I came across an interesting statistic this week. According to the UK government, there were almost 6M businesses in the UK in 2019. 99% of these businesses employ between 0-249 people, which is a sizeable part of the country. It’s no wonder the UK is said to be a nation of shopkeepers!

Too often, these small companies get poor customer service from their telecoms service provider as everything is seemingly focused on the consumer. Take my case for example, I’m on a corporate contract but unable to access any kind of digital app to see, request or manage any services used. My company still spends an inordinate amount of time speaking to customer service to onboard new employees or enable business traveler options for trips abroad. We have numerous horror stories of employees stuck abroad with no service and only a complex IVR menu to navigate to resolve the issue. A colleague very recently lost all network service, and the response from the call center agent was that they needed to send a settings update via SMS (no other options available). You can imagine how frustrating the remaining conversation became!

Why Is It so Difficult for a Small Business Customer to Spend Money With Their Service Provider?

My company is not alone as I have heard similar complaints from others regarding their experience with their service provider. Some of the common themes that repeatably come up include:

Account Management – Onboarding a new employee onto a corporate mobile phone service account still seems to largely be a manual process. Even more wishful thinking is the self-management of employees into hierarchical departments to make spend reporting easier for the company.

Sharing Resources – Many company tariffs still treat employees as separate device phone service contracts with their own allowances rather than one central allowance for the whole company. A company administrator might, for example, want to buy a terabyte of roaming data for use abroad by all employees. This, of course, opens up a lot of possibilities for new enterprise and small business offerings, but sadly they don’t exist today.

Real-Time Call Services – In a previous article, I wrote about the impact of Fintech companies like Revolut on banking. The digital experience offered by Revolut allows for fine granular control over all aspects of a credit card, for example, enable chip and pin, enable magnetic stripe, enable online, etc. Why is it then that telecom service providers seem unable to offer similar controls for mobile services? International calling, premium number access or even a relatively simple case of switching roaming on/off come with a huge order management and provisioning process that completely destroys the customer experience.

Budgeting – Allow businesses to control their monthly spend and set budgets for different departments with real-time visibility and alerts. Getting told immediately that your spend is more than anticipated provides an opportunity to proactively prevent a situation rather than going into bill shock a month later, entailing a costly dispute process.

Enterprise Services – In addition to the shared roaming data offer I mentioned above, it also difficult for companies to purchase additional enterprise services (VPN, closed user group calling, storage, etc.) directly from their service provider without going through lengthy contract and setup processes. There is a huge opportunity for an enterprise marketplace that is becoming commonplace in consumer but seemingly too complicated for enterprise.

Traditional Billing

When it comes to managing enterprise services, telecom operators still rely on complex, heavily customized billing systems to handle enterprise billing. Does this mean that the inertia may be too great to move to a new approach? Unwinding decades of legacy functionality on systems that are no longer supported is often a step too far. New entrants to the market, such as Amazon and Google, come from a greenfield perspective and essentially treat enterprise as an extended consumer; after all, business credit cards are just the same as personal ones. They are not restricted by legacy technology or processes and can quickly implement streamlined digital solutions.

Intelligent Network (IN) Solutions

A simplistic approach could be to utilize existing real-time platforms, such as prepaid IN systems, to create propositions for enterprises. However, one of the issues commonly faced by operators is that their current real-time network charging is often based on decades-old intelligent network (IN) technology, which was designed with only one purpose — to manage prepaid traffic from the network. Adding thousands of groups of 250+ devices and allowing these groups to be managed via an app, while at the same time controlling the ongoing network usage against a single balance in the group, is a recipe for disaster. Only a network commerce system designed from scratch to manage complex enterprise relationships at volume can do this.

Digital Billing

So, INs are too simplistic and legacy billing too complex! This has led to the definition of digital billing, where customers are managed and charged in real-time for the services they use. Rather than end-of-month batch produced invoices, customers receive immediate tax receipts for services purchased and payments are typically via direct debit or credit card. There are parallels to be drawn here with the consumer prepaid mobile phone market, although subtle differences exist. In the prepaid consumer world, a balance is topped up by a payment method (typically a voucher) and then consumed until exhausted. In the new digital billing era, a charge is generated and then automatically paid once a threshold is passed. There is a small period of liability for the service provider in that the payment may not go through, but real-time dunning measures can be quickly employed if this happens. The result is a superior enterprise experience and far less revenue wastage

If a service provider were able to streamline its legacy process for business customers, the benefits are huge. Aside from the obvious gain in customer satisfaction, the amount of call time to call centers by business customers would be significantly reduced. Another not so obvious benefit is that by giving the company control and visibility, there are no shocks at the end of the month. Less disputes, which invariably cost a great deal to manage and often result in revenue being written off in order to prevent a business customer from churning. Finally, and probably the biggest benefit, is that fundamentally they will spend money on fixed and mobile comms, unified comms, cloud, desktop and mobile devices and security – all of which can be instantly available from a digital enterprise marketplace. This is in contrast to the current story of losing further market share to over the top players, like Amazon and Google, who will very happily take a bigger slice of enterprise spend given half a chance.

Back to my original statistic for the UK — 6M businesses sound like an exciting proposition for a new digital SME service with a superior customer experience and a wide-ranging enterprise marketplace. The technology certainly exists to provide it.

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