Survey of Telco Execs Finds Improving Customer Experience is not Priority No. 1

By Peter Bernstein May 09, 2012

There is a likelihood that despite my up-bringing in the U.S.  I am a Europhile.  How else to explain my fascination with The Economist, the Financial Times, and to whet my appetite for all things telecom European Communication (EC)?  It was on the last site that I found the following, “Big Data survey: new revenue streams top CEM as biggest opportunity.”   It is a summary piece on the finding of EC’s quarterly survey of senior telecom executives whose full version will be appearing in the publication’s Q2 edition of the magazine as part of its Big Data special report. Given the many articles I have written over the past few months about Big Data, customer experience and where communications companies stand on their readiness to use the former to influence the latter, I was all eyes.

Findings at a glance

I can hardly wait for the full survey results to be published, but I think you will agree after looking at just the preliminary results there is food for thought, and without sounding too alarmist, need for concern. Here are some highlights from the survey:

  • 35 percent chose the potential offered by new revenue streams as their priority
  • 28 percent picked improving customer experience
  • 14 percent liked differentiation from competitors

When asked if Big Data should be a key strategic priority, 91 percent of all respondents (and 96 percent of operators) said yes. However:

  • 54 percent of operators said Big Data was a current strategic priority
  • 24 percent said they didn’t know
  • 22 percent said it definitely was not

Delving into the reasons as to the huge difference between recognition of the need for Big Data to be a strategic priority and the less than strong embrace for implementation, or for that matter lack of understanding and outright diffidence, is where things get really interesting:

For the chasm to be closed, EC found “several challenges must be overcome.” It is reflected in the fact that a majority of all respondents, 27 percent, saw the lack of understanding the potential that Big Data as the biggest barrier to operators executing a successful strategy. And, this is where alarms should be going off:

  • Operators cited this, tied with costs, as their top barrier for having a Big Data strategy.
  • The perception that a lack of access to quality data at source and legacy systems, i.e., the feeling that business intelligence solutions may not be able to extract what is needed and/or be powerful enough to turn data into actionable insights, was in second place.
  • 3.5 percent of respondents cited a lack of qualified staff as the biggest barrier, but 63 percent of operators said they do not have the right number or quality of staff in place to manage and exploit the data they possess.

Glass half full or half empty?

Depending on whether you are an optimist or a pessimist will skew your view of these findings. On the one hand, it is good news that there is awareness that this Big Data thing is important. However, recognition has not been translated into actions, and whether the right actions will be taken is also problematic – a good reason to wait for the full results.  

The EC article quotes a few industry analysts to gauge their feelings. It was a split decision. I will not repeat them here but would like to note my slant toward being of the school that says the incumbents need to get a move on. As Julio Pushel, principal analyst at Informa, emphasized I think customer experience should in essence trump everything else as a priority for investing in Big Data solutions. 

As to the preliminary findings: first, it is a bit disheartening to see that respondents looked to new revenue streams as the big bang from Big Data as their biggest opportunity. One would have thought that if they have learned nothing else from all of the marketing being done by Big Data solutions companies that it is in connecting the dots of information about the customers you have that provides powerful planning tools for keeping them, increasing their business and attracting new ones. 

For instance, deeper insights into the likes and dislikes of current customers —on everything from business process interactions to pricing options to how they reach and are treated by customer service agents — can be invaluable for improving the efficiency and effectiveness of virtually every aspect of a communications company’s operations. The message here should be, priority No. 1 is “love the one you are with” and they turn them into enthusiastic advocates of your brand. To use another cliché term, “the grass is not always greener on the other side,” and counting heavily on selling insights instead of pleasing customers would be short-sighted at best.  It could also lead to spending a lot of money on a solution for all of the wrong reasons, and then trying to fix the airplane while it is at 30,000 feet.

Possibly more disturbing was the admission that even if Big Data is the answer, operators seem ill-equipped to populate their organizations with people who can put together a roadmap for successful implementation and then use the insights generated. I have noted previously in articles about SAP, IBM and others that there are currently an estimated 8,000 executives worldwide with “Customer Experience” in their titles, and the mission to be cross-enterprise advocates for getting the best information into the hands of the right people to optimize business practices for the era where the customer is king/queen. It will be interesting to see if the EC details how many operators have such an executive. Obviously the 46 percent who don’t know if they have a Big Data strategy or know it is not a priority do not. That is a huge oversight.

In previous surveys on the subject of tighter integration of the CRM, ERP, billing, sales and marketing databases of communications companies, similar pessimism about the ability to do the integration necessary, or turn insights into actions has turned up. In fact, a subject that hopefully will be addressed when the full findings are released is whether operators believe they are culturally ready for breaking down the barriers of communications internally. Previous research points to them being unprepared to deal with the changes such free movement and analysis of data might entail. Unfortunately, one way of thinking about the value of insights is with the more pejorative view that they represent to job holders “exposure.”    It could be hazardous to employee health if too much about operational efficiency and effectiveness can be easily discerned by upper management.    

What else is on the minds of operators as they contemplate what to do about Big Data and when? I, for one ,can’t wait for EC’s special issue to find out.

Edited by Carrie Schmelkin
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