Customer Centricity

The move to ‘omni-digital’: Zero-friction customer engagement

Telcos need to move beyond omnichannel to become ‘omni-digital’. At TM Forum Live! Asia in Singapore next month, UXP Systems CEO Gemini Waghmare will explain how. He shares some insights here in advance of the event.

When our family decided to switch our cable TV service in favor of the local telco’s offering, I knew immediately a patience-testing chore lay before me. I had to pick up the phone and cancel my current service, and then pick it up again to order the new one. Two phone calls. Double the agony of waiting in the queue, explaining my choices, listening to upsell efforts and confirming logistics.

We had wanted to change our service for months, but the anticipated friction of interacting with a call center agent had deterred me more than anything else. I never checked whether I could undertake this kind of customer service online; I just knew that I couldn’t. And I was right. Cable and telecom operators have lagged so far behind in enabling end-to-end digital transactions, we have become conditioned to interact with them via non-digital means.

So far, their efforts to become digital have been put in an envelope called ‘omnichannel’. To me, omnichannel has meant enabling a small subset of customer service transactions (viewing and paying your bill, adding a new channel or data plan, etc.) via chat, email, apps and online self-care portals. This is simply not enough. It’s time for telecom and cable operators to aim for a fully digital world, because…


The rise of omni-digital

I first saw the term ‘omni-digital’ coined by PwC in identifying that 46 percent of consumers had moved all of their banking to solely digital channels. Whether using a portal, an ATM, an app or chat, almost half of people using financial services don’t pick up the phone, or line up to see a teller to get their banking done. I can relate. I am an omni-digital banker. In Finland, omni-digital banking has reached a level that in turn has made finding a physical bank a challenging task.

Source: PWC

It got me thinking: If financial institutions – often regarded as the slowest innovators with the most cumbersome legacy systems – could support an omni-digital user, why couldn’t a cable or telecom operator?

The omnichannel trap

The problem with omnichannel is that it doesn’t address the fundamental constraint with today’s telecom and cable business support systems (BSS).

Current systems, from CRM, to ordering, product catalog and billing, have been built with the primary assumption that a human being will orchestrate a transaction. Data sits static in modular platforms, and customer service representatives undertake the workflow to manage a customer’s journey.

With a human having to combine intelligence and workflow into an end-to-end transaction, making a full journey digital introduces many breakpoints. The omnichannel consolation, therefore, is to digitize a small part of the journey. That only gets you so far. Sure, I can check my static bill online and pay it, but if I want to add a new service, or change my plan, I’m likely picking up the phone.

Human transaction orchestration

Source: UXP Systems

Why omni-digital requires disruptive thinking

Operators can’t afford to rip and replace their back-office systems. We know that. Nor should they try to customize them to support a digital world – they are great systems of record, but ill-suited to support new paradigms.

Let’s face it: I’t’s not just about these systems; it’s about the vendors that have built them. Old dogs can learn new tricks, but sometimes there isn’t enough time to wait for them to come around.

The omni-digital enablement layer

To aim for omni-digital, we can’t continue to place legacy CRM at the heart of the interaction. When the entire digital world engages on the basis of a username and password, CRM is hard-wired to anchor on an account number that we don’t know. So, we need to relegate the customer service representative and overlay an omni-digital enablement layer (processes and software enabling seamless digital service interactions). Between this layer and the static BSS systems in operator environments, new components are needed.

In our work with operators around this space, we see three major components emerging as pillar of the new digital stack:

Digital identity

Digital ID is the new version of the outdated, CRM-managed customer account. It provides a single immutable identifier for every user, not just every bill-paying customer, and it provides a keystone upon which many other user identifiers and attributes (MSISDN, username, pay-channel, IP address, etc.) can rest.  In the footsteps of Apple ID, operators need to make identity the primary and mandatory basis for engagement, and begin conditioning users to the notion of omni-digital.

Digital identity is the ticket to entry for omni-digital, and a ticket that can be held by anyone – a customer, a prospect, a user of a service.

APIs and abstraction

I’ve already shared my thoughts on legacy-system isolation. Leave them where they are, but leverage them as systems of record and static transactional systems. Any function a customer service representative might undertake, therefore, needs to be abstracted and exposed via application programming interfaces (APIs). Soon, when the representative is gone, the end user will need a way to get at these functions. I’ll stop short of calling  for a pure microservices architecture. While ideal, the purity of this paradigm is spoiled by the cost and complexity of achieving it. Good is better than perfect, and will do the job. Expose APIs.

Orchestration and AI

Finally, once every user has a digital ID, and exposes every legacy sub-function by API, we need to take the customer service representative out of the equation the way a magician pulls away a tablecloth without affecting what’s on top. Out comes the human and in comes software-based orchestration.

When a customer wants to change their price plan, workflows can manage the conditions and sequence from start to finish. A second step is adding artificial intelligence (AI) to guide the user through the journeys we’ve learned they want to embark up.

Omni-digital transaction orchestration

Source: UXP Systems

Blueprinting for success

I’m encouraged by some innovative projects that are taking shape in our industry today. TM Forum has been a great stage where operators have shared their new initiatives in bi-modal IT, digital engagement systems and transformation strategies. We have been lucky enough to co-present with the likes of Liberty Global, Cable & Wireless and others, on how a digital engagement layer can transform the customer experience and make way for brokering new digital services and monetization streams.

As for our new TV service, we love it. And recently, while searching for an Ice Hockey game, we were prompted on screen to digitally add a channel that carried our favorite team. This is progress! While I know that if the honeymoon with our service came to an end, I would still have to make the dreaded phone calls to switch, I also know that operators are getting serious about moving to an omni-digital world.

It’s about time.


    About The Author

    As the CEO and founder of UXP Systems, Gemini Waghmare has rapidly become a leading voice in the communications industry, frequently guiding operators on digital transformation and the power of the digital user lifecycle. Gemini has held senior positions at Amdocs, TELUS, Digital Equipment Corporation, and various startups along the way, and holds a degree in Business Administration from the Richard Ivey School of Business at Western University. Gemini provides the strategic direction for UXP Systems and is responsible for the realization of the company's goal of empowering the digital users that drive the internet. His deep knowledge of service provider infrastructure and entrepreneurial vision give UXP Systems the foundation to succeed in the dynamic telecom and cable landscape.

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