer visits an operator’s website in search of the latest phone that they’re interested in purchasing. Having selected the handset, they are then guided to choose from the associated contract options before finally being presented with the available accessories for their choice of device.

Lifecycle Management

Once an operator has acquired the customer, they have to find a way to engage with them throughout the entire life cycle, offering appropriate incentives once more is known about them and what will interest them. Obviously, while it’s important that the customer is to be able to see what’s in the product range, what plans are on offer and the special deals that are available, there is also the all important service element that operators have to get right.

For example, if the customer has purchased a phone, there is an opportunity to present them with something extra to buy when they are next online. Perhaps a new accessory or, if they are coming to the end of their contract, the chance to upgrade for half price. This can be best achieved through personalising the engagement, an activity that creates a close relationship between customer and seller.

Operators can capture information that shows behaviour patterns through social networking, previous visits to the site and general usage trends. Offers can then be targeted by, let’s say, selling higher bandwidth or reduced international tariff packages etc.

Promotions & Subscriptions Management

Telco propositions are complex by their very nature. As well as the differences in the way products and services are bundled, there is also the issue of promotions. In telecoms, it is not just a matter of buy three for the price of two, but the first six months is free, then the rate reverts to “x”, as an example.

Subscription management is a key component, as well as “one off” charging. When a customer signs a contract they are billed on a monthly basis over a period of time. Or it may be a case of initially paying a one off charge. There are multiple deal combinations that require sophisticated logic and business tooling to manage them all.

Order Management

A commerce solution for a Telco must also take account of a customer ordering process that is a lot more complex than in standard B2C retail. For example, there is the need to communicate with a variety of backend systems for order dissemination.

These orders have to be orchestrated so that information is passed to billing systems, distributors and content providers, depending on the service ordered. And this process has to be synchronised with delivery to the customer, whether it be drop ship, direct delivery, content delivery or a combination. The point here is that all of the functionality needs to be contained in one single platform.

The B2B Difference

Enterprise users are probably more valuable to the operator, but often overlooked with more emphasis being placed on B2C. In recent years, a new generation of corporate customer has emerged. Tech savvy and demanding, they want innovative service offerings, on-demand local service delivery and self-care opportunities.

And as consumers in their own right, they expect B2B vendors to offer many of the sophisticated e-commerce features encountered in the B2C world. These demands around functionality and delivery mean Telco providers are having to re-asses their commerce models – no small challenge in rapidly maturing markets where margins are moving downwards.

And that means streamlining their operations and building agility into their B2B models – which includes integrating channel partners, and managing an extended ecosystem of suppliers and distributors – so they can engage with corporate customers in a new way.

In a word, Telco’s are looking to ‘consumerise’ the B2B channel. But until now traditional B2C commerce solutions weren’t capable of supporting the huge levels of complexity involved in the B2B world. Which explains why so many B2B Telco customers are still utilising business portals – often featuring single sign-on capabilities – that are decidedly ‘retro’ in terms of the capabilities and functionality they deliver.

Omni-channel commerce is complex, calling for a huge amount of accurate information to be available to the customer and the operator 24/7. It’s an exciting way forward but it needs specialised systems, built for the job, not adapted or re-engineered systems designed for the general B2B or B2C markets.