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Reflections on the 2013 Caribbean Cable Telecommunications Association Conference

Will Yan

We're jamming! Well, jamming in the cable industry, in the Caribbean. This year's Caribbean Cable Telecommunications Association (CCTA) annual conference ran from January 22 to 24 and was billed as "the Caribbean meets the future of cable TV." Indeed, the topics were all forward-looking — network upgrades, new plant expansions, delivery of content over multiple devices, search and navigation tools — the list goes on. It's an event where folks in the broadband business get together to share ideas and best practices. It's all about the application of technologies to support viable business models in a fast-changing marketplace.

This region is primed for expansion and ready to usher in an era of unprecedented new communications and entertainment services. While discussions about new apps and tools are certainly appropriate and interesting, a different topic grabbed my attention at CCTA — customer retention and building customer loyalties. One would have thought that, in this fast-developing market, the focus would be on how to sign up as many customers as possible. However, the keynote panel was instead devoted to customer retention. It shows that operators haven't lost sight on one of the key fundamentals of running a business — building long-lasting relationships

You know that operators are worried about losing subscribers when they start talking about retention. In North America, some 1.27 million households are no longer subscribed to cable video services, according to one of the presentations. At the same time, over-the-top (OTT) content has become a fact of life, with more and more people opting to view video online through providers such as Netflix, Hulu, Boxee, and others.

It's now more critical than ever that broadband providers offer fast service, consistent quality of experience, and the ability to reliably deliver optimum service packages. Issue resolution and outage mitigation will also go a long way to help you retain those customers that you worked so hard to acquire, while providing accurate usage data to customers will enhance trust and loyalty.

Research tells us that differentiated services enhance customer retention. Providers need to find out what consumers want and deliver that reliably, and to have superb customer care processes to back up those services. On the flipside, repeated service calls, inaccurate billing, and degraded service quality will drive customers to your competition. It sounds logical enough, but as people who work in the trenches will tell you, getting this right can be easier said than done. In the past few years, operators have implemented a variety of tools to optimize their back-office support and improve quality of service. This includes the integration of operations support systems (OSS), service-monitoring tools, and service portals to capture customer feedback. Operators are increasingly focusing on ways to maintain effective communication channels with their subscribers, providing more options for communication and self-service.

Now, operators face the daunting task of sorting through mountains of subscriber usage data. Understanding usage patterns can help you meet customer demands at various levels. At the network level, it allows you to better plan network expansions and meet your growing subscribers' bandwidth consumption needs. At the individual subscriber level, understanding usage patterns enables you to offer more relevant service packages, which may include both post-paid and pre-paid options. At the application level, you can use this data to create a better user interface and an easy-to-use search and navigation guide. Finally, at the commercial level, network intelligence can help you deliver the audiences that advertisers crave. Technology such as IPDR, among others, offers insight into traffic and usage patterns at the per-subscriber level, allowing you to take action to substantially improve the customer experience. Investing in sustainable infrastructure is not a cost but an investment in long-term business assets — customer growth.

Operators need to find ways to streamline operational processes to gain efficiency, decrease outages, reduce mean time to repair (MTTR), and shorten mean time between failure (MTBF). This will save costs by cutting down on expensive truck rolls, which can add up to more than $200 each time, and customer service calls. But perhaps more importantly, these steps also improve the subscriber experience. After all, customer care and quality of service are advantages that cable operators have over OTT providers, who can only offer their best efforts, and cable operators need to focus on this competitive edge at a time when many customers are looking for reasons to justify their cable video subscriptions.

Clearly, customer retention is a topical idea, even in a fast-growing market like the Caribbean. Bermuda in January was a unique experience — the weather wasn't the typical hot Caribbean weather that you'd expect, and the water wasn't warm enough to swim in (except for a few daring "snow birds" from the north!). But this cool and revitalizing paradise was an appropriate venue for a conference that kicks off the year, and just like taking a dip in the ocean, it was refreshing to hear the topic of customer retention gain so much attention. As we embark on another exciting year of broadband innovation and growth, I'm sure that this is one subject that will continue to be relevant for a long time to come.

By Will Yan, Senior VP, Worldwide Sales at Incognito Software

Related topics: Access Providers, Broadband, IPTV, Telecom

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