Telecoms Trends 2021: 6 Predictions That Will Transform Telco

Empa­thy, com­pas­sion, com­mu­ni­ca­tion… with­out them, there’s no doubt­ing that our world would have become a much dark­er place dur­ing 2020. It’s been a year that few can draw par­al­lels with, yet it’s been a year where we’ve realised the impor­tance of a val­ue that many have over­looked… human con­nec­tion – a val­ue that is weaved into the fab­ric of every expe­ri­ence a brand can offer, or at least should be.

As our dig­i­tal, con­nect­ed world trans­forms how brands engage with their cus­tomers, those oper­at­ing in Tele­coms are fac­ing a unique set of chal­lenges as they strug­gle to deliv­er clear val­ue propo­si­tions from their net­work and ser­vices. As Tel­co ser­vices become increas­ing­ly com­modi­tised, providers have strug­gled to dif­fer­en­ti­ate their offer­ing in the eyes of the con­sumer, with most oper­a­tors shar­ing infra­struc­ture with competitors.

At the same time, social media and mes­sag­ing plat­forms (think Face­book Mes­sen­ger and What­sApp) are dis­rupt­ing the sec­tor by offer­ing more con­ve­nient dig­i­tal voice and data prod­ucts, mean­ing con­sumers are more will­ing to switch providers based on price and, as a result, Tel­co brands have become caught in expen­sive quar­ter­ly cycles of acqui­si­tion and churn.

There are signs, how­ev­er, that the Tele­coms sec­tor is stand­ing at an inflex­ion point, with oppor­tu­ni­ties for growth and dig­i­tal inno­va­tion emerg­ing across a num­ber of excit­ing areas, includ­ing cus­tomer expe­ri­ence, ecosys­tem part­ner­ships, IoT, mobil­i­ty and 5G. Here, we take a look at some of the biggest trends that will dom­i­nate the Tel­co indus­try dur­ing 2021, and beyond…

1) 5G will final­ly offer Tel­co com­pet­i­tive differentiation

With over 200 oper­a­tors in 88 coun­tries invest­ing in the tech­nol­o­gy, the advent of 5G net­works will cre­ate the next evo­lu­tion for broad­band con­nec­tiv­i­ty. Unlike the shift from 3G to 4G, the adop­tion of 5G is much more than sim­ply offer­ing high­er speed. With 5G, laten­cy (or lag) is sig­nif­i­cant­ly low­er and capac­i­ty much greater than its pre­de­ces­sor – typ­i­cal­ly 100 times greater than 4G.

Dra­mat­ic improve­ments in 5G mobile tech­nol­o­gy are set to play a cru­cial role at the heart of dig­i­tal con­nec­tiv­i­ty and trans­form con­sumer behav­iour, rais­ing their lev­els of expec­ta­tion of new prod­ucts and ser­vices across the tele­coms, media, retail, finan­cial ser­vices, and edu­ca­tion sec­tors (and more).

For oper­a­tors, 5G pos­es chal­lenges as well as oppor­tu­ni­ties – such as increased cap­i­tal invest­ment on infra­struc­ture and pos­si­ble dis­in­ter­me­di­a­tion from vir­tu­al net­work oper­a­tors. How­ev­er, many of these are short-term con­cerns – in the long run, 5G tech­nol­o­gy will bring a wealth of ben­e­fits to both the enter­prise sec­tor and con­sumers, with Tel­cos sit­ting at the cen­tre of this mas­sive transformation.

Cou­pled with new tech­nolo­gies such as net­work func­tion vir­tu­al­i­sa­tion (NFV) and soft­ware-defined net­works (SDN), 5G can help reduce oper­at­ing and cap­i­tal expen­di­ture costs, while new busi­ness mod­els, most notably around IoT, will help dri­ve the rev­enues of Tele­com oper­a­tors over the next few years.

2) Prod­uct diver­si­fi­ca­tion on the rise, with IoT tak­ing cen­tre stage

Inevitably, 5G will her­ald the next stage of Inter­net of Things (IoT) devel­op­ment, enabling bil­lions of devices to be con­nect­ed both to each oth­er as well as the inter­net simul­ta­ne­ous­ly. This will help dri­ve pro­duc­tiv­i­ty and effi­cien­cy in the work­place as well as cre­ate poten­tial oppor­tu­ni­ties for com­pa­nies to deploy new appli­ca­tions and busi­ness models.

Mov­ing into 2021 and beyond, there is a huge oppor­tu­ni­ty for Tel­co oper­a­tors to con­sol­i­date their posi­tion in the IoT space as busi­ness­es across all sec­tors con­nect more devices to the inter­net to help dri­ve greater effi­cien­cies, increase com­pet­i­tive­ness, devel­op new busi­ness mod­els, and pro­vide solu­tions to prob­lems. For exam­ple, the Voda­fone IoT Barom­e­ter 2019 found that over a third (34%) of organ­i­sa­tions have incor­po­rat­ed IoT tech­nol­o­gy into their busi­ness, with 95% of adopters hav­ing seen mea­sur­able ben­e­fits from their IoT projects, and over half (52%) real­is­ing sig­nif­i­cant returns on their investment.

