The new paradigm of Customer Experience Assurance for 4G/LTE
CSPs: It’s time for a new assurance paradigm that drives substantial increases in customer satisfaction and addresses the pain caused by the mobile broadband explosion, writes Edoardo Rizzi
The era of LTE is here, and after many years of investing in customer experience management (CEM) initiatives, communications service providers (CSPs) still lack the means and systematic approach to drive meaningful improvements in customer experience. The complexity, cost, and footprint of current assurance solutions is growing exponentially alongside the amount of traffic, resulting in solutions that can’t scale, technically or financially, to address the mobile broadband explosion. This compromises CEM solutions that rely on underlying assurance systems. There is also a wide misperception in the industry that CEM and customer experience assurance (CEA) are one and the same. They are not.
What is CEA — and how is it new?
We define CEA as a combination of the process, actions, and effort used to ensure that users of communications services receive a consistently good and increasingly better experience according to their unique expectations. Achieving that level of assurance will create loyal customers who are willing to advocate for their provider and are unlikely to churn to the competition or worse, become detractors.
CEA is a term not yet widely applied with respect to how CSPs manage their network performance and service assurance activities to ensure subscriber satisfaction. Traditionally, network performance and service assurance have been managed independently using separate systems. In addition, CEM solutions usually depend on underlying network performance and service assurance systems for data.
Current solutions for assurance and CEM are combinations of a data collection solution and a socalled CEM application. Typically, two separate vendors deliver the combined solution, or one vendor patches together a data collection solution and a CEM application. The end result is a fragmented solution that does not scale and fails to meet stakeholders’ requirements and the need for true CEA data.
Vendors are also struggling to deliver assurance solutions that provide data integrity and scalability for data collection solutions. Contextual real-time data is necessary in order to support network and service assurance in an all-IP, heterogeneous network. CSPs must proactively identify and resolve, in real-time, the biggest issues impacting the largest number of subscribers and the most valuable customers, all before customer satisfaction is impacted. Existing solutions that were designed to provide reactive troubleshooting in response to a customer complaint or network alarm do not provide true CEA capabilities.
In addition, the perceived value in terms of accuracy, thoroughness, and causality of the CEM application is overshadowed by the deficiencies of the data collection system itself. Service providers around the world have tried to address the issue of CEA in a way that has resulted in a data collection scalability problem arising from the use of:
- – Obsolete techniques for network and service assurance in order to produce the data needed by the CEM applications that sit on top
- – So-called CEM applications that were created and tailored to underlying data collection platforms and therefore, by design, continue to inherently impose requirements that prevent those platforms from innovating
Current solutions for assurance carry the perception of having the ability to be 100% correct and derive 100% exact conclusions. However, the network is growing faster than solutions can scale, resulting in incomplete coverage and unreliable access to the desired assurance data and information that feeds a CEM solution. This leaves service providers in a position where none of the collected information is statistically relevant and meaningful, and compromises their ability to systematically improve customer satisfaction or leverage assurance systems for reliable CEM data.
To solve these problems, one has to address assurance in a fundamentally different manner.
The solution: A new CEA paradigm
In today’s environment, seeing the network and services with the eyes of the customer can only be achieved if network and service assurance applications are initially designed with the customer in mind. Applications must address the constraints of CSPs with respect to cost, footprint, and scalability. CEA must integrate previously separate network and service assurance activities. The reality is that network, service and CEA are one and the same.
Additionally, the evolution to dynamic networks, services, and performance requires CEA solutions that deliver a significant improvement to the concept of real-time, measured on the order of seconds and not minutes. Furthermore, CEA solutions must scale to address the magnitude of the mobile broadband wave so that the solution cost, complexity, and footprint are decoupled from the mobile broadband traffic growth curve both in terms of the speed of growth and absolute figures – all while increasing customer satisfaction.
Last, but not least, next-generation solutions for data collection and CEA must be designed in a way that they can be virtualised both in terms of their data collection capabilities and the data mediation and correlation platform. This will enable CSPs to fully execute and capitalise on their cloud and virtualisation strategies. The effectiveness of an assurance solution should not be measured by the degree of causality in the data it produces or the number of detailed call or session records generated. Instead, it should be measured by the degree to which the generated customer experience data, along with the issues that are made visible, can be correlated to an actual underlying network, service, or other problem in a statistically relevant way. When this is true, one can conclude that customers are indeed being negatively impacted and it is, therefore, worth spending time and money to solve underlying problems.
The big data opportunity
A direct benefit of the new CEA paradigm is a data collection solution capable of enabling the service provider to capture the big data opportunity in a statistically-relevant, cost-efficient, scalable, and realtime manner.
LTE, SDN, and SON technologies make assets more usable, efficient, and scalable, and put service providers in a position to innovate faster and at a much lower cost.
In this environment, real-time context awareness becomes key for the purpose of effective asset optimisation and monetisation of big data. The ability to see and understand the present situation becomes paramount in order to detect key events as they happen, and to uncover correlations between events that are only visible or valuable during a finite time span.
To embrace CEA and the value it offers, one has to let go of obsolete practices. As L. Gordon Crovitz said in a recent Wall Street Journal article in reference to big data, “society will need to shed some of its obsessions for causality in exchange for simple correlation: not knowing why but only what.” In other words, it’s less about explaining the science behind the observed data, it’s about quickly identifying patterns and events that are statistically and significantly relevant. This is what the new CEA paradigm lets CSPs achieve, effectively and efficiently
For CSPs to address both the challenges and opportunities driven by 4G/LTE and the mobile broadband explosion, a fundamentally different “customer-centric” approach to assurance is inevitable. The sooner the new CEA paradigm is embraced, the sooner real improvements in customer satisfaction – and profitability – can be realized.
category: Expert Opinions