25 OCTOBER 2016

Improving Subscriber Quality of Experience with Big Data and Analytics 

For communication service providers (CSPs), networks are their biggest asset – and their biggest expense. Keeping up with the growing demand for data has resulted in a never ending cycle of costly updates and tighter margins. In fact, a report from Juniper Research has found that, “with annual mobile operator expenditures now in excess of $800 billion, several leading players face the possibility of costs exceeding revenues by the end of the decade without remedial action.”

The Rise of CEM
With tighter margins, service providers are looking for ways to protect their bottom line, and one of the best ways to do this is to keep their current customers from leaving.  Wireless penetration levels in most markets can exceed 100% (as of Dec. 2015, the U.S. was at 115.7%, according to CTIA), which makes finding new customers more difficult, and frankly, expensive. Customer acquisition costs in the U.S. average $380+ per user, so keeping customers happy and loyal has become its own science. Customer Experience Management, or CEM, is the new focus of every service provider – and reducing subscriber churn the prime objective.  There are many ways to do this, and many avenues to pursue, but one of the most effective ways is to focus on the QoE, or the quality of experience, that every customer has each time they use your network, whether it’s to place a call, send a text, watch a video or capture elusive Pokémon Go creatures.

When competition is fierce, each customer becomes a VIP. Each one expects excellent service, all the time, and it’s a service provider’s job to make sure this happens. Because if it doesn’t, they’ll go somewhere else.  Today’s reliance on mobile connectivity has created a need-it-now culture of subscribers that expect uninterrupted performance, all the time, everywhere. In years past, CEM meant prioritizing problems based on the ‘squeaky wheel’ approach, which basically meant reacting and prioritizing network problems based on the number of customer complaints to the call center. That is no longer good enough.

CEM of Tomorrow – Solving Complex Problems Quickly
Service providers need to be able to take a more proactive approach to CEM, but a key challenge is that networks, devices and services have all become increasingly complex. Fortunately today, with access to big data and powerful real-time analytics tools and technologies, service providers can find and fix many network and other service issues before they go wrong and result in unhappy subscribers.

  • Is the customer’s new phone performing as expected?
  • Is their new app consuming too much data or interfering with other services?
  • Are calls being dropped on their way to work, or is call quality poor in certain areas?

The issues are almost endless, but the need for an agile CEM approach has never been more urgent.

The ‘CEM of Tomorrow’ is promising an entirely new world that leverages the insight and responsiveness of cutting-edge technologies like Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence.  With increasing network complexity, a constantly rising demand for data and customer expectations growing exponentially, our ability to improve the customer experience on the network side will all come down to automation, simply because there will be too much information to manage networks the way we are today.   From Self-Learning to Self-Action (closed loop), tomorrow’s networks will become smarter and more efficient at optimizing themselves, finding potential problems and fixing them automatically. Creating adaptive thresholds and spotting exceptional network behavior and CEM Anomalies, and using automated root cause analysis and predictive failure techniques to become more proactive; basically, the network will begin thinking for itself. But this isn’t as scary as it sounds and it isn’t happening overnight. It is a process that requires not just the right tools, but the right mindset, and that may be the biggest hurdle of all.

Laying the Foundation
 Creating an Agile CEM architecture is the first step in improving the customer experience. This requires leveraging the data you already have, from all across the organization, including OSS and BSS solutions, probe information, Geo-location data and of course network data. This provides the foundation for insight into customer QoE and protects your initial investments.  Next, this data needs to be fed into a mediation layer, but not just any mediation layer. It needs to be agnostic, and built with open APIs to manage a multi-vendor, multi-technology environment that supports both online and offline access. Agility is the most critical component of the mediation layer, because it needs to be ready for any technology you may acquire in the future.

Next comes the ability to store, process and manage potentially billions of data points.  This is where Hadoop Clusters will help by providing virtually unlimited scalability; they are designed specifically for storing and analyzing huge amounts of unstructured data. They allow you to ‘slice and dice’ data in any dimension you want, in real-time, at a relatively low cost.  But just having access to data won’t create a better customer experience.

The next layer, or step, is knowing what questions to ask and what to look for.  For this, service providers need CEM-focused analytics, designed for solving real customer issues. This layer is the ‘secret sauce’, created through the use of specialized algorithms, dimensions, KPIs, thresholds and alarms, which are all monitored in real-time and relayed to the final part of the puzzle – the visualization layer.  Today’s visualization tools are much more user-friendly than those of the past.  Built in HTML5, today’s tools are flexible and web-based, enabling self-service, drag & drop reports that are more intuitive, and can be created and viewed with just a few clicks of a mouse.

Moving Beyond Technology:  People and Processes Play a Key Role as Well

But creating an Agile CEM is not just about technology. To get it right, this next-gen CEM approach also requires the right processes and people.  This 3 pronged approach not only ensures you have the right tools (the technology) but that these tools are then put to good use, and in the right manner.

In order to truly provide real-time, agile CEM, getting access to the right data is critical.  This is the process piece, and I can’t overstate how important this component is.  We’ve all heard the adage- garbage in, garbage out.  This holds true in any analytics environment, but I’d like to expand on that to state that not only do you need accurate data, but in a ‘big data’ world, the more points of insight that you can bring into the mix, the better the results. Too many times the right processes aren’t put into place and valuable data isn’t utilized to its fullest extent.

Data also needs to be shared across the organization, made available to other teams, and not confined to separate departmental silos.  For example, CEM QoE data can be used to better plan and optimize the network.  So not only is network data used to improve the customer experience, but customer experience data is then used to improve the network.  Creating this valuable feedback loop approach requires careful consideration when creating each step of the process.

Now that you have the right tools and the right processes in place, you need to focus on people.

  • Are employees empowered to share information with other teams, or is everyone working in a silo?
  • Do employees know how to fully utilize the tools they have at their disposal, or are they still relying upon manual methods that result in slower response times and more errors?
  • Can internal stakeholders access the information they need, when they need it, or do they have to go to other groups or organizations and wait for a response?

For an agile CEM program to work properly, people need to be empowered to do their jobs effectively.

Partnering for the Long Term
As today’s networks and services grow increasingly complex, it is critical that service providers remain steadfast in their commitment to Agile CEM.  The tools and technologies available to enable this are improving every day, which is why it needs to be approached as a marathon, not a sprint.  Agile CEM is an ongoing effort that will pay hefty dividends for both the short and long-term, but it continues to evolve and change as quickly as the industry itself is changing. The objective needs to be to align with a team that can partner with you on this journey, and provide the right tools, expertise and guidance for success.