This not only pro­vides brands with a wealth of options for expand­ing into IoT-dri­ven mar­kets – think Vodafone’s expan­sion into busi­ness and con­sumer IoT and e‑commerce – but it also means Tel­cos prob­a­bly boasts the biggest library of cus­tomer data of any indus­try. Which brings us on to our next trend…

3) Omnichan­nel data and ana­lyt­ics will receive a boost

The sheer amount of cus­tomer data that Tel­co brands pos­sess is stag­ger­ing. In fact, it’s often too much to han­dle, and many Tel­cos strug­gle to trans­late the abun­dance of insights they have into con­nect­ed and rel­e­vant cus­tomer experiences.

For exam­ple, as a con­sumer, switch­ing between Tel­co brands is often a frus­trat­ing expe­ri­ence, and not always because your exist­ing provider makes it dif­fi­cult to leave. I recent­ly switched provider, and was astound­ed at the sheer num­ber of com­pli­cat­ed pric­ing mod­els on offer, enough to make even an expe­ri­enced marketer’s head spin.

Thank­ful­ly, Tel­co brands recog­nise this short­fall, and are pour­ing invest­ment into bol­ster­ing and refin­ing their omnichan­nel data and ana­lyt­ics, name­ly around seg­men­ta­tion and dig­i­tal asset and con­tent man­age­ment. With the right invest­ment and tech­nol­o­gy in place next year, brands will be able uni­fy online and offline cus­tomer expe­ri­ence to iden­ti­fy con­sumers and bet­ter under­stand their behaviour.

For me, that would have meant a cou­ple of per­son­alised and stream­lined offers from my poten­tial new provider, based on my old con­tract details and oth­er data col­lect­ed dur­ing the ear­ly stages of my cus­tomer jour­ney. And, for exist­ing customers…

4) Greater focus on cus­tomer life­time value

For­tu­nate­ly, Tel­co brands are final­ly begin­ning to wake up to the ben­e­fits of keep­ing their exist­ing cus­tomers com­fort­able and con­tent. After all, it’s no secret that when it comes to cus­tomer sat­is­fac­tion sur­veys and NPS (Net Pro­mot­er Score) bench­marks, Tel­co lags behind oth­er industries.

Like much of the mar­ket­ing world, the cost of acquir­ing new cus­tomers in Tel­co far out­weighs retain­ing exist­ing ones. For this rea­son, 2021 will see Tel­cos plac­ing greater focus on their NPS, Voice of the Cus­tomer, and cus­tomer sat­is­fac­tion sur­veys. What’s more, they’ll use that insight to active­ly improve the cus­tomer jour­ney, feed­ing learn­ings into dig­i­tal ser­vice offer­ings and dri­ving users towards more dig­i­tal self-ser­vice and tools.

As we know from oth­er indus­tries, con­sumers are pre­pared to pay more if they feel like they are get­ting a good ser­vice – mean­ing churn reduc­tion will be a huge dif­fer­en­tia­tor for Tel­cos next year.

5) Brand advo­cates will both attract and retain

Many Tel­co brands have combed their data archives and built busi­ness mod­els accord­ing­ly – for exam­ple, providers that fall on the low­er end of the pric­ing mod­el often offer extreme­ly flex­i­ble sub­scrip­tions as their USP.

Their way of reduc­ing churn – when they make it so easy to leave – is to incor­po­rate brand advo­cates into their cus­tomer-cen­tric mod­els, cre­at­ing forums and loy­al­ty pro­mo­tion cam­paigns to not only engage their exist­ing cus­tomer base, but to attract new sub­scribers through word of mouth and peer refer­ral groups.

With influ­encer cul­ture at its zenith, Tel­co brands will increas­ing­ly use not only their cus­tomers, but also famous fig­ures (I’m look­ing at you, Kevin Bacon) to attract and retain people.

6) Cus­tomer-cen­tric­i­ty will tie it all together

Of course, the one key trend tying all these var­i­ous approach­es, tech­nolo­gies, and trans­for­ma­tions togeth­er is cus­tomer-cen­tric­i­ty. The fact that most mod­ern-day cus­tomers demand con­sis­tent ser­vice, sophis­ti­cat­ed capa­bil­i­ties, and per­son­alised jour­neys across every aspect of their brand expe­ri­ence rep­re­sents a huge oppor­tu­ni­ty for Tel­co com­pa­nies to achieve exact­ly what they’re been strug­gling with for so long – true com­pet­i­tive differentiation.

Tel­co brands who pour not just invest­ment, but long-term strate­gic thought into trans­for­ma­tion pro­grammes will pos­sess the abil­i­ty to build long-last­ing brand aware­ness, enhance new and exist­ing dig­i­tal cus­tomer expe­ri­ences, and cre­ate busi­ness mod­els when mar­ket trends demand it.

In doing so, they’ll be able to escape the expen­sive acqui­si­tion cycle. Focus on human con­nec­tion and treat cus­tomers as long-term assets by build­ing organ­i­sa­tion-wide gov­er­nance and incen­tives struc­tures – that way, Tel­cos will trans­form the revolv­ing door into a loy­al and con­sis­tent­ly engaged cus­tomer base, for life.

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