In MNO organizations, the network operations and customer service functions are traditionally separate from each other, sometimes even having a distinct chain of managerial command right up to VP level. Yet customer satisfaction levels and Net Promoter Score (NPS) are hugely dependent on network performance. Persistent dropped calls, not-spots, and slow data connections—all of these erode customer loyalty and can build up towards a potential desire to churn. The customer’s actual experience when using their handset on the network is one of the most important touchpoints, and this is ultimately driven by the network KPIs.
The traditional organizational structure worked fine when network optimization was largely a manual process, performed by teams of RF engineers who regularly adjusted the network parameters to achieve the best coverage and performance. With the advent of SON, however, this ‘silo’ approach is no longer adequate, and there needs to be much closer cooperation between departments. Service issues need to be rapidly addressed before they result in loss of customers or damage to brand reputation. This is a considerable challenge when new mobile applications are being launched almost daily, making traffic and mobility profiles ever more difficult to predict.
When it comes to the speed of resolving network-related service issues, there is a growing mismatch between customer expectation and the reality. The flawless mobile service that customers are beginning to expect can only be maintained if optimization teams and those with customer experience responsibilities work together and are mutually accountable. As a result, service providers are starting to move away from acquiring network metrics from a Network Operations Center (NOC) and are instead implementing a Service Operations Center (SOC), which puts the customer and their quality of experience at the center of the operation. The SOC breaks down the wall between the network operations silo and the customer service silo, and enables user experience to drive network optimization.
This move from a network-centric to a customer-centric ethos has been documented by industry observers over the past two to three years. The NOC/SOC transformation is one of three key elements—the other two being customer care empowerment and the growth and utilization of big data analytics.
To run such a customer-centric service, network optimization needs to be based on actionable subscriber experience insights. Raw network performance metrics are just not adequate any more, especially for complex services such as VoLTE, video streaming, and over-the-top applications like WhatsApp, nor are they able to meet the needs of highly mobile subscribers who need seamless coverage when travelling. All kinds of user behavior, such as commuting pattern, social media habits, and the types of data services accessed at different times of day, can all impact on network optimization needs. What is more, using an integrated SON-CEM solution to optimize user experience actually starts to mirror the organizational evolution that is occurring within MNOs.
The move towards network functions virtualization (NFV) will make it more difficult to obtain data from probes and traces, and will therefore also be a factor in accelerating the move towards a more integrated service approach. On the other hand, NFV itself provides operators with more flexibility to tailor services to suit subscribers’ individual needs, and this two-way relationship will also affirm the need to break out of those historical silos.