The future of telcos in a post-Covid-19 world

Telcos must now create compelling digital propositions that meet customer needs by simplifying and improving the experience

With the coronavirus pandemic pushing the world to adopt new norms in conducting business as well as providing services, the telecommunications sector too has had to redesign its ways.

While telcos have historically been more resilient to economic uncertainties, the current pandemic is unprecedented in the affect it is having on consumer behaviours, as the world looks more and more to digital solutions, reshaping consumer demand at a rapid pace.

The future of the telecommunications 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.

Yes, this will mean a shift towards data over voice as the way in which we communicate evolves, but more intrinsically for telcos will be the changes in the expectations of consumers for more innovative digital propositions, and demand for outstanding customer experience, that will be the new driving force behind telecoms, both globally and in the region.

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 – a challenge towards traditional telco companies.

While this can seem daunting, it is indeed 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.

The GCC region has some of the top countries in the world for digital adoption, with more than 100 percent smartphone penetration and more than 70 percent social media adoption – even higher than the United States – so there is a definite demand for more digital propositions in the region, which is only increasing as the global pandemic continues.

Exciting digital experiences, and consumers’ desire for always on, on-demand services have instigated telecommunications operators to become digitally agile and responsive.

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.

Virgin Mobile’s brand promise, for example, is rooted in understanding customer’s needs and therefore 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 as consumers become accustomed to doing things digitally.

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 percent 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.

The increasing rollout of eSIM functionality will provide even further opportunities for telcos, enabling 100 percent 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 percent digital proposition will become standard practice for mobile brands.

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 such a rapid increase in demand for electronic credit card payments, that we have invested heavily in more digital payment gateways and partnerships – such as our partnership with Apple Pay in the UAE to set up the first recurring payment option in the region.

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.

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.

The shift in consumer behaviour towards ever-increasingly digital services is unlikely to be undone post Covid-19.

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 centre of everything they do, embracing the new digital world.