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The ulterior motive in broadband provisioning

Sep 14, 20044 mins
BroadbandSystem ManagementTelecommunications Industry

In some ways, the broadband industry is only coming of age after more than a decade in development.

Broadband service providers – particularly DSL providers – have spent a lot of time, money and sweat getting their networks automated. Building seamless, integrated management systems that make DSL provisioning and service activation into a “touchless” activity  has been a top priority for years.

This effort has paid off handsomely for most telcos, as they’ve mainly moved beyond the days of “DS-Hell” and can now get customers up and running quickly without any major hassles, and most importantly, inexpensively.  Automation efforts have been so successful, in fact, that we rarely hear about them when we do analyst briefings with the telcos. Automated provisioning and back office applications and the like are assumed to be table stakes these days, not something worth crowing about.

That’s all great, but if you’re a telco who thinks you can now rest on your laurels regarding your customer care systems, you’re wrong. In today’s hyper-competitive and increasingly commoditized environment, every bit of differentiation and cost savings you can come up with is worth the effort.

What we find interesting is how some companies are using this backoffice approach to differentiate themselves on the front line. We’re seeing more and more customer service and human interactions relieved by direct access to systems. And more to the point, these carriers are finally building end user accessed customer care in their first drafts of service planning – not the third or fourth generations of the products. Indeed, instead of developing a new service and then trying to add in customer care, they are designing new services around the self-service capabilities that their backoffice suites have enabled.

We can only say it’s about time. Indeed, this is the kind of capability we’ve been hearing about as long as we’ve been in the industry, but haven’t seen really come to fruition in the broadband world – even though such capabilities have long been available for services like Centrex. VPN, 800 numbers and more (and are increasingly available from VoIP service providers for broadband customers).

For example, BT has recently used Motive’s back office capabilities to launch a new, lower-priced tier of DSL services. These services are predicated on the concept that self-service is “out front”, driving the customer’s adoption of this cheaper service. Customers give up a lot of call center-based handholding, but in return get a cheaper service that they are truly in control of.  For many customers, being able to avoid the agony of dealing with even a well-run customer support call center is probably a net benefit.  On the carrier side, of course, the cost benefits can be substantial, and there are intangible benefits of having happy customers who aren’t stuck in a call center queue.

Of course, driving prices (and revenues) even lower shouldn’t be what carriers are investing in – and it’s not the only way that self-management can be used to drive new services. BT and another Motive customer, Softbank BB, have both signed on to leverage their Motive-powered broadband networks to enable self-service, self-activation and customer control of a range of value-added services on top of their basic IP pipes.  Customers can now review the status of their connection, check their PC configuration and even perform maintenance tasks such as password resets directly, something they used to queue on the phone line to do in a circuit switched world.

In addition to basic customer care for broadband, there are literally dozens of consumer-focused services that can be incorporated into a self-management paradigm, as can most business-oriented services. The same back office tools that many carriers have used to grow their basic broadband services  can also be leveraged to provide customers with a new, better and easier way of managing their services – it’s almost a new way of relating to their broadband provider, with an element of control put into the customer’s hands.

The bottom line here for product managers and marketers is this:  don’t let your substantial investments in automation and customer care systems simply be used as a means of reducing costs. Think of how you can use these systems to tap into an audience of increasingly sophisticated users – dare we say “enable” them, or even “empower” them? And think about this up front, before you design the service, rather than trying to cobble together your customer care after the rest of the service is designed and ready to launch.