August 23, 2016

Customer-Focused Service Providers Should Echo Amazon

Service providers can take inspiration from Amazon when it comes to delivering value, convenience and choice for customers.

“Many companies describe themselves as customer-focused, but few walk the walk. Most big technology companies are competitor focused. They see what others are doing, and then work to fast follow.”

-- Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, Amazon 2015 Annual Report

Amazon knows what its customers want. Its customers want as many barriers removed between having an impulse or an idea and making a purchase. They want value, convenience and choice. They’d like the shopping cart they started filling or the video they started watching at the office to be accessible on their mobile device while they’re settling in for the train ride home.

The service providers that sell bandwidth, mobile connectivity and, sometimes, video services are in a great place to learn from Amazon. Also, they can extend Amazon’s relentless customer focus in ways that are only possible with a direct, constant connection to consumers and businesses – the connection they provide with their networks.

What service providers do is incredibly difficult and important. They provide our lifeline to the digital world, which includes all of the services we love from Amazon. Equally true is that service providers should remind their customers how important they are in their customers’ digital lives. There’s no need to go to elsewhere for value, convenience and new products and digital services.

Today’s competitive environment strongly favors companies like Amazon. Let’s break down how the company does more than just sell stuff. Let’s say you’re shopping for a camera. First, Amazon provides a huge selection from its own stock and its partners and allows you to filter search results in any number of ways. Then, while you’re shopping, the site makes relevant recommendations (including a list of other items that customers bought next); it often compares similar products in a table so you can easily see how comparable items stack up against each other in terms of pricing and features. In most cases, costs are easy to understand and products often include aggressive discounts.

As if that weren’t enough, Amazon frequently incorporate videos with product information, offers forums for product questions and lists customer reviews for a complete feedback loop surrounding each product. Once you’ve visited a product’s page on Amazon, there really isn’t much more you need to read in order to make a smart buying decision. That’s the definition of convenience. Add in one-click purchasing and free shipping and you’ve got a complete digital experience.

Not to be overlooked are the consistent, personalized and predictable interactions with Amazon’s brands and platforms. This is what customers truly want. The good news is that most service providers have the ability to do this.

Customer-focused service providers can take inspiration from Amazon and make it easier to purchase or customize existing mobile, broadband or TV services. With the right systems in place, service providers can make sure all of their services are available in convenient, affordable bundles and that the pricing information is the same on their websites, retail stores, call centers and social media platforms. Customers would appreciate being able to start a purchase in one place, say on their iPad at home, and then complete the transaction in a physical store on the way to work the next day.

But why stop there? What if customers want to buy additional digital services, say online backup, security, apps, content bundles and so on? It only makes sense for service providers to broker those relationships as well. Like Amazon, service providers have the potential to “store” where you purchase all kinds of services from all kinds of providers, in a consistent, personalized and predictable way.

Even more opportunities lie just beyond the boundaries of a service provider’s physical network. The number of connected devices that consumers use to measure and optimize everything from the temperature in their living room to the watering cycles for the backyard garden is growing by the day. Service providers could give customers a curated view of this complex world, partnering with device-makers and other companies to become the trusted enabler of the Internet of Things (IoT).

In other words, service providers could make it easy to shop for, install and connect IoT devices, especially because operators can help with connectivity needs. Indeed, the store where you buy your mobile phone service could be the same place you go to get help extending your home’s Wi-Fi signal. It’s where you could meet or hire help to set up and configure a home wireless music system, a new 4K TV set or a home automation system.

Let’s review some of the things that Amazon is doing well that can inspire service providers. Amazon provides:

  • Products and services for sale on all devices, with clarity and consistency.
  • A huge selection of stuff, from its own stock and that of third parties. The entire experience feels the same to the customer, whether he or she is buying a Sony camera from Amazon’s Seattle warehouse or a Canon camera from Adorama’s store in New York.
  • Personalized recommendations and detailed, comparative content about each item you might want to purchase.
  • A searchable, organized list of every order each customer has ever made, from any device. It makes reordering items that run out incredibly easy.

A final note about Amazon is that it not only sells physical and digital goods and services itself, but it provides the storefront for other retailers and even provides its back-office capabilities—the cloud infrastructure that powers its business—as a service so that any enterprise can run its business more efficiently.

Similarly, service providers can offer the core services they’re known for in addition to a wide range of physical and digital goods and services from third parties to serve their customers better. What’s more, they can provide the very thing that makes them unique—their networks—as a service to enterprises that want to use existing resources and improve operational efficiency.

Behind the scenes, service providers can already make steps to get off the starting block. By modernizing their own back-office systems they can, for example, centralize their product and service catalogs to make buying physical, digital and third-party goods and services easier, regardless of platform, network or device.

With an advanced analytics engine and centralized customer and order management capabilities, a service provider can take data from several sources and provide helpful recommendations to customers based on their locations and profiles. These technology changes alone won’t reinvent any company, but using Amazon’s customer-focused strategy as inspiration, service providers can become more valuable companies to their customers and partners, not just on their own networks, but anywhere the internet reaches.


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