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Customers First

For Celcom, customer experience is the way back to the top.

by Fred Sandsmark, May 2014

There are goals, and then there are audacious goals. In 2005 Dato’ Sri Shazalli Ramly, CEO at Celcom Axiata Berhad (Celcom), set an audacious goal for his telecommunications company: to be #1 in Malaysia in mobile revenue, mobile data, and customer satisfaction by 2015.

Video: Customer Experience Drives Celcom's Transformation (4:09)

It wouldn’t be easy. Celcom had slipped to the #3 spot in the market—and was losing customers to upstart competitors. In this position, Celcom faced a precipitous slip from market dominance to commodity carrier in a few short years. The CEO knew that this trend could be reversed, but being #1 would require more than building better networks and marketing aggressively—although Celcom leadership was determined to do those things, too.

The key to achieving Ramly’s goal would be to improve the customer experience.

According to Suresh Sidhu, chief corporate and operations officer at Celcom, using smart customer experience strategy and proven, best-in-class technology can build a relationship with consumers that outlasts other market differentiators, such as price competition or technical innovation. “There will always be a competitor in the market who can beat you on price. Competitors can always increase research and development spending and try to out-innovate you,” explains Sidhu. “But it’s much harder for a competitor to disrupt the strong, positive relationship we are building with our customers. We believe it’s the market’s best differentiator.”

But building those relationships required a business transformation at Celcom—and an understanding that the word customer extends beyond the device-wielding consumer to include the dealers and resellers so critical to Celcom’s eco-system. So Sidhu and his colleagues implemented a strategic plan that involved a review of the company’s technology, processes, and people. At the core of that strategy is an Oracle-based business support system (BSS) that consolidated customer records, centralized inventory management, sped up business processes, and put Celcom on track to hit Ramly’s goal.

Multiple Challenges

Celcom’s transformation faced both internal and external challenges. Due to the maturity of the Malaysian telecom market, there are few new customers to be had. So customer retention is vital—as is luring customers away from competitors. Malaysia has a diverse customer base that requires varied approaches to interaction—that means serving older customers who prefer in-person service with Celcom dealers or retail outlets and millennials who only do business online. It sometimes seems as if the only common thread among Celcom’s customers is that they all demand reliable service.

Customer diversity is complicated by challenges from over-the-top (OTT) companies such Skype, Netflix, and Google. OTT companies, which provide services that customers access over a variety of networks and devices, can disrupt traditional telecom billing models. For Celcom to be #1 in data, IT would need to build enterprise systems to help management understand and collaborate with OTT players.

“The types of experiences that customers seek are evolving rapidly, so if we didn’t get customer experience right, we risked becoming nothing more than a simple access pipe to customers,” says Sidhu.

However, it would be impossible for Celcom to address these challenges with the company’s existing siloed IT architecture and business processes. For example, customer data from one system (such as billing) was not readily available to other systems (such as inventory), making it difficult to get a complete view of customers.

This is a common problem for mobile providers, Sidhu says, because of the way carriers have historically counted heads. “The traditional way of looking at the customer is actually about looking at a SIM,” he says, referring to the subscriber identity modules in mobile phones.

However, like many people Sidhu is responsible for many devices and SIMs—personally, in his work life, and in his family. To deliver on Celcom’s customer experience strategy, the company needed systems that could place each customer (and various SIMs) within a broader service context. Otherwise, Celcom service representatives would be forced to use the customer’s valuable time to make sense of the various SIM IDs scattered among various records in the system. Sidhu elegantly articulates the impact of that fragmented process on the customer’s perception of Celcom: “‘I am not a SIM. I’m not a number. I am a person,’” he says.

In the past, customer agents needed to toggle between two to five screens to do their work. Now, because of bss, they operate on a single screen, which helps their efficiency.
Eric Chong,
Chief Sales and Commercial Officer, Celcom

According to Eric Chong, chief sales and commercial officer at Celcom, there’s one additional wrinkle to the company’s customer experience challenges. Celcom serves two distinct markets: consumers and nearly 30,000 channel partners who provide many of Celcom’s in-person customer services such as handset sales and activation. Any new system would have to improve the customer experience for both of these groups.

