In the next data-driven operations related blog DTAC’s CTO, Prathet Tankuranun, talks to Contributing Editor, Annie Turner about how smart can beat scale regarding profitability, through a focus on customer experience and the best use of all assets, including through Ericsson Managed Services.
Prathet Tankuranun is Chief Technology Officer (CTO) at Total Access Communication Public Company Limited (known as dtac), which is part of the Telenor group and Thailand’s third largest mobile operator. The communication service provider (CSP) has had an interesting and challenging evolution.
It started as a concession in 1989, renting or buying the use of spectrum from other operators before it began deploying its own network. Once those original spectrum contracts ran out, it was obliged to acquire new licenses to spectrum, which did not provide the ideal amount of spectrum in all areas of operation.
Four years ago, dtac realized it had network issues, although it had good network utilization and its key performance indicators (KPIs), such as dropped call rates, gave no cause for concern. Yet it had declining Net Promoter Scores (NPS) and received direct complaints from customers. Prathet says, “Given the limited megahertz we had then, we wondered what else we could do to improve as much as we could.”
Power of partnership
dtac took a strategic decision to partner Ericsson Managed Services which was charged with implementing customer-centric network operations from January 2020. Ericsson now manages dtac’s network operations across the country with the Ericsson Operations Engine – an AI-powered platform that supplies, maintains and updates all the tools the operations’ team needs. The blended managed services team – which comprises the former dtac team and Ericsson personnel – ultimately reports to Prathet, who works closely with Amitava Saha, Managed Services Chief Operations Officer at Ericsson Thailand.
The operator is responsible for the network’s strategic planning and retains ownership of its assets. So, as a first step to improving customer experience and getting maximum value from assets, Prathet says, “We allocated NPSs [net promoter scores] to specific sites, to see which is good and bad, and updated the scores daily. Previously, we looked at the scores quarterly or maybe monthly and the same with complaints. Now we look at the complaints every day too.”
The galling thing was, “We found out about issues from customers, not from all the super-duper systems we’d invested in,” Prathet says. To address the issues, “We started out from fault management, to see what alarms are in the systems and which equipment was [generating] false alarms, then fixing them.” He also wanted to identify network issues that might not trigger traditional alarms.
dtac scrutinized the performance KPIs for different network aspects. Prathet says, “They are sufficient to provide OK customer interaction and a good service but to take it up another notch, we have to look further.” He wanted to see beyond the network to what its customers experience by developing more and different insights to deduce what to fix and where.
“We started with a different set of data besides the alarms or whatever is coming from the OSS and what our systems are looking at,” he says. “We have the DNA, which are fantastic tools that have got all the [information about] what is happening in the network and what customers’ experiences are. Instead of defining KPIs based on the network part, we used KPIs based on the customers’ view.
“We coined a term ‘bad experience subscribers’ or ‘bad section customers’ and used it to measure how good or bad a particular site or segment is by coming from different angles. We’re also looking into different types of customers – prepaid and postpaid, and even within prepaid we have different types of customers with different behaviors or different likings.”
For example, many of dtac’s customers are migrants from neighboring countries who come to work in Thailand. “They often like different kinds of applications, like different chat applications, than we Thais use, and we even look into roamers,” Prathet says. Roamers coming onto dtac’s network via a number that originated in another country might have a poor experience, “but you would not see it from the network point of view because it is like a drop in the ocean,” he explains.
“But if you look into different types or categorize customers into different buckets, then you know a migrant has this issue because their behavior is different. Maybe their network of origin had issues because the pipe linking to their home network is congested, which could not be seen from data at the corrective level. Our approach allows us to see the customer’s view and pinpoint the areas for improvement.”
Speed is not everything
dtac also avoided being preoccupied by its network’s speed, unlike many operators. Prathet says, “Speed is not the most important thing, given the investment we would need to have that fastest network and perhaps that money could be spent elsewhere, or differently, to achieve greater satisfaction.
“For most things you do on a mobile – browsing, watching Netflix, listening to music or podcasts, doing emails – 200Mbps is the sweet spot for 95 percent to 99 percent of that stuff on small screens. That’s why we’re focusing on experience, reliability and stability. For example, when you click ‘start’ on YouTube, you notice how long it takes for the moving screen to come up. Those are the things we’re focusing on, not ‘If I have the fastest download speed then I’m the best network’.
“We are very disciplined when it comes to investment in the network. We want to make sure that every single dollar is well spent, and to maximize those dollars.” In other words, throwing intelligence rather than money at the network to get the maximum return.
Another strength is dtac asks its engineers to go into the call centers and sit with the agents to hear from customer how they experience the operator’s services and where improvements are needed. dtac staff listen to customers’ complaints and comments, then dig down into what’s behind them. This is also a powerful way to see customers as individuals rather than statistics, and how they are personally affected.
Smart beats scale
The three years have been tough for the telecoms industry at large due to the pandemic, with many losing revenues, most obviously roaming, while investing in capacity. Yet as Prathet says, “Compared to the other players in the market, we are doing well for the amount we’ve spent and the returns on it. The kind of additional insights that we’re gathering from the customers enable us to utilize what we have to the maximum extent.”
Hence while Thailand’s biggest operator operates on a far larger scale, dtac is on a par profitably wise, and doing better than the second largest player: smarts can still trump scale, and automation is the key. dtac started out with simpler approaches like the robotic process automation (RPA) to replace some manual tasks at the operations level.
Then to drive awareness and adoption of new ways of working, in 2021 it launched a campaign inside the company that challenged everyone, not just tech employees, to create a single robotic process to help them in their work.
The results underlined the fact that innovation can come from anywhere in an organization. An administrator responsible for making payments, such as to utilities, and emailing suppliers, “took training on how to use robotics and created fantastic, simple robots to relieve her of manual tasks. She won the competition and a small bonus,” Prathet says
He and his team are working on how best to deploy AI. He notes, “We are so buried in our day-to-day work, with just enough time to carry out our daily tasks…but if you spend a little bit more time on improving your skills, then maybe in future, instead of spending eight or 10 hours on email you could spend six of your eight hours doing something more interesting. That is how we are improving skills at the employees’ level.”
dtac wants to apply AI to better energy efficiency: “We’re working on that as rising energy prices are a global phenomenon. We are using AI to learn about the utilization of estates, and where there are things we could turn off or reduce the power during certain periods of the day,” Prathet explains. These measures will be introduced shortly and run by the team, which will acquire the necessary new skills such as neuron network programming, Python and so on.“
He concludes, “All these steps are in good collaboration, working alongside Amitava Saha and Ericsson Managed Services. His team members work for me – it’s not like we have a customer-supplier kind of relationship; it’s a one-team relationship with everyone working towards the betterment of our network for our customers. That is about collaboration and leveraging global skills. I think those are the contributing factors that are that are a big part in this success.”
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This article was originally published on the Ericsson website here on the 7th of December 2022.