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BSS and OSS Innovation Must Include the Customer

It's usually customer support that is singled out. In my experience, this can be a very mixed bag indeed. We have contracts with a leading UK mobile operator and insurance policies that replace handsets in the event that anything goes wrong. The commitment is to provide next-day replacement. When I had to use this facility, however, the reality turned out to be rather different.

I reported the handset lost, as per the terms of the policy and I was assured that a replacement would indeed be sent the next day. I would also be sent updates via text. Really? To what? I have lost my handset, so what's the point of sending texts? Why not emails? Apparently, this could not be done, so we agreed that the texts would be sent to my colleague's phone. All seemed to be going smoothly until he received a note saying that the shipment was delayed – after an initial confirmation that had specified a time.

The delay was apparently due to heavy volume in shipping the new iPhone that was released in the Autumn. Fair enough, these things do happen. But then I wondered if calls to the mobile could be diverted to one of our landlines. Yes, they could, but in discovering this, I also found that my mobile voicemail had been disabled. Just like that – all calls to my number were simply being received with a message stating that the mobile phone was "unavailable". Apparently, voicemail is not the default setting and, as soon as the SIM had been disabled, voicemail was also turned off.

I asked the support representative to turn it back on again and also to apply a call divert. I was told that this could be done, but it might take anything from one to 48 hours to take effect. Really? In the meantime, Rob received a message stating that the shipment had been delayed again but the new handset arrived in any event. Of course, I then had to activate it and, guess what, it turned out to be faulty. Fortunately, a trip to the Apple store fixed that: they simply gave me a replacement. Instantly, with no quibbles or fuss.

In all, it took a week of phone calls, mistakes, incorrect information and rapidly increasing levels of frustration to sort everything out. Why? Why can't the support teams of one of the world's largest companies fix things? Why can't they activate a simple service, such as call divert instantly? It's not as if it's a new service, it should be possible to set this with a couple of clicks of the mouse, but if there is a self-service portal to do this, goodness knows how to find it.

I was recently interviewed for a journal and was asked about the key innovations that have taken place in mobile communications in 2011. I started to discuss policy 2.0, CEM and so on, but then I thought about this experience. It's excellent that the industry continues to innovate and OSS/BSS must be where MNOs should focus their efforts, but before creating new policy instruments, they really ought to think about more basic capabilities. Activating existing services should take place instantly, not in several days, if at all. Customers should have clear access to the range of services available and should be able to do this themselves. It's a start contrast with our fixed VoIP provider: if we want a call divert to be set up, we go to our control panel and do it.

Service innovation is a great thing, but MNOs really should be able to make the customer support experience so much better before they think about adding more complexity to their networks. In 2012, we may well hear more about policy 2.0, CEM and the like, but it would be even better to hear that MNOs really do care enough about their customers to address basic issues, especially if they have them on long-term contracts. I can cancel my VoIP service tomorrow and find a new provider the same day. I'm not going to do so, as they have always been superb, even allowing for the occasional service outage. Support is consistently excellent and there is follow up to ensure that issues are resolved. My mobile service provider knows I am tied to a contract and can't do much about it until it expires (in 90 days!). Perhaps that leads to complacency, but it also indicates that their OSS/BSS isn't sufficiently flexible or robust to do simple things, like activate a call divert service instantly.

It's great that they aspire to a new generation of real-time services, but perhaps they should be thinking about the overall experience. As far as I can tell, the only thing that's real-time today is the ability to actually initiate calls or data sessions. Everything else is simply best effort and that's just not good enough. So in 2012, why not try to address these basic issues? After all, customer retention is often stated to be a clear strategic goal for MNOs. Service innovation is all very well, but if you can't do the basics right, then what chance to lead the industry with new and more complex solutions?