This year will show what impact big consolidations have made on the customer experience, while throwing light on the power new technologies like AI, big data and IoT will have on creating a more seamless and more integrated omnichannel proposition.
Who will win the race to become the best mobile network? What role might last year’s developments play in the customer experience revolution? And how can digital innovation help customers in carrying out daily tasks? Here are the three most powerful trends we believe will transform the telecom industry in 2019.
1. The new wave of digital transformation: effective, impactful and seamless
In 2016 digital transformation was the big theme for telcos, with a boom in mobile development, an increase in new technology implementation and a shift in focus towards boosting operational efficiency and speed of service. Fast forward three years and the journey of digital transformation still continues. So how did the outcomes of digital transformation stack up against the expected results?
We’ve certainly seen a spike in technical innovations, with the likes of Huawei, Erickson, Verizon and AT&T working hard to win in the 5G race, and brands like Vodafone and Huawei again fighting to establish a clear leadership position in IoT. But while this rush for innovation is establishing new leaders within telecoms, there’s lots of work still to do to ensure their efforts bring real change, both for customer experience and business KPIs. So far, still little is known regarding the impact digital transformation has had on what matters most – the customers and the way they experience telco services.
Our recent survey showed the majority of customers still think of telcos as a utility and place telecoms last out of all industries when it comes to delivering services that meet their needs. To truly satisfy today’s I-want-it-now customers, another level of change is needed. The industry needs to shift to customer-centric solutions that resolve the real pain points, which of course differ depending on each company’s current proposition. We’ve already seen an increased focus on customers in 2018, with brands like Three or a recently merged BT & EE redefining their customer journeys, and this is set to grow further in 2019.
Perhaps the bigger and the most crucial change revolves around the premise of accountability. So far, the results of most transformation programmes are still the great unknown. In 2019, this must change. The new wave of digital transformation will be more accountable, providing accurate impact predictions that can deliver some truly powerful results – for both customers and the business. This is something we work hard on at BIO and will continue to implement for our clients to ensure digital transformation delivers long-term change. New technologies like IoT or AI will only increase the need for a redefined omnichannel journey that meets what today’s customers expect from telcos, while delivering a clear business impact.
2. The outcome of M&As: delivering a unified customer experience
2018 was a year of M&A deals in the telecom and media sector. Data from Thomson Reuters show the published value of proposed mergers and acquisition deals globally has reached a jaw-dropping $2.5 trillion in Q2 of 2018, and in Q3 PwC stated the value has already outpaced 2017.
Vodafone alone has engaged in a number of deals last year: a completion of the Vodafone India and Idea Merger, a merger of Vodafone Hutchinson Australia and TPG Telecom, the acquisition of Liberty Global’s German and Central & Eastern Europe operations, and a merger of Bharti Infratel and Indus Towers.
There is also movement in the Deutsche Telekom deal, with the company securing unconditional EU antitrust approval for its bid to acquire the Tele2 Dutch business. It’s a move that may mark the start of a new wave of consolidation in the industry, as Reuters predicts companies may hope for a softer regulatory touch.
M&A play a significant role in the growth of the telecom sector, enabling telcos to adapt to changing market conditions faster and in a more efficient manner. If carried out correctly, they can lead to the emergence of stronger and more powerful organisations that can deliver more services to customers, while simultaneously gaining a bigger slice of the market. But the big downside comes right after the deal is approved – how can the newly consolidated brands deliver a unified customer experience that doesn’t feel fragmented and alien to both existing and new users? How can they deliver a customer journey that retains the best out of both worlds while using service design to fill in the newly emerged gaps? Best-in-class customer experience is a big part of delivering a successful M&A, and should be the focal point when launching the newly consolidated brand.
The outcomes of last year’s M&A will be an interesting thing to watch in 2019, and will possibly determine the new winners – or perhaps even set the new path for the future of telecoms.
3. AI, big data and autonomous care
In 2018, we’ve started seeing some applications of AI and big data in telecoms. Some say the telecom sector is ‘bound to lead the AI revolution’ – a pretty strong claim, but AI is certainly going to make a big difference in 2019. For sectors like telecoms, it’s the perfect opportunity to reduce a chunk of customer service work and deliver basic responses to customer queries faster and more conveniently than via customer service representatives. Customer service chatbots, voice assistants, and using machine learning to predict when a customer is likely to turn to a competitor and what help or offer might persuade them to stay on board are just a few possible use cases.
In an article for Telecoms, Rob McLaughlin, Head of Digital Decisioning and Analytics for Sky UK stated: “We have a data liquidity problem. (...) Getting data is not an issue, we get it without trying, it’s about getting value from it.”. In order to solve this problem, Sky is implementing AI in a number of ways: cross-selling services and products; boosting customer engagement with already purchased products; anticipating needs and problems; and media optimisation. AI opens up a massive opportunity to find hidden yet transformational value in the big data sets telcos already have access to. It can help businesses get a clear picture of customers’ behavioural patterns and deliver a more personalised and more relevant experience that will boost engagement at every stage of the journey. This approach to data analytics – using AI to deliver a better and more reliable service – will only grow further, as telcos strive for innovations that redefine the customer experience.
Predictive maintenance and network optimisation is another big area that could transform the current customer experience as well as service reliability. As mentioned at the Telco Data Analytics and AI conference 2018 in London, telecom brands direct 60% of their AI R&D spend towards network optimisation.
SK Telecom is one example – their 5G-AI convergence is said to lead new Information and Communication Technologies innovations in Korea. Such convergence will unlock the best maintenance and communication quality thanks to its ability to deliver accurate predictions of the time and place of data traffic congestions, as well as the capacity to automatically allocate higher network capacity and adjust the area of ‘radiowave propagation’ in advance of any problems occurring. While maintenance and optimisation will enhance the quality of the overall proposition, it’s certainly not enough to keep customers from switching. To truly utilise the power of AI and fix their customer relationships, telcos must start looking at investing in customer-centric intelligence-led projects that bring value and diversification, while delivering powerful results.
The next 12 months will be an interesting ride, from the outcomes of last year’s big consolidations to new customer-centric experiences, and the long-anticipated arrival of 5G that will drive a wave of change across a number of industries. The latter may unlock data-driven personalisation, connected experiences and advancements in medical technology. Telcos will continue to evolve at a rapid speed, and the outcomes of technical innovation that boomed in 2018 will now reveal its impact on customers’ everyday service experience. We expect omnichannel to become the key priority, as the need for seamless experiences across every touchpoint will grow even further with the introduction of new channels and new technologies. It’s how telcos tackle moving from the prevalent multichannel to seamless and results-driven omnichannel experiences that will determine who will win on the customer experience front.