ATG in the Telecommunications Industry

The purpose of this post is to describe how ATG can help organizations in the Telecommunications industry achieve their online goals.  ATG has established a leadership role in the overall practice of online commerce and service.  Many of the top retailers around the world use ATG to drive their online business, and in many ways, retailers’ requirements for a commerce platform are similar to that of a Telco.   Common needs between the two industries include performance, scalability, advanced personalization capabilities, optimized business tools to control the site(s), and the need for a commerce platform that provides a careful balance between offering a rich feature set along with the ability to extend / customize the platform to meet the organizations needs.

ATG has proven success with some of the leading telco providers in the world.  We have worked closely with these organizations both to ensure their success as well as understand the value ATG delivers to them.  We have found that there are numerous requirements that are unique to the Telecommunication industry, some of which are discussed below.  When possible, we will also use this document to describe best practices for particular use cases.

Product availability / compatibility

The following examples are primarily geared towards the wireless product line, but the general concepts can be applied to other types of products as well.

Mapping between services and geography

It’s quite obvious that not all service plans are available in all geographic regions.  During the shopping process, it’s necessary for the customer to identify their geographic region (typically by entering their zipcode) in order for the site to only show service plans that are available in their area.  Measures should be taken to ensure that the customer does not have to enter this geographic information more than one time (preferably, across sessions).  ATG provides this capability as an out of the box feature (called Persistent Anonymous Profiles).  For more information on ATG Profiles, see this post.

Mapping between devices and services

Not all wireless service plans are available for all devices.  There needs to be a mapping between device and service plan to ensure that the customer selects a valid combination.  It’s common to represent this as a many to many relationship.  ATG’s Data Anywhere Architecture makes it possible to define these kinds of complex relationships. 

Mapping between accessories and devices

Not all wireless accessories will work with every device.  For example, an iPhone case will certainly not fit a Blackberry phone.  When a customer has selected a device, they should only be presented with accessories that will be compatible with that device.  Ignoring this need will certainly result in unhappy customers and a high return rate for accessories that are incompatible with the selected device.

How to present these complexities to the customer in a way that is intuitive within the shopping process

While it’s essential that the relationships above are enforced to avoid allowing the customer to purchase incompatible products, the work doesn’t stop there.  There are many ways to represent these relationships in the shopping process, but many of them may seem confusing to the customer.  Great care needs to be taken to ensure that the customer has an easy time understanding how to navigate these choices.  There are different approaches to this, some which are rigid and drive the customer down a particular path (see diagram below).  Others are more flexible, allowing the customer more freedom in their shopping process.  For example, perhaps the customer wants to select the device prior to selecting which service plan they want.  Which approach (or the degree of freedom your site employs) and it’s effectiveness will depend on your target audience.  ATG cannot make this decision for you, but there are tools in the platform that will help you to try different approaches, and measure the effectiveness of each with the goal of helping you to find the right mix for your customers. 

Technical side-note

The task of modeling the ATG catalog structure to accommodate the mapping described above should not be taken lightly.  Theoretically, there are many ways to do this, but there are two very important things to keep in mind:

  1. Depending on how the catalog is modeled, performance could be anywhere from very good to unacceptable given the complexity of the relationships between the items (compatibility).  Steps need to be taken to ensure that performance is acceptable during the customer experience.
  2. Regardless of the size of the catalog (number of items) or the complexity of the relationships between items, the catalog must be designed so that it's easy to manage.  Many times, data feeds will populate a significant portion of the online catalog, but the rest is usually managed using ATG's Business User tools (such as ATG Merchandising).  Take time to ensure that the design of the catalog can easily be managed by business users.

Personalization

What are common personalization goals for telcos?

The term Personalization means different things to different people, but within the context of the organizations online business, it generally boils down a few things; learning more about customer behavior, adapting the site to be more relevant to the customer, and helping guide the customer through various complex transactions (checkout, service, etc). A simple example of a common personalization use case would be the following:

  • A customer comes to the site, and enters their zipcode
  • Next, they spend some time browsing the Blackberry phones section of the site
  • You now know the geographic location of the customer, and the type of device they are likely to be interested in.  It would make perfect sense to adapt the site so that the 'featured devices' change from whatever the generic featured device set was for anonymous customers to something that would highlight the devices that seem most relevant to the customer.  Perhaps you could also offer a 'Which Blackberry is right for you' graphic that takes the customer to content that helps them to decide which Blackberry device is the best fit for their needs.  All the while, you could highlight some service plans that are available in their area as well as compatible with Blackberry devices.

To ATG, Personalization is part technology, but to a larger degree, it’s a strategy that our customer must define.  Our goals are to ensure that our tools enable our customers to fully implement their Personalization strategy as well as to provide best practices around personalization.  Click here for more information about ATG Personalization.

