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Leading towercos centralize customer journey: go strategic

With the pandemic abating, the world is returning to its usual self.

Crowded airports, teeming public places, packed restaurants, bustling coffee shops, and no masks. It is a relief. Life is getting back to how it should be.

Business conferences are also back and attracting stakeholders. Salesforce recently concluded Dreamforce. Towerco conferences have not been behind. In 2022, TowerXchange conducted a few conferences in many cities across the world, and I have been fortunate to attend some of them. It has been nostalgic as well as a privilege meeting colleagues and towerco industry professionals.

Towerco conversations have changed too, for the better. Having crossed the ‘pandemic-induced digitalization’ line, towercos are eager to go higher with the digitalization agenda to drive more value for customers. All this too on the backdrop of a softening global economy. It is a big change. One of the questions that kept popping up in many conversations with most of Tarantula’s customers was:

“How can we centralize our customers’ journey and experience in Red Cube?”

(Red Cube from Tarantula is our end-to-end solution for Telecom Site Management.)

Red Cube provides a solution for this ask. But it got me thinking, why is this question popping up? In this post, I consider some possible angles around the above question and give some perspectives.

Why? - The business imperative

Globally, towercos are facing increased competition, 5G change, and new MNO models. MNOs are asking for new shared infrastructure models. Margins, service levels, and productivity are under pressure at towercos. At the same time, market agility and customer focus continue to gain significance. Towercos understand these challenges. But the big risk most towercos face is that of becoming a commodity business. A commodity business even after providing long-term services to MNOs, that is. A paradox?

Commodity Paradox

The management consulting firm Arthur D Little team alluded to this ‘commoditization trap’ in an article published earlier in the year on its website.

The article lamented the current relationship model as transactional, even though towercos provided strategic long-term network services. Price and volume continue to be the most important factors in any TowerCo-MNO transaction. Value-added services are non-existent. The value proposition has been restricted to colocation ease, low pricing, and flexible contract terms. Sincetowercos are service providers rather than strategic partners, the towerco business has lower entry barriers, and Is thus getting commoditized. The article also remarks that towercos have not evolved their value proposition to MNOs, although the market has given many opportunities via consolidation, and increasing built-to-suit (BTS) solutions. It may be time for towercos to shift from being a service provider to a strategic partner, a valuable strategic partner.

Reset MNO strategic plans

It isn’t that only towercos are facing the heat.

Even MNOs are challenged - by ever-changing consumer preferences, customer service demands, technology disruption, cost of capital, margins, and shareholder expectations. TowerCos already lend a helping hand to MNOs by optimizing CAPEX and time to market. The strategic benefit of the TowerCo-MNO engagement is the resultant ability of the MNOs to focus on their core, i.e. consumers, with the aim of driving value for the entire value chain. It may be time for towercos to revisit their strategic account plans, such that towercos and MNOs collaborate to create solutions to win in the market.

Incidentally, towercos already have a strategic account management approach in working with MNOs. A large number of towercos today are spin-offs or carve-outs of MNOs. After the spin-off, MNOs become key accounts, primarily to manage legacy contracts. A small customer pool is another reason towercos default to strategic account management.

Towercos should consider resetting MNO strategic plans if those plans are not bringing the MNO strategic imperative. If strategic account plans are addressing only standard contractual obligations, then towercos risk being just a service provider. And it begins by knowing the customer better.

What do towerco customers want from towercos?

Towerco MNO customers have very clear requirements from towercos across the following:

  • Tower sites
  • Commercials and proposals
  • Orders and Customer support

Tower Sites

The right tower site selection is integral to the MNOs growth strategy. The more flexibility and options towercos can give MNOs, the better value they can generate. Site tenants require a friction-free, self-service mechanism to search for potential sites including:

  • Existing sites for colocation, or
  • Opportunity to order Build-to-Suit (BTS) sites.

Besides site search, the following site-related features could be differentiators.

