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Telcos Need To Build An Agile Future In Partnership With Their Clients

For the past few years, I have often wondered how executives in the telecoms industry plan ahead. The industry is so fast moving that, if you look back, telcos seem to completely evolve every five years or so.

Think back a decade or so and the telcos were making cash charging for calls, text messages, and starting to see the need for data plans increasing. If you look back just five years then the focus was already on data, with many customers making fewer calls and using more over-the-top (OTT) services that replace the need for calls and texts. People had already stopped paying for individual calls or messages.

What do we see today? Many customers hardly use their phone to make calls today because what we used to describe as phone calls are now on Teams or Zoom and text messages are on WhatsApp – the only customer requirement is data and today that is often charged at a fixed price for unlimited access.

What is the telco game plan for the next few years? I know 5G is on the way, but most telco customers still talk about this as ‘like 4G, but faster’, rather than with any detailed understanding of how 5G might change the telco industry.

A recent study by EY has added more detail to my own thoughts. As many as 82% of the telco executives surveyed by EY are unsure who is accountable for delivering results related to capital investment projects. That seems quite a fundamental problem – if you are investing in a bigger or better network and nobody knows who is accountable then how will these projects succeed?

EY suggests a few key areas of future focus for telcos:

  • Content streaming services: hyper growth in the use of video and audio streaming as an integral part of all home entertainment
  • 5G: focus on low latency abilities to improve gaming and applications where delays cannot happen – such as remote medicine or live services (music or sport)
  • The Internet of Things (IoT): the ubiquitous use of sensors and devices everywhere – partly enabled by 5G allowing more connections in a small area (we all know the rock concert problem where nobody can get a data connection – that’s another 5G benefit)

All these areas are fast-growing and have the opportunity to create new revenue streams for telcos – there may be a future beyond just selling data plans.

But the problem is that most telcos are quite rigid. They are focused on large-scale capital investment and plans that extend years into the future. What they really need is the ability to tap into the direct needs of their customers. How can they transform to become more agile so they can thrive in a post-pandemic business environment where nobody is even considering 5-year plans?

I believe this outreach to customers is the key. It requires a focus on the customer experience and account management. How are you interacting with customers beyond just answering their customer service questions? Are you exploring how customers are using your data and devices and considering how to create new revenue streams by serving their needs more effectively?

Do you even have a plan for how the IoT will start generating revenue for your business? You probably have clients using your data to do this already.

I believe that this telco customer outreach is now going to shape the future of the entire industry. No telco can build a future on just selling data alone. The article I quoted earlier – summarising the EY study – ends by saying: “EY puts a positive spin on it, noting that as such telecoms companies have the biggest opportunity for improvement when it comes to agility. Hmmm…”

This is amusing, but perhaps a bit too cynical. It’s true that telcos are often like tankers, they can take years to change direction, but we can already see that customer data use has changed. If telcos ignore these changes then they will not survive – it’s that simple.

Please get in touch with me directly on LinkedIn here if you want to discuss these ideas further. Interested in learning more about telco customer experience solutions? Please contact ICON’s Mark Matthews.

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