Product Bundling

Pre-defined by business

Bundling products and services together into logical sets of offerings has numerous advantages; provides the customer with an easier way to purchase the set of products / services, allows the organization to have more flexibility with respect to pricing, and it increases the adoption rate of less popular products by bundling them with the more popular items at a perceived low cost.  The task of determining the bundle mix is almost always done at a high level within the Marketing department, and then implemented across all the channels in a consistent manner.  The online channel needs to be flexible enough to handle any bundle mix the Marketing department defines.

Flexible

Although the business will likely define the basic structure of the bundles, there is usually some degree of flexibility offered to the customer within the bundle structure.  For example, a particular bundle may require that the customer select from a certain class of broadband, select various options for their home phone service, and select certain options for their TV service.  The choices they make within the three products (internet, phone, and cable) will affect the overall package price.  The bundle now has a well-defined set of products included, but with some degree of configurability within each product.

Reverse engineering into a ‘better package’

Another concept that some organizations strive for is to recognize which products a customer already owns (or has in their cart), and try to upsell them into a ‘better package’.  The better package would likely be a bundle that includes all the products they currently have as well as one that they customer does not have.  The advantage to the customer is that they can get an additional product for a small cost (due to how the bundle is priced).  The advantage to the organization is that they increase their adoption rate for the added product.

Custom storefronts  (B2B)

While the B2C site will typically drive the most traffic, the B2B sites may actually be driving the most revenue.  The B2B site will be the destination for your business clients to manage their services, order additional devices, etc.  Each of these sites will typically have a common set of capabilities, but will differ to some extent in terms of products available, pricing, and will generally have a co-branded look and feel.  For the sake of simplifying the terminology, let's call each business clients site a microsite.  Most of the requirements for the B2C site will also be required for the B2B site.  In addition, the B2B site will likely have some additional requirements as follows:

  • Catalog - Each microsite will need to show only the products that are allowed based on the contract between the tow companies.  ATG provides this capability in the form of ATG Custom Catalogs.
  • Pricing - Each microsite will need to apply specific (negotiated) pricing based on the contract as well.  ATG provides this capability via ATG Price Lists.
  • Organizations / roles / approval workflow - The business clients will need some security in place to ensure that people are creating orders that are appropriate for their business.  This means that the ability for them to 'self-administer' the site becomes critical.  These include functions like being able to define a multi-level organization, ability to assign meaningful roles to people, and defining an approval workflow for orders placed (including limits on order values).  ATG provides all of these capabilities.
  • Presentation / UI - Each business client may prefer some kind of unique style for their microsite.  There are plenty of different ways to accomplish this in ATG, and the best approach will depend on how you envision these creative aspects being managed.

Merchandising / Content Management

Managing a commerce site depends on a variety of people with a range of different skill sets and responsibilities.  One of the more important aspects to managing a commerce site is how to manage the catalog as well as the content.  ATG provides  a number of tools that allow business users the ability to make the necessary changes to both the catalog and content.  The primary tool for this purpose is ATG Merchandising.

Regardless of the types of products contained in the catalog (wireless devices, service plans, media downloads, etc), there will almost always be attributes that need to be added to the definition of the category, product, and SKU.  ATG's catalog is extremely flexible, and is designed to be extended in this way.  For example, the out of the box SKU definition does not have a property called 'GPS Enabled' with a true or false value.  This may be something you will need to add to the definition of the SKU in order to properly present the details about the product (or to use this attribute in rules where you filter out any SKUs that have that property set to false).  The point is that every ATG implementation will require some degree of extending the catalog definition, and the ATG business user tools will automatically interpret those extensions and present the UI appropriately with no additional coding.

Promotions / Discounts

Many retailers tend to make great use of discounts in order to entice customers to place orders.  Telecommunications organizations have the opportunity as well, but probably not with the same degree of flexibility.  Promotions / discounts for telecommunications sites tend to be used more as an instrument to affect pricing overall.  The most obvious way to affect pricing is by altering the actual price of a product in the price list.  It's also common to set the price of a bundle to a particular base price, and then the price will adjust up based on the options the customer selects.  If there is a desire to move more customers into a more expensive option, discounts could be used to give the impression to the customer that they are getting a good deal.  ATG provides for the ability to offer percent off, amount off, or fixed price on items, orders, or shipping.

Multi-language / multi-currency

Many sites will have a requirement where they need to present the catalog / content in multiple languages, as well as present pricing in multiple currencies.  This is especially true in Europe.  ATG's commerce platform fully supports multiple languages and multiple currencies.  Some ATG customers decide to create a single site supporting multiple languages and currencies (a centralized approach), while other customers will instead create a different site for each country that will only support a single language and currency (distributed approach).  Which approach you choose is up to you, but it's important to note that either is possible.

