Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Creating a More Holistic Customer Support Environment: A Q&A with Alcatel-Lucent

You know the golf adage "Drive for show; putt for dough?" I think that helps describe the digital lifestyles market today, where connected TVs, Apple's product introductions, and online video tend to dominate discussions, but where enhancements to customer support elements are more quietly being deployed and are having a sigificant impact on customer support cost reductions and in generating some serious revenue.

Case in point? Let's look at U.S. revenue estimates for 2008 for all online video (including that consumed at the Xbox)? A little over $1B. These estimates are from Internet Video: Direct-to-Consumer Services (Second Edition).

Now, 2008 revenues for digital home tech support services - including home computer and home network set-up and troubleshooting? For U.S. households, that figure comes in at $3.2B! This estimate is from our recently-completed report Digital Home Tech Support: Analysis and Forecasts.

Remote technical support is a very dynamic side of the home IT tech support business, and our recently-completed study Customer Support in the Digital Home finds that 3-4 million U.S. broadband households used remote technical support services in 2008, and reports growing interest in having their home computers and home networking remotely diagnosed and troubleshooted with remote experts. The interest in remote tech support services was notable, particularly compared to findings from our 2006 study Managing the Digital Home: Installation and Support Services. The message we're getting from consumers is "Fix my home technical problems as quickly and conveniently as possible, and I'll pay for it!" Indeed, our revenue forecasts for the entire home technical support market indicate that remote technical support services will account for a growing share of revenues - more than 40% by year-end 2013.

There are some exciting things occuring for consumer-facing IT support services, and in allowing service providers to reduce customer support costs and create new revenue-generating services wrapped around support. So, CONNECTIONS™ was an ideal venue to showcase sponsors (Alcatel-Lucent, Affinegy, BluePhone, Cisco, PlumChoice, Radialpoint, Retrevo, SingleClick Systems, Support.com, and Telcordia) and feature several panels that dive into tech support and customer support issues. Our panels included:
  • Driving the Next Dollar: The Role of VAS (with panelists from Affinegy, Calix, Radialpoint, SupportSoft, and Synacor);
  • Service Provider Home Networking Strategies: RGs and Services (with panelists from 2Wire, Alcatel-Lucent, Jungo, Motorola, and PUCC);
  • Truth in Networking (with panelists from Actiontec, Best Buy, D-Link, and NETGEAR);
  • Remote Technical Support (with panelists from BluePhone, CrossLoop, PlumChoice, Support.com, and Telcordia); and
  • Building the Holistic Support Environment (with panelists from Alcatel-Lucent, Cisco, and Retrevo).

I enjoyed the Building the Holistic Support Environment as the penultimate session for CONNECTIONS 2009, as it gave us the opportunity to explore the "what's next" area of enhancements to customer support services. As with some of the other panels, I've asked our participants if they would be willing to answer some follow-up questions. Ben Geller, Senior Director of Marketing, Motive Product Group, Alcatel-Lucent, was kind enough to take some time to respond to a virtual interview. Here's the transcript:

Parks Associates: We've described a holistic customer support experience in which one or several entities extends the “break/fix” or troubleshooting relationship with a customer to additional services that could include 1) new product or service recommendations; and 2) the use of analytics to best match consumers with products or services that best suit their needs. How does Alcatel-Lucent describe its role in creating more holistic support between service providers and customers?

Ben Geller: Alcatel-Lucent offers a unique portfolio of digital life management solutions marketed under the Motive brand. These solutions will make it easier for service providers to offer, activate, support and manage a wide range of high-speed internet, VoIP, video, mobile and converged services. Motive digital life management technology gives service providers the tools they need to help customers set up and manage the services and devices that power their digital life while delivering a positive, consistent experience at home or on-the-go throughout the entire service lifecycle.

Parks Associates: What would you say are the key elements of what Alcatel-Lucent is offering its customers in the holistic support space? How would you classify your offerings?

Ben Geller: Key Elements of offerings from ALU’s Motive Product Division are:

  1. The ability to go beyond basic network management and device management and provide a 360° view and extended management control across the elements of the entire service delivery ecosystem (customer premises, back office, network and partner domain).
  2. Easy to use, intuitive self-service tools for consumers that leverage multiple contact channels – Portal, email, chat, IVR, and desktop client.
  3. Easy-to-use tools for the help, designed to guide frontline call center agents through the problem triage, trouble shooting and resolution process.
  4. Support for converged services via real-time visibility and control over fixed-line and mobile services and devices, deliver help desk a single UI that consolidates management visibility and control over fixed and mobile services and devices.
  5. Multi-platform and multi-protocol support; support for a wide range of mobile platforms and PC operating systems and support for TR-069, OMA-DM, OMA-DS, UPnP, and proprietary protocols.
Parks Associates: There is lots of talk today about the amount of investment that a service provider needs to make in its customer support elements. What are you advising service providers to put in place insofar as the critical elements to enhancing the support experience?

