By Ash Banerjee
The world today is a low-trust environment and brands have to earn or retain credibility every second. The pervasiveness of telecoms services in our lives makes that really difficult for telco brands; the category has made things difficult for itself by making big promises via brand advertising campaigns, then under-delivering against peoples’ expectations of customer experience.
Meanwhile, app-based OTT brands which work off the same device and network as the host telco offer good and in some instances great experiences, adding to customer frustration with their telcos’ inability to follow suit. This then leads to customer discontent, evident via low CSAT and NPS scores and public expressions of dissatisfaction on social media and via general attitudes. It’s sad to see that the average NPS for mobile telcos is +5, much lower than that of other sectors.
Telcos have responded by investing vast amounts of time, effort and money in experience-enhancing initiatives to bridge the gap vs. promise to raise CSAT and NPS levels, but success has been limited at best.
Is there a way out? What should telco brands do?
I believe telco brands need to do four things well to be able to prevail.
1. A shift in focus from revenue to experience
For far too long, the industry has worshipped at the altar of revenue whilst paying lip service to customer-centricity. It’s time to evolve, because the days of easy revenue are over and money needs to be made the old-fashioned way – it needs to be earned on the back of offering better customer experiences.
So, out with bundles in which unused commitments aren’t credited back to customers and fall right to the telco’s bottom line, and in with transparent pricing and personally-configurable services which let customers dial their usage configuration up or down as they need.
Enhancing customer experience begins with designing desired experiences based on detailed personas of key segments, mapping customer journeys to lay out the entire experience, getting the underlying technology right, collecting data for every activity at each touchpoint, training staff to be able to deliver the desired experience at each touchpoint, and instituting appropriate metrics down and across the map to feed into the corporate balanced scorecard.
It’s worth the effort. Telco brands which manage to bridge the promise vs. experience gap also manage to win. GiffGaff in the UK is a case in point, enjoying an NPS of 70+. Enhancing customer experience will ensure brand delivery, lower churn, and higher stickiness, lower the load on customer care, and yield greater revenues.
2. An evolution to digital
Legacy technology and IT systems continue to be the main hurdle in enhancing telcos’ customer experience, and moving to a digital telco architecture is the only sustainable solution in a time when customers are hungry for OTT-like telco experiences across convenience, personalisation, intuitiveness and cost transparency.
Most major consulting and advisory firms have published articles demonstrating customers’ preference for digital service delivery and quantifying the beneficial effects of digitisation on customer experience and the bottom line. Compared to sectors like travel & hospitality, telcos lag in the extent of service digitisation, and this must change for the better.
Most mobile telcos continue to dabble with digitisation at the periphery, but very few are digitising at the core. A fully digital, open-API telco architecture will deliver markedly better customer experiences, greater simplicity, faster time to market, and lower cost of service, lower churn, greater customer satisfaction and higher revenues.
3. A firm focus on data
Data is the key driver of business performance in our times. It enables customer closeness, smarter marketing and service delivery, and higher returns.
Telcos have a lot of data but it’s typically dispersed across the organisation, with different functional units owning different sets of customer data and operational performance metrics. They end up knowing a lot, but also not knowing the full extent of what they know, and are typically unable to operate with complete information and a holistic view of customer behaviours and operational performance.
It’s time to unify all data under a single data & analytics function in order to be able to collect and analyse it properly, discover inter-relationships through the customer journey and inter-dependencies in experience delivery, and make sense of it all to enhance experience delivery and business performance. It’s time to invest in data lakes and data science, and use that learning to drive operational performance and customer experience delivery.
4. Getting culture right
Everything we’ve discussed so far is only part of the journey to success, because people are integral to performance. Getting culture right remains key, as it does in other sectors.
Brand culture is the operating system of a company. In its absence, accountability goes missing, teamwork is sub-optimal, and experience delivery doesn’t happen as intended. This is particularly important for GCC telcos, who enjoy the benefits of globally-sourced talent, but with the flip side of cultural challenges arising from the widely different provenances, workstyles, and previous organisational cultures of this diverse pool of talent.
Telcos must strive to build strong brand cultures in order to ensure organisational cohesiveness and shared commitment to delivering for their customers. Without this glue, experience delivery and business performance will always be less optimal than possible, so getting culture right remains paramount.
So there we are, with four keys to brand success for telco brands to be able to prevail in markets characterised by increasingly unforgiving customers who are desperate for better experiences and will reward telcos with their custom if they manage to get brand experience right by doing everything it takes to do so.
Telcos need to remember that today, brand success isn’t about what a brand says, but about what it does, how it does it, why it does it, how it makes people feel, and what people say about it. As customers see it, personal experience prevails over corporate promises!
About the author:
Ash Banerjee is Managing Partner of Banerjee+Partners, a consultancy which offers brand development, experience innovation and digital transformation advisory services. Previously he was chief brand officer at Jawwy from STC, and prior, VP-brand development at du, senior partner-brand strategy at Lippincott (part of Oliver Wyman), and SVP-EMEA at McCann Erickson and global leader of its telecoms practice. Over the last 20 years he has consulted with over 60 telcos around the world and been with two, including the first digital telco in the MENA region.