Research by Vodafone Institute found that only 18 per cent of respondents across eight European markets said they trusted telecommunication companies with their data. When it comes to consumer trust even banks and governments ranked more highly according to the study.
High profile security breaches such as the Carphone Warehouse data-hack in 2015 only fan the flames of this mistrust.
Trust is a core communication issue for telco brands today. Growth is down to their strength as trusted connectivity providers for billions of people who now rely on their mobile devices to live their lives. The irony is that this explosion in mobile usage has not actually led to corresponding windfalls for operators.
Of course, operators are grappling with a whole host of global challenges. There’s the pressing issue of whether or how to beat off newer, more agile over the top (OTT) disruptors. There’s also the challenge of building a digital ecosystem that delivers the kind of seamless customer experience we now expect of the brands we interact with. Ultimately it’s the trusted relationship telcos must have with their consumers that will really drive success.
Big turbulence precedes big change
Through the mass digitisation of the last decade, our economy and the worldwide web have now become critically interdependent. The World Bank calculates that with every 10 per cent increase in high-speed internet connection, economic growth increases by 1.3 per cent and leads to ‘democratisation of innovation’. In a world where only 40 per cent of the population has access to the internet we could boost global GDP by $1 trillion by connecting another 327 million people.
With whispers of 5G incoming, 2017 is set to be a particularly pivotal year for telecommunication businesses as they buckle-up to meet the incessant demand for live streaming, home technology and physical-digital integration. Innovations like these place unprecedented pressure on network providers to provide the best quality and design. This pressure intensified further by the shockwaves of the OTT trend.
OTT: The race for connectivity
We’ve seen steps taken by telcos to partner with OTT organisations to better sell their network. British operator EE’s deal to new customers included six months free access to Apple Music, while fellow UK telco Three has similarly partnered with Deezer.
These moves are becoming increasingly frequent in the race for end-to-end connectivity. From voice messaging and cloud storage to TV and music streaming, it’s been predicted that OTT services will have a staggering 300 million subscribers by 2019. And yet these collaborations only appear to be going so far in retaining strong brand presence.
Some operators are pursuing adjacencies, branching into new sectors in a bid to remain top of mind with consumers. O2 launched its Fidor bank – the world’s first mobile only bank by a mobile provider. Whilst these moves may create some notes of innovation, they result in little shareholder value, making acquisition an attractive target for OTT players needing expanded, global connectivity to their services.
UAE telecoms operator Etisalat is already playing in various digital domains with strong references like Dubai Parks and Resorts and the upcoming Dubai Expo 2020, expanding across into broader industrial and economic infrastructure.
So as bundling, partnering, diversification and discounting gather pace as winning strategies, telcos need to make sure they’re not in danger of being overtaken by more relevant businesses wholly focused on delivering brilliant experiences. They also need to remember and build on one very important fact: they already own the market.
Trust in the network
With the internet becoming as important to governments as providing power and water in the coming years, telcos must reinstate their position of power, capitalising on our craving for data and learning the customer experience tricks that are setting OTTs apart.
Every company and person on the planet now depends on networks to operate effectively. If they didn’t exist, the industry itself would fall into disarray. Consumers want full connectivity, maximised access to many services, all at once. Being a pure network provider is therefore power and not a shameful desire for today’s telcos.
Design for trust
The value customers place on ease of use, playful technologies, network data and speed outweighs their loyalty to a particular network provider. And yet there is one thing that all apps must design for if they wish to become integrated into people’s lives; trust.
Due to the amount of companies that now depend on them as well as the surge in customers crying out for network data, telcos need to be seen as the most trusted business in the market.
Osman Sultan, du’s CEO, recently announced the imminent launch of Virgin Mobile into the UAE market – a trusted brand that understands consumer preferences, likes and desires. Customer relationships will be at the heart of their success.
Restoring customer trust using brilliant design
Most network operators state customer experience management as a number one priority on their strategic agenda. What a brand does, how it interacts with customers and the consistency of the experience it offers is much more important in our social media driven age than what a brand says about itself. These days, trust is built through word of mouth. Great customer experiences get people talking and nurture relationships and loyalty.
So far though, success has been mixed. Telcos are more famous for their disgruntled customers, data breaches and complicated offers than their great customer experiences. The best place to begin mending these fractures is building and managing better connected physical-digital ecosystems.
Just like the telecoms sector, retail is experiencing seismic change right now. Both are facing similar challenges – how to diversify, how to build on their core strength and how to stay relevant. Over the last 15 years we have seen retailers respond. For example the big supermarkets in the UK have been busy taking on Amazon as well as moving sideways into new areas such as financial services and hospitality.
As technology develops and brands innovate, convenience, connectivity and coverage are no longer enough to truly differentiate. Consumers now expect shopping to be effortless and fast, just as they expect mobile connectivity to be always there and always on. In itself, this is no longer a basis for choosing a service; the customer experience layered around an operator’s network is.
Increasingly for retailers, this experience is about creating environments where people enjoy spending time. Game changing concepts such as Ikea’s pop up restaurant The Dining Club merge retail theatre and product demonstration, taking the brand directly into its customers’ lives.
Telcos must look to next generation omnichannel experiences to assert themselves and meet expectations. It’s through the customer experience that people will have a reason to trust in telco’s core strength: it’s network.
It’s about moving away from classic telco retail design into the realm of entertainment and personalisation where every touch-point feels like it’s been made for the individual to enjoy.
A well-designed, consistently responsive customer experience can differentiate a company and make for happier, more loyal consumers.
Telcos are at risk of being seen as ‘data pipes’ – generic, interchangeable providers with little to choose between them. Investing in the overall experience, through the lens of the consumer, can disrupt this view.
It’s now a critical way of showing consumers you understand and care about their needs, and a sure-fire way of getting them to trust you – not a competitor – to deliver their connected lives.
Ayesha Rashid is Business Strategy director at design consultancy Start