Shifting customer needs at pandemic speed: How CSPs can stay on their toes

July 24th, 2020 by · Leave a Comment

This Industry Viewpoint was authored by Steffen Paulus, Nokia Software

Earlier this year, the onset of the pandemic forced countries across the globe to rapidly enact social distancing and lockdown rules to curb COVID-19’s spread. This drastic change seemingly pushed us into the remote working era, creating a phenomenon that virtually all communication service providers (CSPs) had to face – radically shifting service usage patterns.

These patterns have various contributors, one being the rapid creation of a largely remote workforce, as well as virtually all students shifting to attend online classes, leading to an upswing in video-conferencing use. To add to the strain, there was also a surge of voice calls as people had the desire for more human connection. In addition, the notion of being confined in our homes created a huge appetite for entertainment where many took to frequent content streaming and cloud gaming. This phenomenon quickly made clear to CSPs that existing service plans can quickly became obsolete for the new needs of consumer and business customers alike.

How CSPs stepped up to the occasion

Without hesitation, CSPs jumped into action with one end-goal in sight: to help customers overcome this unprecedented situation. I’m sure many CSPs asked along the lines of these questions to achieve this goal:

  • How can we simplify the adaptation process for our customers?
  • What additional services and features can we offer without overloading the network and system?
  • And how quickly can we get these services up and running, and reach out to our customers?

And as many of us saw, service providers quickly developed a wide range of promotions and offers to help customers adapt to this challenging situation. Commercially, many CSPs have also implemented more flexible payment options and waived late fees.

The majority of service providers, particularly in North America and EMEA, offered promotions to consumers and businesses alike to temporarily boost some services. A few popular examples for consumer customers include:

  • Giving free phone calls in support of voice traffic’s revival, either for certain customers segments (like healthcare and medical staff) or free international calls to select countries.
  • Offering greater usage allowances for volume limited residential and mobile data plans, or phone hotspot use (tethering).
  • Increasing throughput for speed-limited tariffs.
  • Providing zero-rated access to health care web sites, social media apps or streaming services, as well as giving free access to news and premium content services, such as Netflix or Disney+.

For business services, some go-to promotions include short-term increase in data consumption, and free access to office and online collaboration applications.

How CSPs can remain agile to support changing customer needs

Even though many CSPs proceeded to deliver similar offerings, huge differences remained when it came to the speed and simplicity of defining, launching and promoting those offers. CSPs who had complex legacy Business Support systems (BSS) typically launched less sophisticated promotions and spent longer time to bring these offers to market.

Service providers that had invested in flexible and agile business systems definitely had a stronger advantage. For example, one provider in the US was able to implement changes to the charging system affecting over 20 million customers in under four hours. Over in the Middle East, another provider was able to plan and launch their “Stay at home” promotion in just over 3 hours, making them the first service provider to reach out to their subscribers in their market. And in Japan, Rakuten Mobile changed key features of their UN-LIMIT plans just days before their widely anticipated initial service launch, ensuring a successful market entry even during a pandemic.

Looking ahead, while restrictions are expected to ease over time, the impact that the pandemic has left will be long-lasting.

This strongly underscores the need to rely on nimble business systems so CSPs can continue to stay on their toes regardless of world events. By doing so, they will be well-equipped to rapidly respond to changing market needs, as well as to deliver multi-channel support throughout the entire customer journey. Simultaneously, business systems need to be ready to enable innovation with dynamic charging models, leveraging machine learning and artificial intelligence to utilize ecosystems for outside-in innovation, all the while supporting 5G end-to-end slicing and edge computing.

Steffen Paulus is the Head of Monetization Product Marketing at Nokia Software. Over the last 25+ years, Steffen has worked in various technical, sales and marketing roles related to telecoms software. He is currently based in Toronto, Canada.

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