But Celcom has some advantages to bolster the transformation efforts. The company has a history of quality and reliability that is unrivaled in Malaysia. Also, Celcom leaders have provided strong sponsorship for the transformation project, ensuring broad cooperation among the company’s 3,600 employees. Celcom management has said that transformation should engage every part of the company, including sales, finance, marketing, field operations, and IT.

“The transformation is very technology-centric, because it has to be,” Sidhu says. “But we’re trying to make sure that we are building the right processes on top of the technology—and more importantly, that we are engaging people.”

Changing the Chemistry

In order to engage the workforce, Celcom’s leaders knew they needed to communicate the importance of BSS transformation. This started with the name itself; while the acronym BSS stands for business support system in the telecom industry, CEO Ramly declared that BSS at Celcom would stand for best sales and services.

“The entire chemistry of the project changed, just by changing the name,” says Kashif Haq, chief information and technology officer at Celcom. “We knew that this was not going to be something that is being done for IT, although IT would benefit. The real beneficiary would be the company, by creating a platform that would provide best sales and services to our customers.”

Chong, as cochairman (along with Sidhu) of the BSS transformation, started the project by asking two questions: What do Celcom’s business users need from BSS? And what experiences should BSS deliver to Celcom’s customers? The team asked approximately 700 Celcom employees in customer service, retail, marketing, and other divisions to create lists of Top 10 experiences that users and dealers wanted—for example, fast activation, less paperwork, and always having the most popular phones in stock. “It was a huge exercise in terms of getting everybody’s input,” Chong recalls. “But it was the right thing to do and the right way to start.”

The BSS transformation team developed technical and process requirements based on these Top 10 lists, and then compared offerings from several vendors. They selected an Oracle Communications–based platform, and hired Oracle Diamond Partner Accenture to help with implementation. Because the plan was to keep some of Celcom’s existing systems and defer migration of others, the Celcom team liked Oracle Communications’ modularity and interoperability. They also admired the end-to-end capabilities of the Oracle Communications stack, its adherence to TM Forum standards, and its cross-channel capabilities. (See the sidebar “Cross-Channel Champion.”)

“Oracle technology seemed to be more open, flexible, and dynamic compared to some of its competitors,” Sidhu recalls.

Raghu Prasad, senior director, Communications and Media Industry Solutions Group, Oracle Asia-Pacific, believes that Celcom’s commitment to delivering a superior customer experience will be well served by the IT strategy and architecture, describing the project as a global, best-in-class implementation.

“Celcom is one of the few service providers that have realized the importance of cross-channel customer experiences and acted quickly to use this as a differentiator in the market,” Prasad says. “The solution deployed at Celcom enables customer interactions to seamlessly traverse their retail shop, the online shops, the call center, and the partner/dealer channels. This transformation from a siloed channel operation to a cross-channel operation has been achieved in a relatively short timeframe of less than 18 months.”

Holistic Customer View

The BSS transformation commenced in the second half of 2012, and the first benefits appeared in less than a year. For example, Celcom’s call center representatives can respond much more rapidly to customer queries, thanks to consolidated systems. “In the past, customer agents needed to toggle between two to five screens to do their work,” Chong says. “Now, because of BSS, they operate on a single screen, which helps their efficiency.” Sidhu estimates that having to use fewer screens cuts average call-handling time by 15 to 20 percent—efficiency that should boost Celcom’s Net Promoter Score.

Celcom Stats

Number of consecutive years, as of 2013, that Celcom earned Mobile Service Provider of the Year accolades in the Frost & Sullivan Malaysia Excellence Awards

3.57 million
Number of smartphones on Celcom’s network

1.1 million
Number of Celcom’s mobile broadband subscribers

Number of consecutive quarters of revenue growth Celcom has enjoyed, as of Q2 2013

Thanks to BSS and a new tablet-based app, signing up for a new mobile phone at a Celcom dealer is now completely paperless. New-phone activation time has been cut from two hours to two minutes, and fewer of those activations require manual follow-up. These improvements have made Celcom’s customers and dealers happier.

Another BSS-powered process also makes dealers happy—and motivates them to sell more. Celcom’s dealers used to be paid once a month but are now paid twice a month, and Chong expects to pay them even more frequently in the future. “That’s a huge advantage for us, as far as the dealer experience is concerned,” he says. “We can take market share from our competitors just based on that.”

