SEPARATE REALITY

Smart portals. Smart apps. Smart experiences

 

Discover the secret to making your customers even happier
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At Separate Reality we believe customers deserve more from their communications, media and utility providers - starting with smart, engaging, interactive experiences.

 

We have the products & services to deliver this vision.

What we do

Separate Reality are experts in self-care and customer management systems.

We deliver engaging and effective user experiences for both consumers and staff alike, where they can sign up, make changes, provision and interact quickly and simply whenever and where-ever they want, whether they're using a desktop portal, smart technology or simply phoning up the call centre.

We don't just deliver solutions that look good, they work at a deep and powerful level with major billing systems' data.

And it's all tailored in the most effective way for your brand.

We have proven that enhancing your customer's end-to-end experience not only boosts long term brand loyalty but also reduces operational costs and improves sales opportunities.

Consultancies need more than brains and brawn.

When I started out as a consultant in the late 1990s the ‘dot com’ was in full swing. Life was simple. All you needed to be successful was the knowledge of a couple of methodologies, some programming languages, some frameworks, a couple of design patterns, a good dose of motivation and the company of like-minded people to bounce ideas off. And if you wore a...
Written by Nick Jennings
17th January 2016

Our Work

We have proven that enhancing your customer’s end-to-end experience not only boosts long term brand loyalty but also reduces operational costs and improves sales opportunities.

Big data, big bills, big customers, big client... big solutions.

How we applied big thinking - and a big solution - to one of the USA’s biggest suppliers of internet services.

As the second largest US state, there’s nothing small about Texas. And with a network reaching over 17 million homes and a $97.4 billion revenue (2008), there’s nothing small about Verizon, either.

There was no way we could pass up the chance to mosey on down to Fort Worth and team up with Comverse – who had just acquired the Netonomy solution stack – to help Verizon Business develop an even better customer experience.

The questions that needed answering

The supplier’s supplier of internet services is located in a small (ahem) 2 acre sized warehouse on the outskirts of Dallas, Texas and supplies the major ISPs in the USA like America On Line (AOL) as well as smaller providers like The Indiana Data Centre or Wisconsin Communications Inc, and also supplies other subsidiaries like Verizon Online.

Customer demands and a need to streamline internal operations resulted in some big questions. Like why couldn’t customers receive an electronic bill, that allowed them to drill into it interactively so they could understand it properly? Was there a way of disputing bills online rather than phoning up the call centre? Could customers not pay for the bill online as well?

It was up to us to provide a solution that could answer those questions  - and we also discovered a few things ourselves in the process. For example, we now know it’s possible to pay multi-million dollar bills with just a credit card. And we also learned that huge bills like these can often incur disputes over just a few cents! 

It was time for some big thinking and some elegant solutions.

We explored, we developed, we repeated...

The first month of the project was tough, and the numbers turned out to be huge. During the day we explored the problem space and exchanged ideas with the folks from Verizon Business. At night, we ran tests, re-configured the application, wrote use cases and prototyped the solution, readying for the next day.

Once we were confident that we fully understood the problem and the requirements, we flew home and began to write everything up. A few weeks later, armed with 100 Detailed Use Cases, a High Level Design, an interface catalogue and a working Target Operating Model we were ready to head back to Texas with all guns blazing and demonstrate to Verizon that we had the skills and expertise to deliver. We would start with a proof-of-concept to give the project sponsor the extra ammo he needed to get it through the organization.

However, three weeks after starting the proof-of-concept something remarkable happened. Verizon cancelled it and moved the project into a full delivery. Until then, that kind of thing was unheard of.

The solution we delivered was so accurate that it identified previously unknown faults in Verizon’s reconciliation solution, which drastically reduced the number of disputes raised by customers. 

We also trained a brand new team during the project, which meant Verizon Business could continue to own and maintain our solution in the future, and take advantage of low ownership costs. 

It was unexpected bonuses like these that really helped us wow our client.

So, were the results just as big?

You bet. While it was a fairly straightforward solution despite the huge numbers, it delivered enormous benefits to Verizon Business, and ensured that their billing system was much more accessible to its customers. 

The new desktop portal now allows ISP customers to view current and previous bills online, drill down into specific bills so that line items can be explored down to the cent level, make payments, and view all past, present and future payments. What’s more, customers can also dispute line items, track the status of current disputes, print off invoices and download data for import into in-house systems.