Ben Geller: First, we are advising providers to look beyond device management and evolve toward true service management. Therefore part of our messaging and approach is based on helping providers leverage their current investments in device management, OSS/BSS, NMS and EMS systems. Currently, these systems offer providers “stove pipe or functional” views into their customers experience. There are management solutions within our portfolio (Motive ServiceView) that use critical information from these functional systems to deliver providers a real-time perspective of the customers service experience. These mean that help desk personnel do not have to swivel chair across multiple systems in an attempt to isolate a problem or determine root cause (which make the customer service experience better, faster and more effective) and providers can get more out of their existing service delivery and management investments.

Parks Associates: What is Alcatel-Lucent able to show its customers in terms of the return on investment?

Ben Geller: The Motive Product Division conducts regular quarterly business reviews with customers for the sole purpose of evaluating actual results against expected results. These review offer both Motive and the service provider an opportunity to understand what’s working right and where possible course corrections are needed.

Parks Associates: Let's talk some specific data, which you've shared with us in the past. In the broadband service provider business, new service and product rollouts (like home networking) have tended to generate a big increase in support calls. Can you share some success stories in helping service providers reduce them?

Ben Geller: Our customers tell us time and time again that creating an easy, consistent, and personalized experience across service and devices throughout the purchase, installation, maintenance, and support phases of the customer service lifecycle is a key factor with respect to lowering support costs and ensuring customer satisfaction. In the context of service installation, Motive self-activation tools help providers increase their first-time install success rates. [Geller's specific examples include the following:]
  • One of our customers measured improvement in this area by realizing an increase in first-time install rate success from just under 60% to over 98%, while reducing ‘first-30 day’ supports call by 75%.
  • In the context of customer technical support, our customers tell us that subscribers who use Motive self-service technology to troubleshoot and resolve issues are five times less likely to call for help when compared to subscribers that do not use self help.
  • Finally, in the context of home device management we’ve helped service providers drive substantial cost savings via the ability to remotely manage and proactively push out device updates.

We heard of several instances when a provider has learned about a firmware flaw in a device that needed to be resolved immediately due to security or service instability concerns. In the past, the way to address this problem would be to replace the flawed modems. Correcting a problem of this magnitude would require a substantial investment in additional modems, shipping, managing the support calls, and loss of revenue due to service outages while the recall took place. From a customer satisfaction standpoint, most providers feel that addressing this type of support issue with a recall would further erode customer confidence and would negate any gains made in providing a seamless customer service experience.

Using Motive solutions providers are able to correct the issue without requiring subscriber interaction, technician visits and costly device swaps saving them millions of dollars. These results are indicative of the benefits being realized by the more than 100 service provides around the world who are using Motive service management solution.

Parks Associates: What tools do you see as critical in building a more holistic support environment? Beyond TR-069, what is needed?

Ben Geller: When it comes to device management specifically, having management technologies that support industry standards is certainly an important part of developing and executing delivery of a holistic support environment. However, standards can’t often keep pace with real-time requirements from the field. In the event device management standards do not go far enough, it is important to have the ability quickly extend management technology to leverage proprietary or custom functions exposed by CPE manufacturers. That’s why the Motive Product Division continues to remain vendor agnostic. We maintain interoperability relationships with over 70 of the world’s leading CPE and handset manufactures and have a proven track record of delivering custom device management functions in the absence of industry standards.

Parks Associates: Beyond broadband and home network management, what other things/services can be managed?

Ben Geller: That’s a pretty open ended question but I’ll offer a few perspectives. First, we think the future of broadband is mobile. Second, we also see providers (fixed and mobile) looking for new ways to work with 3rd party application and content providers to offer new services. Therefore, it is increasing more important to extend robust service management capabilities into the wireless world (for mobile operators) and extend management visibility and control deeper into the partner domain. Simply being able to manage a device (home of mobile) is not enough. Our service management capabilities are currently evolving from the ability to manage to the last ten feet of the last mile to managing the entire service delivery ecosystem. Solutions such as Motive ServiceView help providers get a real-time, accurate view of their customers service experience (beyond the home or devices they carry around in their hand) and subsequently offers the ability to automate corrective actions across the service delivery ecosystem when appropriate.

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