Year after year, in survey after survey, consumers overwhelmingly prefer self-service options over calling, chatting or face-to-face interaction with a business. These preferences grew with the pandemic, especially among Zoomers (Gen Z) and Millenials, who say they are using help centers, knowledge bases and FAQs more frequently than before COVID-19. That’s good news for businesses because when customers can help themselves, it helps the bottom line.
Mobile operators are a prime example. When customers can sign up for service, provision new phones or additional devices such as smart watches, change plans, add services and get device insurance entirely on their own, operators save big. For example, their sales channels can be much leaner, with fewer or even no storefronts, kiosks and retail staff. Those savings are key for operators catering to highly price-sensitive demographics with slim profit margins.
Self-service options such as password resets or service troubleshooting also enable lower contact center headcounts — with a major side benefit: Instead of constantly scrambling to field calls about everyday processes, agents now have more time to provide better service to customers with unique needs. That helps minimize churn. Artificial intelligence (AI) can also power self-service options such as chatbots to help customers troubleshoot or make changes, such as choosing a new plan.
The concept of “customer experience” isn’t limited to their interactions with their operator. It also can include their ability to get the “digital lifestyle” services they want. One example is personalization, such as adding Netflix, HBO Max, international texting, gaming services, live sports packages and other features to their plan. These directly benefit operators with additional revenue and greater stickiness to reduce churn.
Operators and/or their business partners also could use AI to analyze customer habits and preferences combined with real-time information such as location and then automatically suggest services that are likely to interest them. For example, customers who often browse soccer sites on their smartphones and are currently in a stadium might receive a promo for an AR app-based service with ensured quality of service for enhanced augmented experience supported by a 5G network.
In the enterprise segment, customers also want self-service options, especially for IoT devices used by their employees or customers. For example, 5G is designed to support up to 1 million devices per square kilometer. The systems integrator responsible for setting up IoT sensors and controllers at a major refinery or manufacturing facility will want an operator that can provide a self-service portal for provisioning and managing hundreds or thousands of devices simultaneously.
Meanwhile, a provider of residential security services will want similar self-service capabilities for its customers’ doorbell cameras, motion detectors and other sensors. Operators that can meet these kinds of B2B and B2C use case requirements will have a competitive edge in the IoT market.
Personalization driven by analytics and AI is another example that is enabled by cloud technologies as more customer information is collected and analyzed. CSPs can provide enhanced experiences with AI-driven tailored offers answering customer needs at the relevant moment or with on-the-fly resolution of quality experience with machine learning (ML) based automation.
The future is cloudy — and that’s a good thing
So why don’t more operators maximize their self-service options? Typically they’re saddled with a legacy BSS whose rigid architecture was never designed to support applications and databases in public, private and hybrid cloud environments. Legacy BSS also tend to be highly complex because they’ve been cobbled together over the decades using components from multiple vendors. No wonder only 15% of mobile operators and other service providers have put more than 25% of their workloads in the cloud, according to a TM Forum survey.
This rigidity and complexity undermine their ability to provide all the self-service options consumers and enterprise customers want. It also puts them at a competitive disadvantage with greenfield 5G operators, whose brand-new BSS are cloud native, support open architecture and standardization, and are thus ready to support zero-touch customer service.
Market dynamics such as self-service preferences aren’t the only reason mobile operators need to get serious about aggressively migrating workloads to the cloud. Standards also are driving this evolution, starting with 3GPP Release 15, which focuses on 5G technology. The 3GPP organization introduces the service-based architecture (SBA), which is very much cloud oriented. SBA building blocks are independent and containerized services/network functions (NFs) that interact with each other via service-based interfaces (SBI). Cloud concepts such as service scalability are adopted, making the cloud environment (whether private or public) the perfect fit for hosting 5G-enabled business support systems.
How a cloud-native BSS enables new and better user experiences
To provide the self-service, deep personalization and other user experiences that today’s customers want, mobile operators need a cloud-native BSS. Its major features and attributes include a decomposed architecture based on site reliability engineering (SRE) methodology, CI/CD and open source, and access to data for enhanced analytics and AI, as well as high levels of automation.
A cloud-native BSS also can enable user experiences that people and enterprises don’t even know they want — until an operator shakes up the market by offering them. That’s because a cloud-native BSS allows operators the flexibility to quickly and inexpensively develop innovative services that give users experiences they can’t get anywhere else.
In the process, that operator gets a first-mover advantage in the markets it serves — an advantage that could last six months, a year or longer if rivals have legacy BSS that limit their ability to develop comparable services. At the same time, if one of those rivals launches a service that wows the marketplace, the operator with a cloud-native BSS has the flexibility to develop a competing service quickly. Figure 1 illustrates the five steps mobile operators can take to implement a cloud-native BSS without an expensive, time-consuming forklift upgrade. For example, in step 2, the operator’s legacy, proprietary database is replaced with a next-gen cloud database. This helps lay the foundation for step 4, where the operator can now apply SRE methodology to product design