Internally, the call centre desktop portal now means that Verizon staff can view, manage and resolve disputes, automatically approve certain disputes, analyse and report on dispute data, and send essential notifications and alerts to customers about upcoming bills, late payments, credits and more.

Customers feel looked after and staff have the tools to look after them.

Put in plain Texas speak: y’all did a good job.

2.5 million customers, 10,000 miles, one delighted client

How we revolutionised the customer management experience for a leading Australian TV services provider.

Our client is a leading subscription television service provider with a huge number of cable, satellite and broadband customers. In 2012 they acquired a large telecommunications provider in order to penetrate rural communities.

This instantly increased their subscriber base to over 2.5 million households. Shortly after that we partnered with Comverse (who owned the Kenan billing system and a web portal framework) in order to deliver a call centre portal with a compelling and easy to use user experience that would help ensure the acquisition did not lose customers or … staff.

And if that wasn’t already exciting enough, all of this happened on the other side of the planet.

Here’s how we took those 10,000 miles in our stride...

Already the Customer Care Web Portal alone has significantly reduced our system training time, decreased the average handling time, and saved our organization significant costs - Director of Information Services Foxtel

First, a bit of backstory...

The migration of the new employees and customers to our client’s systems (along with their upcoming move into the triple play market) highlighted the need for a call centre portal that would not only help transform the business, but also install company loyalty in the brand.

Our client needed a brand-sensitive portal that was easy to use, helped the call-centre staff navigate the products and services they were selling, as well as providing meaningful information so that the new ‘migrated’ customers saw the benefits of the acquisition and would understand the cost-savings to their existing subscriptions.

It also needed to require little to no staff training to keep operational costs in check – absorbing a whole call-centre team but having to train them for 2 weeks is not cheap.

In many ways the approach was simple: a good staff experience, which would in turn lead to a good customer experience resulting in customers staying put and attracting new ones.

It was about the customer hearing the smile on the other end of the phone as they had their problems resolved quickly, informatively and efficiently.

We were in. It was time to jump on that plane.

Our approach

We all agreed that an agile approach with multiple phases was the only way to get the project going quickly and deliver value early on. Recognizing that the 12hr time zone difference between the UK and Australia was a big advantage if used correctly, we spent days travelling (and even longer on midnight conference calls) working closely with teams in Oz so we could achieve 24hr development cycles. Sprinkle this with our Separate Reality know-how and we had an extremely efficient and open development process that delivered outstanding results – as well as allowing us to work as one big team when stormy weather came along!

The project went from an idea to production in 8 months and return on investment was seen within 4 months.

Instant results, long term cost savings

With an overall focus on significantly - and instantly - reducing operational costs, the project delivered:

  • 35% cut in call handling times
  • Slashed training costs - the easy to use UI and guided processes revolutionised the training programme and staff were able to take live customer calls within 2 hours of self-training. It took 2 weeks before with an instructor!
  • Immediate ROI – the portal made such an instant impact that our client’s initial dollar return on investment was realised within the 1st quarter after Phase 1 went live. That’s a return on investment of three months!
  • Offline capabilities - our solution decoupled the customer management processes from the performance and reliability of the back-end. This in turn made sure that sales could still be taken through the system even when the back-end systems went off line. Staff no longer had to do “swivel chair” integration during maintenance periods.

It’s just beautiful… I make much fewer errors/mistakes, especially since assigning components to account/service level no longer exists - Employee

But that’s not all...

One thing we’re especially proud of is that our client’s CIO also won a ‘CIO Of The Year’ industry award in Australia for the migration. The project was ambitious and there was some turbulence on the way (there always is) but with the right team (and attitude) it just shows what can be achieved.

Our journey to find the perfect balance for Mobistar

How we found the perfect balance between business needs, user experience and cost-effectiveness to define a product-driven solution that offered a consistent, best-in-class customer experience for Mobistar - a Belgian telecoms provider with over 4 million customers.

Whenever a product vendor asks us to get involved in a transformation project to deliver a new customer experience that’s both in line with customer needs and the product itself, we know we have a long journey ahead of us.

And when we’re also asked to evolve that product to introduce a new person-centric model that bridges all business domains, we know it’s a journey we’ll love.

