Service providers are undoubtedly at the very heart of our increasingly hyperconnected world.

In the last 20 years alone, we’ve seen an unprecedented number of innovations that have forever changed not only the way we communicate with each other, but also our lives. The unique number of global mobile phone users has skyrocketed – from just 318 million in 1998 to 5.1 billion today – driving evolution on the network to the current 4G standard, while we excitedly await the hyper-fast connectivity promised by 5G.

We’re also just beginning to scratch the surface of the Internet of Things (IoT), and realising its potential for life-changing experiences such as the connected home, autonomous vehicles, wearables and entertainment, which will become equally as pervasive.

In an industry where innovation is ‘business as usual’ (but often overlooked), it would be natural to assume it drives customer loyalty. Unfortunately, the opposite is true – on an annual basis, postpaid churn rates range from five percent – 32 percent and 14 percent – 75 percent for all customer types.

An ever-evolving and increasingly crowded competitive playing field

To retain market share, service providers are increasingly combatting a growing number of competitors. These rivals, both traditional and new digital entrants are targeting nearly every aspect of their business and, by default, their customers. To combat this rising tide of competitors, service providers need to focus on key innovations in areas where they have a natural advantage. For example, few companies have the close, consistent customer relationships that are inherent to the communications and media industry. So by improving the customer experience, service providers will be better able to keep adversaries at bay.

To achieve these tightly interwoven objectives, service providers are undertaking a variety of innovative initiatives to win and retain customer loyalty. A recent study, commissioned by BriteBill and conducted by Omnisperience, surveyed 40 Tier-0 and Tier-1 service providers across EMEA, North America, and Asia Pacific to learn more about their competition, customer experience challenges and innovations planned for 2018-2019.

Innovation is key to combatting competition and delivering exceptional experiences

The survey found that 88 percent of respondents are concerned about innovation from new entrants that are able to launch groundbreaking offerings at the speed of light, while a further 75 percent voiced unease about innovation from their traditional adversaries. To tackle this competition and improve the customer experience, service providers need to accelerate the pace of introducing new products and services to the market.

As the quantity and speed of introducing new innovations to the market increases, service providers need to: ensure products work as expected from day one and customers receive superior experiences; use the power of innovation to anticipate issues and improve customer engagements; and clearly communicate new products and services effectively. If any of these elements are missing, service providers run the risk of hindering the uptake of the products and offers they develop.

When asked about investment plans, customer-oriented activities topped the list with 100 percent of service providers intending to reduce churn and 88 percent wanting to improve the Customer Experience. A deeper dive into survey results uncovered key customer-centric initiatives such as innovation around new products (90 percent), launching new tariffs or offers (75 percent), innovation around machine to machine (M2M) or IoT (63 percernt), and integrating Artificial Intelligence into the Customer Experience (50 percent).

As reported by the TM Forum, service providers are beginning to embrace AI across intelligent care and intelligent marketing applications to improve customer centricity. While AI can be beneficial in delivering proactive notifications, meeting customer self-service expectations and reducing contact centre wait times, it’s a misconception that it will alleviate contact centre traffic resulting from poorly explained products, tariffs and offers. As the cost of calls to care continues to rise, service providers need to tackle the root cause of these inquiries – the bill.

Clear communications are vital to innovation and Customer Experience

With constant innovation being the new norm, service providers will be challenged to clearly communicate new products, offers and the value being delivered. Bills that remain vague will continue to result in customer frustration, bill shock, bill dread and/or increased contact centre traffic from customers who need clarification on charges and offers. Largely overlooked during the era of digital transformation, the bill is now at the forefront of the Digital Experience. With good reason: the bill, as we know it today, is an artifact from the 1990s and remains a Customer Experience blackspot. 

As one of the most frequent and tangible communications customers have with their service providers, 100 percent of respondents told us they want to improve their billing experience. To accomplish this, service providers are targeting four areas: making bills more automated (100 percent), better designed and easier to understand (75 percent), personalised and more relevant (38 percent), and communicate value – not just cost (23 percent).

When done right, the bill has the power to be a brand ambassador, a valued customer touchpoint and a tool to increase profitability and loyalty. But, achieving this requires agility. Today’s innovative bill design will be tomorrow’s table stakes. To continually deliver engaging and clear communications, service providers require a flexible approach to billing. They need to be able to quickly evolve the bill design to meet ongoing innovations and customer expectations.

Billing innovation will help service providers embrace regulation

Using the bill as an engaging communication vehicle, rather than just a cold demand for payment, will be even more vital as UK regulator Ofcom puts into effect changes and new mandates to ensure customers are receiving the best deal from their service provider.

Service providers that begin to notify customers in advance will be able to suggest new packages and offers, convey the value of services provided and potentially increase revenue per customer. On the flipside, customers who remain unaware that their contracts are about to end will begin to shop around and are much more likely to churn; leaving these service providers vulnerable and needing to increase their focus on customer acquisition, where costs have increased by eight percent over the last two years.

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