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Does your Unified Communications Services deliver a Quality Experience?

Thomas Magg, CTO CEM, VP Business Development, Spirent Communications
Thomas Magg, CTO CEM, VP Business Development, Spirent Communications

Thomas Magg, CTO CEM, VP Business Development, Spirent Communications

Most providers of Unified Communications Services have similar objectives at a high level. They want to attract users, maximize profit, deliver a satisfactory experience, quickly resolve quality issues, and engender brand loyalty. From a competitive perspective, they want to execute on the aforementioned objectives better than their rivals at the lowest possible cost. In this competitive landscape, analytics represents a particularly powerful differentiator for providers because it allows them to accomplish each of the tasks more effectively and economically than rivals who do not maximize their use of analytics.   

“A common issue facing providers today, especially with respect to Unified Communications Services, is the inability to combine and correlate data across different silos” 

Delving deeper, there are a few specific weaknesses tied to “traditional” providers that are especially amenable to analytics. Providers who overcome these weaknesses have an edge over rivals. We outline a few of these below. 

“Data silos” and “swivel chairing” 

A common issue facing providers today, especially with respect to Unified Communications Services, is the inability to combine and correlate data across different “silos” (domains). Providers can collect and evaluate access data within access performance tools, signaling data via assurance systems, application data from DPI/APM tools, provisioning information from yet other tools, but no one system scans the entire dataset to assemble a holistic picture. Customer care agents and engineers are forced to “swivel chair” between their various systems to manually assemble this holistic picture. This is slow, expensive, and error prone, especially when junior employees are involved.   

Customer satisfaction blind spots 

A related problem plaguing operators is the lack of holistic customer satisfaction metrics available to them. While hundreds of KPIs are available for every device on the network, few valuable metrics are available to providers to answer basic questions about customer satisfaction, such as whether a subscriber’s Quality Of Experience (QoE) was acceptable for a given timeframe. Additionally, per the data silo problem above, any feedback that is compiled in this area (survey responses, sentiment scores, etc.) are often scattered across marketing and other groups but not correlated against underlying device, network, or application dimensions. Hence, most providers operate “in the dark” with respect to customer satisfaction and its drivers until subscribers call to complain. 

Reactive posture 

A third issue is the reactive posture of many operations and engineering groups. Lacking effective, reliable early warning indicators of problems, most of these groups simply wait for critical alarms or VIP customer escalations to occur and then begin their root cause analysis.  This approach both degrades customer satisfaction (customers suffer as issues fester) and drives up engineering costs 

Manual problem solving 

Lastly, providers often suffer a wide disparity in efficiency between expert and novice employees in customer care, engineering, and operations organizations. This makes sense when one considers the aforementioned problems. Only the expert employees have the experience and skills necessary to correlate data across disparate silos, separate critical items from “noise,” assemble a holistic picture of what is happening, and take appropriate action. 

Taken together, these weaknesses are tremendously costly for most providers, at a time when operating margins are under increasing scrutiny (flattening ARPUs, saturated subscriber bases, etc.).   

Solution – Customer Experience Management (CEM) 

The heart of modern CEM is to be able to monitor a customer's, or group's, experience in a holistic way - from a real time view of their location and signal quality, to their interactions with customer care departments, to their current range of tariffs and services. Integrating all these aspects of Unified Communications Services into a unified view can enable providers to be proactive in their user relationships - for instance, offering some free data as compensation if a user experiences a hole in coverage, or suggesting a new tariff based on a user’s recent patterns. 

The holistic CEM idea has been enthusiastically described by vendors from many areas of the supply chain, because, if done properly, it involves data and tools from all of them, from billing platforms to OSS systems to network probes. Putting these together in a meaningful way is harder, but is a perfect illustration of the ongoing convergence of the network and IT sides of a business - something which is drawing a response from unexpected quarters. 

Spirent, a company perhaps better known for its test and measurement capabilities, has relaunched a network and customer data analytics tool designed to give providers a single view of customer experience issues across their user of Unified Communications Services. 

The idea of the analytics platform is to give a clearer view of the actual delivered service, and enable the provider to view that experience segmented by customer (including by revenue), device, network or location. 

Ian Herbert-Jones, Spirent’s Head of Service Provider Sales, EMEA, said that Unified Communications Services is “invariably” giving providers a “new imperative” to access end to end analytics to ensure that such a crucial service is delivered correctly. That has led to a refreshed interest in CEM-type solutions that can take data from multiple sources across the operator environment, and understand it as service quality indicators, presenting actions for either technical or customer care teams. 

CEM provides customer oriented analytics to make Unified Communications Services truly responsive to customer needs and demands. Providers of Unified Communications Services service are no longer in the dark. 

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