Where it all began

As part of a group business initiative with a focus on putting customers first, France Telecom & Mobistar had chosen Comverse to deliver a single solution for their pre-paid, post-paid, business, and wholesale business streams across the group. 

But what were immediately apparent were the sizeable gaps between the product and the planned business transformation. They included exceptionally complex requirements that spanned all channels and segments, with the clear need for a person-centric model at its heart. 

And that’s exactly where we came in.

Our role? Closing the gap between business needs and an out-of-the-box solution

We were initially asked to deliver the core of Mobistar’s pre-paid solution, and from there we were invited to provide project expertise on their post-paid solution, covering the business, consumer and wholesale markets. That expertise also involved replacing the customer service, self-service, and dealer portals, along with introducing the full Comverse One Billing solution which meant it was a truly cross-business project.

The first step was for our telecoms industry experts to work alongside Mobistar’s business stakeholders and the team of Comverse Solution Architects, Product Managers, and Product Domain Specialists. The aim was to build an immersive understanding of the Mobistar environment, their current pain points, their drivers for a customer-centric solution, and the details of the business processes that would be affected by a new solution.Once we had the full picture of the requirements we worked with both Mobistar’s and Comverse’s Solution Architects to ensure the solution we defined met the client’s needs. This involved several iterations to refine the requirements until we were sure Mobistar could take advantage of the full power of the out-of-the-box solution.

We then ran a series of workshops across the Mobistar business and created a huge number of use cases that could be mapped to the Comverse One solution, while identifying others that required re-use or a redesign of the out-of-the box product - all supported with detailed wireframes and clear presentations that fully explained the solution.

Ultimately, it was our job to show how Mobistar’s business needs and the features of Comverse One could converge - closing the gap between their current offering and their future ‘real world’ requirements.

Results to be proud of

We delivered Mobistar’s key business requirements, which included: hierarchy management, fleet management, balance management, split billing, bulk ordering and bulk management. A central part of that involved moving away from a situation where the billing solution dictated the front-end user experience, to a system which leveraged the power of the out-of-the-box solution to vastly improve customer interaction.

We also defined a solution that took a new person-centric approach to Mobistar’s customers. Put simply: when a customer calls, they’re viewed as a ‘person’ rather than an ‘account’ - even if they use multiple services such as a home and business account, or a parent with multiple child accounts. What’s more, those same customers can also view the relationships between all of their accounts with an innovative and intuitive dashboard-driven view on all channels.

Our small team delivered huge results - and gave both Mobistar and Comverse a very clear picture of how they could adapt the out-of-the-box product to customer needs - and more importantly, what it would cost them. 

But the biggest result for us was that some of the ideas and solutions we mapped out along the way made it to the out-of-the box solution and are now influencing the product direction going forward.

And that’s something to be really proud of.

Our toolbox

Project Catalysts

Accelerating projects to achieve rapid go live and return on investment

Solution Engineering

Solutions geared to give our clients a low life-time cost

Device Apps

Productised Smartphone and Tablet apps on iOS and Android for a complete experience in the customers' hands

Customer Experience Focus

Delivering complete cross channel customer experiences

Consultancy

Ensuring the true requirements of any client are met

Off the shelf know how

Our self care and customer management blueprints mean you won’t start from zero

Staff Portals

Call-centre, shop and reseller web portals delivering 360 degree views of the customer

Customer Portals

Consumer and business self care, bill analysis, and eCommerce web portal products and solutions

Smart apps for a smart return on investment

With more and more operators moving into multiple service provision and the unprecedented explosion of smart technology, self-care needs to work seamlessly across multiple channels and technology platforms.

Find out more about our self-care app

Great work, for great brands

Comverse
Foxtel
IBM
Oracle
Orange
Verizon
Vodafone
Jersey Telecom
optus
Mobistar
ATNI
Virgin Mobile

Meet the people who make it possible

Nick Jennings

Managing Director

Nick graduated in engineering from Durham University and gained a masters in industrial software design and implementation with the University of Paris VI (UPMC). That led him to Thomson-CSF in Paris where he applied his knowledge of software engineering principles to aircraft simulators, and then on to London where he joined a small entrepreneurial firm specialising in health-care, pharmaceutical and HR systems.

Since founding Separate Reality over 12 years ago, Nick has focused on transforming the self-service and portal market of the telecoms industry. The last few years have seen him carefully take us from 3 to 18 full-time staff, build a dynamic R&D stream, and continue to deliver groundbreaking projects around the world.