Inventory of mobile handsets—at Celcom’s facilities and in its dealers’ stores—is now centralized and managed proactively using BSS. Dealers have visibility into Celcom’s stock levels, and Celcom inventory managers can monitor the stock on dealer shelves. Granular inventory control helps Celcom move more products: Fast-selling units are shipped to dealers before shortages occur, and marketers at Celcom have begun targeting promotions in regions where they want to move specific products.

“Without a true inventory management system, there was no way we could do that before,” Haq says.

Underneath it all, BSS gives Celcom a single customer record, regardless of how many services (mobile, landline, and data) and devices a customer purchases. “We’re collecting data from different touchpoints, and creating a 360-degree view of the customer,” Haq says. Celcom’s unified customer record enables tailored promotional offers in real time that fit a customer’s individual history and lifecycle.

This 360-degree view also puts customers in their family context—a relationship that Celcom leaders say is particularly important when marketing in Asia. “Before BSS, we couldn’t see the customer in this holistic way,” says Zalman Zainal, chief marketing officer at Celcom. “Now we should be able to see every aspect of service that they have with us, which makes us much more efficient in cross-marketing and up-selling.”

Big Data Behind #1

BSS now supports Celcom’s prepaid mobile business, and postpaid mobile transformation is well under way. IT and business teams are collaborating to build new customer portals, and they’re creating new mobile apps to enhance customer self-service and interaction. Salespeople are beginning to use big data collected in BSS to better manage sales by region. “I feel that big data is where the most promise is,” Haq says. “Once you have the data, you can expose it in whatever way benefits your user base.”

Oracle technology seemed to be more open, flexible, and dynamic compared to some of its competitors.
Suresh Sidhu,
Chief Corporate and Operations Officer, Celcom

Data is already showing its promise in Celcom’s consolidated product catalog. “This is a hidden benefit of the whole process,” Sidhu says. “With a single product catalog, our time to market improves. We believe that this is going to foster not just better results—because we get products out faster—but the flexibility of the system will allow us to be more creative with what we can do.”

And that, in turn, will help Celcom achieve that audacious goal of becoming #1. “We’ve got to achieve many different objectives in order for us to say, ‘Yes, we are number one,’” Sidhu says. “It’s not just a financial goal—it is about responding to the market, and in the end it is about customers.”

Fred Sandsmark is a regular contributor to Profit.

Cross-Channel Champion

Because it provides a variety of services—including broadband data, wireless data, and mobile telephony—the cross-channel capabilities in Oracle Communications were key to Celcom’s selection. “The multichannel experience is one of the reasons why we picked Oracle,” says Suresh Sidhu, chief corporate and operations officer at Celcom. “We felt that Oracle’s cross-channel product suite was the right choice to help us deliver this experience.”

Oracle’s cross-channel customer experience enables communications service providers such as Celcom to manage and integrate customer interactions across multiple channels. This can improve customer support, cut problem resolution time, enable customized marketing to narrow market segments, and speed up time-to-market for new products and services.

For more about Oracle’s cross-channel customer experience, visit


    • Headquarters: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
    • Industry: Telecom services
    • Employees: 3,600
    • Revenue: RM7.74 billion in FY 2012
    • Oracle products: Oracle ATG Web Commerce, Oracle Endeca Information Discovery, Oracle WebCenter Sites, Oracle WebCenter Portal, Oracle Retail Point of Sale, Oracle Retail Store Inventory Management, Oracle Retail Back Office, Oracle Retail Central Office, Siebel Customer Relationship Management, Oracle Product Hub for Communications, Oracle Incentive Compensation, Oracle Fusion Middleware including Oracle SOA Suite and Oracle Identity Management, Oracle Communications Order and Service Management Server, Oracle Communications Unified Inventory Management, Oracle Exalogic, Sun Server systems
Snapshot Suresh Sidhu
  • Chief Corporate and Operations Officer
  • Length of tenure: Two years as CCOO; five years at Celcom
  • Education: BS, Cambridge University; MBA, INSEAD
  • Personal quote/mantra: “Transformation is a team sport—it takes leadership to initiate it, and it takes teamwork to win at it!”
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