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Creating a personalized customer experience is a top priority for communications service providers (CSPs), driven by the need to differentiate themselves in an extremely competitive market, as well as address growing customer expectations fueled by the benchmark set by web-scale players.

This is clearly illustrated by the responses of the 316 senior CSP IT executives interviewed for Ovum’s global ICT Enterprise Insights survey, which shows that an overwhelming 89% of CSPs believe that addressing personalized customer experience is an important business challenge for them in 2019, closely followed by the 88% that see transforming customer operations as important.

According to the survey, the top-three investments that CSPs are planning to make in 2019 to improve customer experience are, in order of priority: customer lifecycle management; digital product catalog; and chatbots and virtual agents. CSP interest in customer lifecycle management tools is presumably being driven by the need to better understand the customer journey, and so deliver a personalized and consistent experience. Investment in digital product catalog is necessary to support faster and more efficient interaction, track customer behavior, and customize and create a bespoke product/service mix, whereas chatbots and virtual agents are an effective tool to deliver a real-time personalized service, and improve customer experience. We also expect to see increased investment in data analytics, automation, and AI tools to deliver the insights needed for improved customer experience and individual CX personalization.

However, the pace of CSP progress with the modernization of specific customer-facing platforms is only half the story. CSPs also need to adopt a customer-centric strategy, where customer experience is prioritized throughout business operations and IT systems, and where customer engagement is supported not by point solutions addressing specific functional needs, but by unified approaches that bring together a wider mix of capabilities.

Ultimately there is a bigger picture to be considered. Customer engagement encompasses a wide range of systems including customer relationship management (CRM), self-service, chatbots, business process automation, and analytics tools. Furthermore, these systems need to integrate with both digital and non-digital customer channels, as well as back-office platforms such as billing and product catalog, and front-line activities such as sales and marketing. To make this possible, a wide range of functions needs to be better aligned to support the customer experience, including cloud infrastructure and APIs, unified customer data management, security and compliance mechanisms, interaction intelligence, and process automation.

Customer engagement platform (CEP) is the term being used by Ovum to describe an emerging category of joined-up solutions in this space, although there is still some overlap with solutions variously described as digital CRM, or customer experience management platforms. Clearly progress is being made, but some engagement platforms are still not where they need to be. There is a need for better unification, and standardization across multiple systems and channels, so that CSPs can effectively manage the user journey in a digital environment.

The complexity of this task is daunting, but what is equally clear is that traditional product-centric and siloed approaches to customer engagement are no longer fit for purpose. "Only connect" needs to be the watchword of CSP platform implementations going forward. The key functionalities and platforms required to deliver on these capabilities will be explored in the Ovum Decision Matrix on telecoms customer engagement solutions scheduled to be published later in the year.

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