AI, Big Data, Analytics and Net Promoter Score (NPS) have all achieved “silver bullet” status among Telcos. Whilst each is vital to future prosperity, there is a risk that without a parallel change in culture and attitude, the customer and their unique insights will still be left out of product and service decision making and most of these investments will be wasted.
From a Supply-limited to Demand-limited market
Telecoms has historically been a supply-limited market. Licences and spectrum restricted competition, network demand exceeded supply, and voice services were priced based on the needs of customers, rather than the cost of provision. In a supply-limited market, any market strategy that increases economic supply succeeds, so in these conditions an operational network focus is entirely appropriate.
The digital age market is demand-limited – no matter how great the demand, there is always available supply. Entry barriers (licensing and spectrum allocation) and protected revenue areas (e.g. roaming, voice services) are being dismantled by regulators. Network growth has increased availability in most markets. VoIP, e-SIMs, Wi-Fi-first and IM reduce consumer dependence on specific network service providers, so they increasingly demand only local connectivity and have options without committing to an expensive relationship with a traditional network service provider. Choice hands the power to the consumer, and players that fail to understand their consumers will lose them (if you doubt this, consider how the lucrative area of international calls has been lost to VoIP and ethnic MVNOs, like Lebara).
Digital Players have re-set customer expectations
Unlike Telcos, digital players have grown up in a competitive and demand-limited market environment and the most successful, such as Facebook, Amazon and Google, have focused on who the customer is, and what he or she wants to achieve. They all use AI, Big Data and automated algorithms to drive their growth, but this is wrapped around a fanatical devotion to customer needs & satisfaction. As an example of their attitude, Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon stated:
“We’ve had three big ideas at Amazon that we’ve stuck with for 18 years, and they’re the reason we’re successful: Put the customer first. Invent. And be Patient.”
For Telcos, the capital intensity of the sector, investor expectations and legacy revenues and business models make it very difficult to follow that path. Implementing automated, data-driven processes is an extension of the inward and network-centric focus that has got them to where they are today, but it will not be sufficient to get them to where they need to be tomorrow.
Love the Customer, not their Data or your Network
To succeed, Telcos must bring customers into every part of their business, starting with the boardroom. Customers need to be understood qualitatively and individually, not simply as a data point within a dynamic AI tool segmentation. Data-derived intelligence needs to be complemented with emotional intelligence and used by all those making product and service decisions. Telcos must learn to love their customers and see the network as a tool to achieving this, not an end in itself. They need to find new ways of bringing customers into every level of planning and decision making.
Once they do , then AI, Data Analytics and NPS investments can be directed with much greater impact. Who knows, they may even start to look like the “silver bullets” vendors promise and investors and management hope and expect!