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Building a product ecosystem: Here's a question mobile operators need to hear more often.

· 7 min read
Brian Godkin

“Can I book you for a two-hour meeting so we can start sketching out your customer's journey?” This is not a question that a telco operator normally hears. But it was exactly this question that we asked the Head of Product at Nortel - a mobile operator targeting small and medium-sized businesses in Norway.

Why Nortel? Well we learned from their MVNe, eRate, that our product ecosystem will "be music to Nortel's ears". In a crowded market with established players, Nortel has been on the lookout for something that could differentiate them from their competitors - the product ecosystem is that differentiator, where according to Nortel’s COO: “That's where we want to go, and we want to be unique. We want to be a step ahead.”

But to really understand why our ecosystem was going to be 'music to Nortel's ears', we needed to get a much deeper understanding of Nortel and their customers - enter user research. We could have chosen to take this easy, short-term route down Assumption Avenue:

With 20+ years of user research under my belt, I knew that direct collaboration with our target audience, though more time-consuming, will result in more useful, easy to use, and desirable products and experiences - thus the initial two-hour meeting request. Being an operator, Nortel is one of our three target audiences (along with subscribers and product developers). And while Nortel may not be the actual target audience for the customer journey work we are doing with them - their subscribers are - their deep knowledge of their user base, coupled with their ability to ultimately give us access to them, was a much more appealing option than taking a wrong turn on Assumption Ave.

Customer journey mapping with Nortel

Can you tell us a bit about your customers? What are the typical stages of their journey when they interact with you? What are they doing during each of the stages? What challenges are they facing? What opportunities do Nortel and wgtwo have together to address these challenges? These are some of the key questions we posed to Robert (CPO), Espen (COO), and Sigrid (Sales Ops/HR mgr).

During three highly interactive sessions, we sketched out the customer journey on an online whiteboard. It started with this blank canvas:

Six hours later, it evolved into a customer journey rich with tasks, challenges, and opportunities:

But how did we get there? In order to accomplish what we accomplished together, we needed Nortel to trust that we were doing the right thing, and it was worth their effort to take time out of their busy schedules. Robert described his motivation to participate this way:

“We have to be tactical when we are going to migrate to the wgtwo platform, and if you don't have some more additional features when the customer migrates, they’ll think ‘what was the reason for doing this?’ And so we have to wrap it with some nice features that will feel like an upgrade rather than just a SIM card change….What I want to finish with this exercise is to map how our customers…can purchase these services.” (Robert, Nortel CPO)

With motivation in place along with our blank journey canvas, we went to work. We defined their core users (both migrating and new) in the form of personas, whom Sigrid thought “matched their customers”:

Carl owns a contracting business, and he’s looking for an operator, who has a self-service system so he can focus less on onboarding and support and more on growing his business.

Mike is a current Nortel customer, who expects to migrate to Nortel’s MVNO, but he just wants to make sure he doesn’t have to pay more than he is paying now and hopefully he’ll get a few ‘carrots’ along the way

Eddie is an electrician, who very much needs reliable coverage so his boss (either Mike or Carl) can reach him and vice versa when a job needs to be done or a question needs an answer

Our discussions taught us, among other things, the challenges along the journey for potential customers, for example, Carl to become aware of a small MVNO like Nortel in their ‘discovery’ stage; the difficulties they face in comparing different plans after they discover Nortel; the carrots for migrating customers like Mike to see the benefits of staying with Nortel or going over to a competitor; both Carl’s and Mike’s lack of faith, during the ‘mapping the customer needs’ stage, in a disruptor like Nortel to deliver both standard and add-on services at a comparable or better level as the ‘big guys’; the lack of compelling products for someone like Eddie to add to his subscription during the ‘product delivery’ stage; and both Mike and Carl’s reliance on customer service to use their PBX in the ‘request support’ stage.

Participatory design and prioritizing the product roadmap

With the help of the customer journey mapping process, all of these challenges became opportunities that Nortel and wgtwo have started to address in a number of highly engaged participatory design sessions.

We iterated several times on redesigning the experience of how Mike or Eddie can add, among other things, unique security or SMS enhancing features to their subscriptions in the below mockup that starts like this.

Robert’s final positive assessment of this design work was summed up with the word “bullseye” in terms of our understanding of the personas’ flows and in surfacing Nortel’s desire to differentiate themselves.

We also learned about which products on our roadmap Nortel believed will resonate best with their business objectives and with their customers. We did this through some card sorting exercises, where we asked Nortel which product opportunities they considered ‘need to have’, ‘nice to have’, and ‘not relevant’ as illustrated here:

Their feedback will clearly help us determine which products we will make available on our platform for not only Nortel but other operators as well going forward.

After a well-deserved social visit planned together for early June, during the next few months, we plan on working directly with some of Nortel’s customers in the following areas:

  • running participatory design sessions on the subscriber experience
  • discussing our product roadmap
  • forming a charter customer program with subscribers to gather continuous and ongoing feedback

We would never have gotten as far as we’ve gotten in understanding Nortel and their customers’ problem space without being able to do this type of user research. So this will be our recipe going forward with those operators, who also hear beautiful music when learning about Working Group Two’s product ecosystem.

To learn more, visit our products ecosystem page or get in touch with us at