Virgin Mobile: 2020 will be a turning point for telcos as they seize the unlimited opportunities of digitalisation

CommsMEA spoke to Erik Dudman Nielsen, Group CEO at Virgin Mobile Middle East & Africa to discuss how his company is adapting to the ‘new normal’ presented by the global Covid 19 pandemic
Virgin Mobile, MVNO, MNO, Telecoms, Connectivity, Digitalisation


How has Virgin adapted to the coronavirus pandemic and what is it doing to help its customers?

At Virgin Mobile, digital has always been the core of our business proposition and we are constantly looking to take a leading role in the digital transformation of the industry by putting control into the hands of our customers. We were therefore already well set up to carry out our day-to-day processes and delivering excellent customer service through our digital infrastructure and offerings and able to adapt to the new digital world resulting from the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

With stores closed across the globe, consumers have adapted to a digital approach when it comes to payments and customer service. For example, one of the key USPs for Virgin Mobile is our unique home delivery service, whereby customers can order their SIM to be delivered directly to their door. Here in the UAE, SIM activations through home deliveries now represent 85 per cent of the total activations across all channels and we are rolling out more e-commerce and delivery options at a rapid pace to meet this demand, including new eCommerce partners and channels, as well as extended delivery areas in both KSA and UAE to enable more potential customers to benefit from this service.

We have also developed new digital propositions for our customers. For example, we have expanded our fully-digital proposition in KSA even further with the launch of some exciting new services in partnership with absher, aimed at promoting the use of eSIM to give a 100 per cent end-to-end digital service as the activation and verification process can now be done completely remotely, with no need to visit a physical location or be verified in person. We are also shortly launching an exciting new proposition in the UAE to meet the needs of this digital modern age.

Another major change we have experienced is the shifting attitude towards digital payments. Cash has traditionally reigned supreme in the Middle East, with a wide proportion of the Middle East audience very averse to credit card payments. The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic has turned this on its head, and we are now seeing a rapidly increasing demand for electronic credit card payments. To meet this demand, we have recently introduced this function for our FRiENDi customers in Oman & KSA. We have also set up the first recurring payment option in the region with Apple Pay in the UAE, providing even more digital payment methods for our Virgin Mobile customers there.

Digital customer service and self-service are also becoming increasingly important, as consumers that have never engaged with a chatbot increasingly start to interact with brands and organisations through their OTT communications services and social media apps. At Virgin Mobile, we have been operating a work-from-home policy for the vast majority of our customer service team, managing all customer care functions via in-app chat or VoIP call, and we expect this trend to continue long after the current restrictions are lifted across the Middle East, as customers realise the ease of these services and begin to place more trust in them.

What lessons can be learnt for the long-term from this experience?

The future of the telcommunications industry is about being current to the needs of consumers, and those needs are – and will be ever-more increasingly – digital, as consumers become more and more used to doing things digitally. While this will almost certainly result in a shift towards data over voice as the way in which we communicate evolves, it will also lead to ever-evolving expectations from consumers for more innovative digital propositions, and demand for outstanding customer experience. It is this shift in customer expectations that will be the new driving force behind telecoms, and indeed all industries, both globally and in the region.

In order to keep up in this experience economy, telcos must now create compelling digital propositions that meet customer needs by simplifying and improving the experience and relationship that customers have with their brand. The innovation moguls such as facebook and Google have been very successful in providing consumers with omni-purpose and app-based user experiences at a much lower operating cost – posing an exciting challenge for telco service providers in the region to rise to, as advanced digitalisation also provides a strong opportunity for mobile operators to innovate their strategy and develop new and unique offerings that can improve customer journey. Virgin Mobile’s brand promise, for example, is rooted in listening to our customers and thereby providing a service experience that suits their evolving requirements, is tailored to customer needs, and is continuously evolving to drive quality of service. Not only can this reduce the cost to serve, but it will also delight customers and uplift the customer experience – ultimately driving top line growth and higher retention.

As we try to navigate our way through the unprecedented impact of this global crisis, telcos will have to continuously explore the capability of digitalisation and the impact this will have on their customer interactions across the value chain.

How has the surge in demand for capacity, brought about by the work from home initiative, affected Virgin?

As Voice over IP (VoIP) services such as Zoom and Teams, which have recently become more widely in the region, become the preferred go-to method of communication, so we have had to increase our data capabilities to meet demand as people increasingly turn to mobile data to keep connected. Virgin Mobile is at the forefront in making sure our mobile community get the most flexible data plans and packages as part of our mobile offerings, allowing our customers to choose their own data packages to suit their different mobile lifestyles and need, with the added benefit of being able to increase or decrease their data levels as required on a monthly basis.

Government initiatives have also been instrumental in the implementation of our strategy to match the demand of data in the market. For example, new regulations in KSA have enable us to provide high data packages, which in turn allows us to better serve the data-hungry Saudi national audience. In Oman, the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) approved the Access and Interconnection (A&I) Regulation which aims to help new players to enter in order to promote competition. This has paved the way for delivering unique products including extremely affordable mobile data services among customers, especially the labour force.

What predictions do you have for the industry over the next 12-18 months?

Overall, telecoms as an industry is experiencing limited reduction compared some of the other heavily impacted industries, so I think the key impact will be around the way telcos, like all other sectors, have had to adapt the ways in which we work and provide our services.

While the outlook of telco industry remains positive amidst the pandemic, 2020 will be a true turning point for the telco industry as it chooses to seize the unlimited opportunities presented by the shift towards digitalisation. Going forward, a critical success factor for mobile operators will be in identifying the extent of their role. Breaking away from the traditional wholesale model, mobile operators should now take charge as digital navigators moving to an agile digital business model which puts the customer at the center of everything they do, embracing the new digital world.

The increasing rollout of eSIM functionality will provide even further opportunities for telcos, enabling 100 per cent digital end-to-end sign-up, whereby a customer can set their plan, verify their identity remotely and have their service activated all at the touch of button, from wherever they are, whenever they want. Virgin Mobile has already started the roll-out of such a proposition in KSA and UAE, and, as eSIM becomes more widely available in the region, we expect this 100 per cent digital proposition will become standard practice for mobile brands in the coming years.

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