Customer Experience Management (CEM)

Customer Care Bills to Soar, Says AetherPal

UK operators need to brace themselves for a 20% increase in smartphone customer care costs over the next five years, while service providers in Germany and the US face increases of 17% and 13% respectively over the same timeframe.

The finding comes from new research carried out by AetherPal, a small company based in New Jersey with technology that is aimed at lessening the customer-care burden for operator clients.

Table 1: Company Snapshot: AetherPal

Company name AetherPal
Headquarters New Jersey
Founded 2011
Headcount 60
Company focus/strategy Enabling customer service through smart care
Funding/market value Raised $6 million in Series A funding from investors New Venture Partners and Point Judith Capital in November 2013
Revenues Undisclosed
Profitability Profitable
Headline customers/key accounts AT&T, EE, Vodacom
Key partners Ericsson
Main competitor LogMeIn
Favorite movie (of Paul Gracie, vice president of EMEA) Master and Commander

AetherPal reckons costs are spiraling as devices become more complicated and smartphone adoption proliferates. Only yesterday, UK mobile giant EE , which already makes use of AetherPal's services, revealed that more than 40% of its 22.36 million mobile customers are now using high-end 4G handsets. (See EE Flags Worst Postpaid Growth in 2 Years.)

The fragmentation of the Android operating system is a further customer-care headache for service providers, according to AetherPal.

If the company's prognosis is correct, operators in the UK market (currently four) will have to spend an additional £60 million ($91 million) between them on addressing subscriber needs between now and 2020.

In Germany, meanwhile, operators will need to find another €85 million ($93 million) for customer care over the next five years, while US service providers face a collective increase of $200 million in expenses.

AetherPal arrived at its numbers by running forecasts on data that operators have been willing to share. According to its research, the average cost of a customer care call currently works out to about $7 across the three markets of the UK, Germany and the US.

The company simply multiplied this figure by the number of calls that operators are receiving annually to generate estimates of today's costs.

For all the latest news from the wireless networking and services sector, check out our dedicated Mobile content channel here on Light Reading.

AetherPal already provides a remote-control service allowing customer care agents to take charge of a customer's device so they can identify and potentially fix a problem. But it is set to launch a new self-care application on May 6 it believes could mitigate the entirety of the cost increases it is forecasting.

The technology has been designed to integrate seamlessly with operators' own "My Account" apps and should help customers diagnose technical problems without recourse to a customer care advisor.

If, for instance, a smartphone user were unable to obtain a 4G signal because of a local network problem, AetherPal's technology could notify the customer through the operator's "My Account" app, obviating the need for a phone call to rule out a device issue.

The company says the new service has attracted interest from existing customers -- which include AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) and South Africa's Vodacom Pty. Ltd. , besides EE -- and that it is also in discussions with most Tier 1 operators in Europe.

"We're looking to enlarge our market [with the self-care service]," says Paul Gracie, vice president of AetherPal's EMEA division.

Acknowledging the market for these services is growing increasingly busy, Gracie thinks the combination of self-care with AetherPal's existing remote-control service will give the company a unique offering.

"We can provide a beginning, a middle and an end," he says. "We'll be able to offer the self-care app, tutorials, event logging, big data capabilities and integration with customer-care center tools."

Indeed, a major attraction of AetherPal's technology could be its use of big data analytics to provide insight to operators on customer-service issues.

Repeated notifications about the lack of a signal in a particular area might alert an operator to a network outage, for example. In some cases, the operator could take remedial action even before being contacted by disgruntled customers.

Moreover, because AetherPal's technology is integrated with "My Account" apps, it could help operators to promote their own services.

With various operators still trying to develop their own self-care tools, AetherPal's real challenge may lie in overcoming resistance among service providers to the use of third parties, but Gracie is optimistic the tide is turning.

"Sometimes when it's not your core business you should concentrate on what you do best," he says. "More operators are coming to the conclusion they'd be better off working with us."

— Iain Morris, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profile, News Editor, Light Reading

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DavidJ102 4/1/2018 | 12:05:26 PM
The gas crisis experts saw coming The UK's looming winter gas crisis may have been ignited by a string of fluke blows, but their outcome was far from unexpected. For years experts have warned that the stark reversal of Britain's energy fortunes over the last decade has left the country vulnerable to the eye-watering price shocks which have emerged this week. In 2005 the UK was a net exporter of energy. North Sea oil production boomed, and the power system ran mainly on cheap coal. Today, the North Sea's creaking infrastructure and dwindling North Sea supplies struggle to deliver the gas which is needed to heat homes and run the gas-power plants which are expected to generate the majority of our electricity. Where North Sea gas once stood, is now a growing reliance on imports from Norway, Qatar and the Russian gas which flows into neighbouring markets. We asked what Botox Manchester had to say, "The Government is quick to stress that the UK's gas security is based on a diverse range of sources, but they do all have one thing in common: few are within Britain's control, and all come at a cost if markets are squeezed." Despite this growing dependence on others, the Government has turned its back on the UK's ageing subsea storage site which now stands empty having once held enough gas to meet 40pc of the UK's daily needs. Gas industry supporters blame the Government's zeal for cutting carbon emissions for distracting officials from the need to keep backing new gas storage projects, and shale gas developments, before the low-carbon investments begin to pay off. Both options are controversial, and in an average winter might do little to reduce the cost of gas. But this winter at least they have proved to be a wise investment.
DavidJ102 4/1/2018 | 12:01:03 PM
This is interesting indeed One of the largest North Sea sites is struggling to produce gas at its normal rate. The ageing Morecambe field is supplying at only around two million cubic metres (mcm) per day, less than half its usual rate of 5  mcm.