Self service / My Account

Online service is an essential aspect to overall customer satisfaction and retention.  Online service can involve a number of areas including finding the answer to a technical question, viewing statements, paying your bill, changing service plan, etc.  Some of these functions are best handled by exposing functionality from the backend systems as opposed to building this functionality in ATG.  A good example is viewing past statement.  There is no real benefit to re-creating this functionality within ATG as there is not likely to be any personalization or selling opportunity within that context.  Rather, it's probably better to simply get the customer the information they are looking for as quickly as possible.

Alternatively, ATG does offer a series to applications that can certainly help customers find answers to commonly asked questions.  This would be an example of functionality that is most likely best delivered by ATG.  In fact, if the customer has authenticated (we know some information about them) then there may be the opportunity to enhance their self service experience by guiding them to the most appropriate information based on what we know about them (products owned, etc).

This is an area where it's common to have some overlap between ATG and other applicaitons, so it's important to have a clear understanding of the capabilites of each applicaiton, as well as a clear understanding of what you're trying to achieve in this area.

Integrations

Without a doubt, the backend systems within the typical telecommunications organization are highly complex.  There are usually many systems which provide various functions, and each one tends to have it's own lifespan (recently added, mid-life, being phased out), which means there may be a situation where there is an 'old' customer master, and a 'new' customer master in production at the same time.  There is usually a mix of enterprise applications which have been customized to some degree, along with applications built internally by the IT group.   It's common for the IT group to split their time between supporting the enterprise applications and creating the integration infrastructure between them.

Virtually all ATG implementations require integrating to a number of third party applications, and it's no surprise that this tends to be a very important aspect of building out the site.  Some common integration points include things like sending the order to an order management system, receiving catalog feeds, pricing feeds, inventory feeds, tax calculation services, payment processing services, cross channel customer lookups / matching, fraud detection services, etc.  There are things for the IT group to consider when designing an integration:

  • Should the integration be real-time or batch?
  • Should it be synchronous or asynchronous?
  • What transport should we use?
  • How should we handle error conditions?

The ATG platform contains a variety of tools / API's that will help the IT group to simplify / standardize these integrations.  The Data Anywhere Architecture, Web Services, and Integration Framework should be considered when designing integrations to these backend applications.

Business concepts

Think like a retailer

This just make sense...  If you want to be effective at selling online, then you should think and act like a retailer.  In other words, you need to:

  • Merchandise the site in a simple and coherent manner.  The goal is to help customers navigate to the products / services they want as quickly as possible.
  • Provide an intuitive shopping process and avoid exposing all the complexities normally encountered when purchasing complex items.  Remember, the primary goal is to complete the sale, so creating unnecessary obstructions to checkout will make only push you further away from your goal.
  • Ensure that the site performs well.  Nobody likes to shop on a slow site.
  • Don't feel compelled to offer every product possible online as some of them just don't fit very well.  Use the 80/20 rule here and sacrifice complex situations to retain the simplicity of the customer experience.

Be open to re-org (combine business & IT into a closely knit group)

Consider creating a new online commerce group that is comprised of everyone who will actively maintain or support the site including both business and technical people.  This concept has had proven success in the past for a number of reasons:

  • Faster time to market - By bringing the technical and business people together, changes to the site tend to happen in much less time because the walls between the groups have come down.
  • Common goals - Everyone in this group should be measured by the performance of the site.  In this kind of environment, people tend to become much more cooperative in order to meet their common goals.
  • Single focus - People in this group should have a very sharp focus on the online business, and their level of channel expertise will increase over time.

Ensure the business is actively driving requirements (beware of making false assumptions)

Telecommunications organizations are commonly IT driven companies.  Creating an effective online commerce application absolutely requires the synchronized efforts of both the IT group as well as the business side.  

Conclusion

In order to compete in the extremely competitive online commerce space, Telecommunications organizations will need to find ways to differentiate themselves in the eyes of their customers and business clients.  ATG's commerce platform provides an an excellent foundation to build your customer facing sites on.  Many leading Telecommunications organizations around the world have already experienced success online with ATG.  Hopefully, this post has provided some insight into how ATG can help these organizations meet their online goals.

Comments:

Lovely post. It is must & there are different contexts everywhere. The term Personalization means different things to different people, but within the context of the organizations online business, it generally boils down a few things; learning more about customer behavior, adapting the site to be more relevant to the customer, and helping guide the customer through various complex transactions (checkout, service, etc).

Posted by Teleshopping India on February 10, 2012 at 01:41 AM EST #

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