Nick believes integrity is key to business, and that transparency is essential if you want a happy and productive company - just like ours.

Alistair Woodward

Operations Director

Alistair’s career initially focused on innovative, fast moving product companies in the CRM and associated market sectors, where he started out designing and building e-Commerce solutions for EDP.

From there, he joined Netonomy, a leading Self-Service product vendor, as a lead architect and analyst. After Netonomy was acquired by Comverse he led the self-service and CRM solutions business unit before becoming a solution architect with responsibility for the entire billing suite.

He was then head-hunted by ExactTarget, a leading email and social marketing SaaS provider, (now part of salesforce.com) to form the core of a new global services team working with their largest value clients to deliver high returns on new marketing initiatives.

Alistair joined Separate Reality in 2011, and has played a key role in growing the company - not least by ferociously keeping alive our reputation for meeting some of the most challenging customer commitments in the business.

Malcolm Simpson

Chairman

After initial experience with KPMG and Procter and Gamble Malcolm became the Financial Director and one of the only two main Board Executive Directors who drove Greggs Plc from a small local bakery with 28 shops to a company with £500 million turnover, 1250 shops and an FTSE 250 place. He also led the company through a stock exchange listing in 1984 .

Malcolm retired in 2007 and became a non exec director of Eaga Plc and Excelsyn ltd.

We feel incredibly lucky and proud that Malcolm has offered his substantial experience to us as Chairman and is now focused on helping us manage our growth - safely, effectively and rapidly.

Ben Johnson

Non-Exec Director

Ben Joined Separate Reality in 2013 as a non-executive director to help drive our new business opportunities. Spend 5 minutes with him and you’ll quickly realise he never takes things for granted. He’s always asking why; always challenging the big agenda behind the brief; always questioning the process behind the big idea.

He’s also Co-Founder and Managing Director at Freestate, he’s an ex-management and marketing consultant, and his depth of experience, fearless curiosity and wide and generous viewpoint makes sure that we’ll never sit still for long.

A few things we've been talking about

Given the high frequency of use and the strong psychological pull that smart phones have over the majority of consumers, it is no surprise that phone apps are strongly favoured over mobile websites.

Smart devices are now part of everyday life and mobile phone self-care apps have become an expectation rather than a passing thought for consumers. To capitalize on this, we advise our clients that it is imperative to offer a strong app, tailored to their brand identitiy and needs, which de... Read Article

Written by Separate Reality
1 year 7 months ago

There’s a new trend in the global app marketplace. It’s called unbundling. It’s changing the dynamics of mobile app creation and use. And it’s something you need to think very carefully about, especially if you operate a self care app.

Picture this. You’re hosting a dinner party. You’ve invited your guests. You’ve picked a menu that will impress. All that’s left is to choose the right wine. You want something will complement your food, something that your guests will enjoy, and somethi... Read Article

Written by Alistair Woodward
1 year 11 months ago

The communication, media and utility industry is moving at an incredible pace with more and more companies trying to be the single provision point for a number of services. Recent years have seen companies like Everything Everywhere being born so that customers need look no further if they want to have both their mobile and broadband on a single bill – the converged market - and at the end of last year announcements were made which would see British Telecom acquire EE in a bid to r... Read Article

Written by Nick Jennings
2 years 3 weeks ago

Explore our Archive...

 

The future’s bright

How we helped Orange UK deliver great customer experiences, increased brand loyalty, and reduced costs - all with a new self care portal.

Written by Anonymous
27th January 2015

In 2003, Orange UK understood that in a perfect world, they would have a self care portal that offered a brilliant experience, helped them build their brand, helped them grow their revenue, and which wouldn’t be a financial drain.

Teaming up with Netonomy, here’s how we created that perfect world for them...

Where it started

Orange UK was concerned that their existing customer service portal gave their competitors an advantage. Why? Because it was poorly built, PAYG and PAYM user experiences were only loosely integrated, it couldn’t support their growth, and ultimately it didn’t reflect their brand in a positive way.

They understood that they needed to enable their PAYG and PAYM mobile customers as well as small business customers to manage their accounts (including multiple ‘family’ accounts) whenever they wanted through a single coherent web portal. They understood that their current portal was expensive and that they needed to drive down costs by moving towards an ‘out-of-the-box’ strategy. They also understood that they were missing out on thousands of opportunities to cross-sell and up-sell their own products and services.

