Against the technical backdrop of increasing expectations for always-on internet and mobile services, many carriers are struggling on the frontend with customer experience. All the interactions — in-store, chatbot, email, phone, text, website, app, messenger service, Facebook — must be unified and personalized. Nearly seven out of 10 carriers believe this will be the single most important factor in customer loyalty, according to the CMO Council and the Open Roads Community.

Fragmented Customer Experiences

Carriers have traditionally grown through acquisition, so they run on legacy systems focused on a particular set of products. They might have a system for a customer's cell service account, another one for their internet account, and yet another for their TV service. These de-facto silos also mean there could be three “versions” of the same customer in three different systems.

It gets even more complicated when customer interaction systems are siloed by sales channel in addition to product line. Existing and potential customers might receive different offers for the same products across different channels. In-store customer service reps might not have access to all of the products a customer has with the company. Customers don’t understand why they receive two bills from the same company.

Customers get confused and frustrated from dealing with all these inconsistent experiences. 

Systems Stifle Innovation and Agility

It is not just customers who get frustrated.

One of the largest cable and TV companies in Europe was centralizing IT operations in the European market to leverage quad-plays. Their multiple business support systems (BSS) and operation support systems (OSS) were in various states of upgrade and age. This presented a considerable challenge because a lot of the backend BSS systems were impossible to replace, but were never designed to provide a digital customer experience.

Many carriers find themselves in the same position.

The CMO Council Report found that just 9 percent of telco marketers felt their organizations were highly advanced and rapidly evolving to be more data-driven, customer-responsive and digitally adaptive. Another 47 percent admitted that while they were evolving, far more effort was required.

Only 4 percent indicated their organizations were delivering consistent customer experiences that were personalized and contextually relevant across all traditional and digital channels.

Technical Issues Cripple Marketing Campaigns

Telco marketers are severely hamstrung by backend and siloed systems.

It is technically very difficult to modify any portion, let alone tie them together to enable quad-play bundles. As a result, new campaigns might take months to get to customers. At the European cable and TV company, the typical time to market for a new campaign running across separate businesses and products within those businesses was three to six months. Not very agile.

Not only do legacy systems slow marketing down considerably, but they may also make it impossible to create new offers beyond those in the business support system (BSS). For example, how can marketing bundle a free Netflix account with a certain mobile data plan when the underlying business support system doesn’t even know the Netflix account exists?

How are Leading Carriers Closing the Gap?

Without a single view of the customer’s interactions with your organization, personalization is clunky at best, and impossible at worst. How do you get all those disparate systems to talk to each other without expensive, custom and increasingly risky integrations?

Leading carriers have found a way.

They close the gap between customer expectation and restrictive legacy system capabilities by incorporating what Gartner refers to as “API-based e-commerce software” which helps to facilitate consistent, personalized customer experiences across product lines and touchpoints.

Modern, API-based commerce technology “understands” the complex business rules in multiple BSS’s and injects transactional capabilities into all customer experiences. Carriers can now take advantage of legacy systems and power consistent pricing, product and promotional experiences across any touchpoint including in-store.

The Secret Weapon in Modern e-Commerce  

One of the top three carriers in the United States knew customers were tired of complicated plans, data limits, global roaming fees and lockdown contracts. They introduced a single, unlimited plan for everyone. Their market share skyrocketed.

But even this company struggled to close the gap between customer expectations and their actual customer experience. They recognized that the different touchpoint experiences they had either acquired or built over the years focused on the wrong problem. They did not need a complete solution for each touchpoint; they needed a way to tie existing backend systems to any frontend.

They found the secret weapon: by taking advantage of API-based e-commerce technology, they were able to orchestrate the business logic housed in multiple legacy systems and apply that to any frontend device or experience.

The legacy systems still do their job.

Today, the company can build consistent, personalized customer experiences with commerce services into any touchpoint, and do it fast. Marketing is happy because not only can they offer custom, personalized bundles, and react quickly to competitor campaigns, but also they can look to new opportunities for partner marketing. For example, if marketing wants to offer a free Netflix account with a certain mobile data plan, the e-commerce system validates the plan and communicates directly with the appropriate fulfillment system. The BSS does not have to “know.”

By leveraging e-commerce, the previously mentioned European cable company was also able to combine their system with a rules-based personalization engine giving them a boost regarding personalization. A customer who abandons a full cart automatically receives a special offer or a price discount to push them over the purchasing threshold. Discounting and special offers are all automated under the control of the decision engine. Marketing can change a rule and learn how that impacts response.

In addition to traditional touchpoints like in-person, email or phone, customers at the large US-based network operator can connect with care agents through SMS, mobile app, chatbots or live agents, and even Facebook. All communication channels provide personalized support and product recommendations that people can purchase anytime through any medium.

Customer conversations are personalized. Carts and pricing are dynamic and persistent.

Marketing can experiment and respond to competitive challenges in hours, not months.

The Takeaway?

As the market evolves and telcos continue to diversify and grow through acquisition, even more legacy systems will need integration. Not only will the pace of tech change remain high, but also, it is widely anticipated that the number of devices a typical consumer owns will multiply by four times in the next five years due to the rise of the Internet of Things.

Modern commerce technology can help major carriers unlock business agility and creativity despite intransigent legacy technology.

For marketing, this is a real game changer.


Harry Chemko, CEO Elastic Path: Harry is a consummate entrepreneur, having started commerce software provider Elastic Path in 2000. He believes that in this connected world, digital commerce is all about generating business value from great digital experiences across all touchpoints.