  • View digital twins or reality models of a tower and check for space availability
  • Access tower site panoramic photos for ‘Line of Sight’ analysis
  • Check feasibility of colocating on a site based on space and load requirements

Commercials and Proposals

Commercial negotiations and the request for proposal steps consume the biggest blocks of time while concluding Towerco-MNO deals. It includes the following hygiene requirements:

  • Request a pricing proposal or quote before placing the order
  • Approvals and feedback loops on sales proposals and/or project status

Ordering Process and Customer Support

Towerco customers and site tenants should be able to track the end-to-end status of their colocation and BTS orders, report problems, raise support tickets, and receive billing information and invoices without fail.

The requirements of site tenants and towerco customers range from basics such as support tickets to more custom ones related to site search. By integrating these requirements into their own tower site management process, towercos will be better placed to garner insights about MNO customers. This integration is best enabled through digital tools such as a CRM or a comprehensive telecom site management software. In the absence of a digital tool, a simple spreadsheet could also be a good start to capture customer insights. Using digital tools, towercos can centralize the customer’s journey, and also deliver an enriching customer experience (CX). Let us see how.

Centralize the customer journey with digital

We live in an overwhelming world - meetings, phone calls, texts, emails, and ultimately fatigue. A simple transaction runs the risk of complication. If a towerco customer needs help to select a site, they might call the towerco and then follow it up with an email. Next a series of exchanges ensues across multiple channels like call, email, chats, and meetings. The transaction disintegrates into multiple pieces of communication. Some pieces (phone calls especially) do not even get documented. Even when everything comes together to conclude into a business deal, it does not lead to a successful conclusion because of poor team productivity, work duplication, poor customer experience, and the risk of failure.

If all of this could be brought together onto a common platform, then, both towercos and their customers could have a single shared unified view of the interaction, enhancing collaboration and value delivery.

Before we see how this can be achieved, it would be appropriate to look into the towerco objectives in the context of the requirements presented by towerco customers.

Towerco objectives

Towerco objectives are centered around delivering better value to customers in the most productive manner. They are as under.

  • Site development: Resources to build or acquire sites to boost capacity.
  • Site marketing: Sell/cross-sell to new and existing customers.
  • Intelligence: Track customer interest in existing sites.
  • CPQ: - Automate the creation of quotes, proposals and invoices.
  • Commercial viability of sites: Identify profit or loss-making sites and take appropriate remedial action.

Centralize with digital tools

Digital transformation strategic initiatives by towercos can be extended to their customers as well. This will ensure complete alignment of towerco objectives with their customers requirements.

Digital tools such as Red Cube, through their extensive workflow automation capabilities, create a single centralized system shared by both towerco teams and their customers. The workflow-driven digital tool automates common business processes within a towerco organization. These tools automate the ‘order to cash’ value chain for towercos. This is a huge plus if the towerco customer is also on the same system executing site selection, commercial proposals, and request support. ‘Order to cash’ can be expedited, thus optimizing precious working capital requirements. There is more.

Strategic partner, CX and more

The impact of centralizing the customer journey will go beyond just operational convenience. By removing all the friction associated with tower site management activities, towercos would easily differentiate themselves in customer experience (CX), thus, garnering brand loyalty. The explosion of apps in the B2C consumer space (food tech, gaming, fintech) has created similar latent expectations in B2B too.

A 2019 Gartner report points out ‘salient CX’ as the largest driver of fostering brand loyalty, "outperforming brand and price combined" by more than 66%. The report rated product experience highest at 36%, followed by interaction experience (30%), brand (20%), and price (13%) respectively. Thus, towercos can deliver profitable growth through improving CX, by integrating the towerco customer journey within their tower site management process framework. Preferably, using a digital tool. And yes, don’t forget the feedback loop from the customers to continuously improve the CX score.

Studying the customer journey will yield more data to drive insights. It will create opportunities for towercos to understand more about their customers in granular detail. Backed with data and insights, towercos can position themselves as strategic partners to their towerco customers.