We understood the importance of the brand and that the user experience is a part of it. We understood the business and engineering challenges and could show we’d done it before. MyNetonomy was the best out-of-the-box self care product on the market.

And that’s exactly why they asked us to step in.

We love a challenge

Never ones to step away from a challenge, we started out by familiarising ourselves with their current ecosystem which consisted of a number of disparate back-end systems - some of which had been created in house - loosely integrated by an EAI.

We took an agile approach and worked closely with Orange’s engineering and marketing teams to deliver an intuitive, strongly-branded solution that really empowered customers to manage themselves.

During the project we focused on platform maintainability and roadmap compliance to maximise the life span of the solution. We also implemented a number of cutting edge continuous integration and testing initiatives so that the internal IT teams at Orange could confidently take over the installation and evolve it. This made sure the cost of ownership was kept low.

From £1m savings to 1bn transactions a year

The solution diverted more than the anticipated 4% volume away from the call centre which resulted in a first year saving of over £1m. That’s a return on investment in under a year!

Add to that the improved opportunities for cross-selling and up-selling, the fact that any account management function was now a maximum of three clicks away, and the knowledge that it’s still going strong in 2014 (!) and managing up to 1.5 billion transactions a year... and it’s safe to say that our portal delivered that perfect world our client was searching for. The future was Orange.

One size fits all – perfectly.

How we navigated legacy systems, language barriers and internal politics to deliver a best-in-class Electronic Bill Presentment and Payment (EBPP) solution for Vodafone in partnership with Oracle Consultancy.

Written by Admin
27th January 2015

With Vodafone Group on board, a worldwide delivery team, lots of travel, different cultures, delicate politics, rigid product boundaries, tight deadlines, and tough problems, this project was just the kind of huge challenge we like to get our teeth into.

Here’s how we turned it into huge results...

How it all began

Oracle had supplied Vodafone Group with a number of Oracle eBilling 6 licenses and these had been distributed to local Operational Companies - OpCo’s - throughout EMEA. Each OpCo was then faced with the choice of either using the solution out-of-the-box, or customising it in line with local needs at a further cost (and ensuring the customised solution didn’t require expensive future maintenance).

In addition, Vodafone Group was also using Oracle UK Consultancy for services, and had partnered with Infosys in India to look after project delivery.

Where we came in

We were brought in by Oracle UK Consultancy to provide specialist integration and solution architecture services. It involved spending up to 3 weeks at a time working onsite with individual OpCo teams in Ireland, the Czech Republic, Turkey, Portugal and more, alongside consultants from both Oracle and Infosys, and engineers from individual billing system suppliers.

Our primary focus was on extracting a huge amount of data from current billing systems, re-formatting it, then importing it into the new eBilling 6 product. The new system was deployed as a strictly ‘black box’ product and therefore adopted the in-built business processes as best-of-breed. It delivered a brand new global strategic direction for Vodafone’s eBilling systems which wasn’t necessarily in-line with the immediate local requirements or the way they did things at the moment. This meant it was important for us to manage expectations and navigate delicate internal politics as a key part of the project.

A single solution for all involved

Perhaps the biggest challenge we overcame involved pulling data from different billing systems (each OpCo had their own) using the same software engine. Externalized configuration was the key, where each OpCo would have a bespoke configuration but the engine that processed it would be the same for all. This would keep lifetime costs low and enable people with basic knowledge of spreadsheets to manage the data imports.

Our first class knowledge of UML and some rapid, overnight prototyping meant that we were able to successfully deliver a solution that worked with huge volumes of data at outstanding speeds - as well as work through a number of language barriers that led to some rather odd conversations.

Ultimately, the project was a huge success and we developed some very useful techniques, tools and methodologies along the way.

But as always, it was the client who realised the biggest benefit. Vodafone’s new EBPP solution gave them a single turn-key solution that allowed their customers across EMEA to view their bills online and drill into them in whatever detail they required, all with a familiar brand aware look and feel.

Not only did it generate huge savings by delivering paperless bills with a low lifetime management cost, it also delivered clear and valuable customer-focused messages around transparency and ease of access which led to increased customer loyalty and reinforced the global brand identity.

Not to mention fewer calls to their call centres...