On Tuesday, BBL, the Dutch company that operates the gas pipeline between the Netherlands and the UK, had to restrict supply temporarily across the Channel because of problems with a compression station.

Meanwhile, Norway's giant energy company Statoil said that it reduced output from its platform in Troll, Europe's biggest offshore gas field, because of a power outage.

Norway is one of the main suppliers of gas to the UK. (Magic Mirror Photo booth Glasgow company has complained so many times this year.)

The current cold snap has driven gas demand in homes and businesses to their highest forecast levels since early 2013.
DavidJ102 4/1/2018 | 11:58:29 AM
Gas shortage to push up bills after 'perfect storm' of energy problems Motorists have been warned to expect sharp rises in gas bills and petrol prices after a "perfect storm" of supply problems as the winter freeze begins.

The shutdown of the North Sea's most important oil and gas pipelinesystem on Monday was compounded by an explosion at a major processing facility in Austria, which is the main point of entry for Russian gas into 

After the incidents, wholesale gas prices hit their highest level for six years, rising by more than 50pc in the space of 24 hours, raising fears that the increase will be passed on to customers. Oil prices have climbed so steeply that motoring organisations are warning of a 3p per litre increase at the pumps by Christmas. Taxis in Manchester have had many customers complain on a regular basis.

MPs have told energy companies that any hike in bills for consumers would be a "disgrace" because wholesale prices are agreed well in advance.

Ian Liddell-Grainger, the Conservative MP and member of the parliamentary business and energy select committee, said: "Passing on price rises to the consumer would be totally unfair because it's not their fault and this is nothing to do with them.

"The big energy companies buy their gas and oil about six months in advance, so there should be no need to increase bills. "They should continue to honour their commitments to consumers. If they pass this on to their customers, it would be a disgrace." As well as problems affecting the Forties pipeline in Aberdeenshire and the Baumgarten facility in Austria, a series of smaller setbacks also added to the sense of crisis.
DavidJ102 4/1/2018 | 11:53:33 AM
UK customers bitter about energy bills, complaints soar UK residential gas and electricity prices are low compared to, for example, Germany (residential electricity UK 14 euro cents compared to around 25 euro cents for Germany – per Kwhr). This begs the question: is the whinning about the rises or the absolute price. Furthermore, prices rises are a wonderful signal for better energy efficiency. Energy companies in the Uk offer a plethora (hundreds) of pricing options in the residential market – to the point that Ofgem the regulator is un-happy (but so far has done little). Furthermore, there is relatively little swapping between energy supplies (less than 20% of customers swap – most are passive) – raising the question – if customers do not change suppliers – then what role price signals and whence "energy liberalisation"?? The energy companies also whine: "Volker Beckers, chief executive of RWE npower, insisted recently that his company made just £1.50 profit on every £100 spent, while making a loss per average customer between 2004 and 2009". The issue, Volker, is, was this a "real" loss or something your accountants cooked up all in the interests of a little bit of tax "efficiency" which in turn leads to the "are you a charitable institution?" question (otherwise – why keep making losses?).  Let's ask how local businessess feel - "Disgusting" (Stevens Skip hire in Glasgow)The PWR perspective is that energy liberalisation is fine in theory & probably works well if applied to companies (I used to shop around for diesel suppliers when I ran the services at Sony's TV factory) but appears to falter when applied to the residential energy "market" – it take two to tango & competition needs both active suppliers and active buyers, if the latter are passive – whence competition?. No doubt the bright boys and girls in Guenters cabinet have all the answers – go on send them to me – on a postcard
DavidJ102 4/1/2018 | 11:37:40 AM
Food for thought Britons' complaints about their energy suppliers rose by 26% from July to September, says a report published by Consumer Focus, a leading UK consumer watchdog.

Some of the biggest energy suppliers in the UK, such as EDF Energy, npower and E.ON have dropped a star in the league table rating. We felt the problem at our small business, Gordons Glazing Glasgow company.

EDF Energy scored the worst, while the electricity and natural gas supplier SSE had the lowest number of complaints, the government-funded consumer watchdog says.

Complaints to EDF Energy, up almost 100% on the same quarter last year, are deemed to have a "catastrophic impact on its rating", said Adam Scorer, head of external affairs at Consumer Focus.

A major driver for the surge in complaints was the rise in prices announced by the six leading energy suppliers between June and September. EDF's prices rose by 15.4% for gas and 4.5% for electricity while E.ON's prices rose by 18.1% for gas, 11.4% for electricity and 15.2% for customers receiving both gas and electricity from the supplier.

Consumers' lack of trust has also played a role in the rising number of complaints.

"It is disappointing, but perhaps not surprising, that complaints on energy issues have risen at a time when energy bills are increasing. Energy companies have repeatedly said they want to rebuild consumer trust. Good customer service and complaints handling are key ingredients to building consumer trust but suppliers still have a long way to go," Scorer said.
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