Holiday shopping just isn’t what it used to be. Black Friday promotions start on Thursday and those of us that choose to avoid the mall completely shop on-line. All those offers to keep track of – “Today Only”, “Before Midnight Tonight”, or “only available at our online store” – and most get it right. Each year retailers capture, process, and deliver millions upon millions of orders in a relatively short period of time and it makes you wonder why communication service providers are having so much trouble doing the same thing. As network operators become retailers of connected products, they need to embrace product and customer life cycles that make it easy and efficient to sell and support customers. Whether the product is a smartphone, tablet, PC, energy monitor, or application; it’s pure retail. Millions of customers, millions of products, millions of orders, and millions of changes served by multiple channels and partners.
Electronics stores, boutiques, and communication service providers all need processes and systems that feed each channel its unique offers based on a common lifecycle and driven by a centralized product catalog. Then there’s the customer. Orders that begin on-line might be completed over the phone if stock is unavailable or returned to a retail outlet if the look-and-feel fails to inspire. In all those channels, customers see only one brand – the provider – and they rightly assume that there is only one order and the clerk at the store can see their order, make changes, and activate any product. For the provider, time is of the essence and staff is expensive. They need to quickly serve customers without having to consult multiple systems and inventories or worse having to “phone it in”.
End-to-End Order Management is End-to-End Customer Management
As retailers, it’s important for service providers to make as many products available in as many places as possible. The result is that service providers now support retail outlets both owned and shared with other retailers, on-line channels via their branded site or as part of an on-line community, and the ever-present call center. The number and variety of channels virtually guarantees that the people supporting them aren’t all the well-trained professionals that service providers would like to have representing them. The volume of orders and diversity of staff means that the systems have to carry the load without a lot of searching, struggling, or manual correlation of relevant data points.
Before anyone is connected, service providers need a cohesive approach to product and offer development and management. The ability to quickly assemble a one-time offer that expires “at midnight tonight” or “online only” gives communication retailers the flexibility to promote products at the time and place of their choosing. The other side of the coin is the ability to push that offer to the channels that will deliver and support it. Putting together an offer requires time and planning but once launched, the product must be immediately available for purchase which means customers can order it. A single product catalog, integrated with customer data that drives every sales channel the same way minimizes risk while reducing both staff and customer confusion.
All Year Long
Many retailers of consumer goods spend all year preparing for the holiday season. While communication service providers don’t have that luxury, the good news is that the volume of orders is consistently high and continues to grow. The challenge is that the accuracy, reliability, and agility of operations must also be consistently high and continue to improve. One of the brightest spots in what many might consider a disappointing year is communications. A booming market for connected devices, applications, and customers exists in our industry and with the New Year comes renewed optimism for future success.