Why data is key to telco customer churn post-COVID-19
I’ve never been more grateful for technology than I am right now. Thanks to video calls and messaging platforms, I’ve been able to stay in touch with loved ones and colleagues no matter the distance. Most of us have endured months of limited in-person interaction and most of the global workforce is still operating remotely, and yet we’ve all managed to stay connected. We have the telecommunications industry to thank for keeping the world socially connected even when we’re all socially distanced. It has proven itself as the backbone of the global economy.
But that doesn’t mean telcos will emerge from the pandemic unscathed. Like every business, they’re now faced with unprecedented new challenges and new heights of competitiveness. After all, who could’ve predicted that 5G networks would be blamed for spreading a virus? But beyond combatting strange conspiracy theories, telco companies have had their work cut out for them in a bid to win customers and hang on to existing ones at a time when connectivity really has never been more important.
Telcos won our favour during the pandemic, but how will they maintain customer loyalty post-COVID?
Winning over the fickle customer
The saying goes that the customer is king, but we all know they’re often a difficult monarch to please. Because of the steep cost of maintaining fixed infrastructure that must be offset by revenue, the constant revolving-door of new customer acquisitions has always been problematic for telcos. And the stakes are only getting higher. According to Accenture, 77% of consumers admit retracting their brand loyalty faster now than they did three years previously.
Given that it’s never been easier for customers to shop around to find a better deal, every provider must constantly invent new, enticing packages to lure in new customers and pour more and more budget into ambitious marketing and advertising campaigns to plug the gaps left by departing customers. But churn in the industry remains high and telcos’ failure to grow their user base is one of the chief reasons share prices have stagnated over recent years.
And now, on top of the hot competition between themselves, providers are facing an additional threat from the freemium models of over-the-top (OTT) players like WhatsApp or FaceTime, who are leveraging their infrastructure to deliver services that are reducing demand for traditional voice calls and SMS.
While people will eventually leave their homes and return to their offices as the world slowly winds back up post-COVID, habits acquired during the pandemic will likely continue to shape consumer behaviour moving forwards. For many industries, the pandemic has proven that working remotely really can work and many companies will likely adopt more flexible working models. Even in our personal lives, most of us will continue to rely on digital services more than we ever did before. That’s a great opportunity for telcos. But those that figure out how to keep and maximise existing customers, rather than constantly scrambling to replace lost ones, will ultimately be the winners.
From dumb pipes to digital service provider
Two questions should be top of mind for telcos trying to appease their existing customers: how can we improve the quality of our service and how can we improve our customer service experience? The answer to both lies in their data.
Data is a powerful tool for any business hoping to serve its customers better and to improve the product or service it provides. For telcos, it can provide greater personalisation for current customers, generating insights that can anticipate a customer’s usage needs and creating more tailored deals and packages accordingly. The right offer, delivered at just the right moment, could make the difference between a long-standing customer choosing to stay with their current provider or switching to the enticing limited-time offer of a competitor.
Yet despite the fact that telcos generate huge volumes of data from their customers, converting these into useful insights isn’t always straightforward. Most companies provide mobile, broadband and IT services to a variety of different customers, from family homes all the way up to SMEs and large businesses, which can make collecting and managing data an incredibly complex process.
Switzerland’s largest telecommunications company, Swisscom, is a good example. Catering to a range of customer types, the company faced a challenge many telcos will be all too familiar with. Different business units generating data, creating siloes across the business and making it almost impossible to get a complete view of customers, contracts, service status and billing positions.
Using Hitachi Vantara’s Pentaho platform, Swisscom’s Business Customers division was able to create a central hub where data from 30 different business units – including marketing, sales and quality assurance and more – could be brought together in one place and accessed in real-time by customer service reps. It means that instead of staff checking multiple data sources for a single request, they now have all the information they need right at their fingertips in one easy-to-use view.
Modernising the way data is stored and managed is the fundamental first step to getting more out of it. For telcos, having the right data in the right place at the right time can connect customer service reps with the information they need faster, helping them to resolve customer inquiries or complaints in a more efficient manner. But it is also the route to discovering higher-level insights that can be used to proactively create more personalised offerings and identify new engagement opportunities before a customer walks away. That’s more important now than ever, given that many customers – particularly the average consumer or small businesses – will be financially impacted by the pandemic.
The opportunity for telcos extends beyond just providing a better service for customers. Data insights present the chance to position themselves as more than just utility providers, transforming into digital service providers to compete with OTT providers and secure customer loyalty.
SAS: Improving the British Army’s decision making with data
SAS’ long-standing relationship with the British Army is built on mutual respect and grounded by a reciprocal understanding of each others’ capabilities, strengths, and weaknesses. Roderick Crawford, VP and Country GM for SAS UKI, states that the company’s thorough grasp of the defence sector makes it an ideal partner for the Army as it undergoes its own digital transformation.
“Major General Jon Cole told us that he wanted to enable better, faster decision-making in order to improve operational efficiency,” he explains. Therefore, SAS’ task was to help the British Army realise the “significant potential” of data through the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to automate tasks and conduct complex analysis.
In 2020, the Army invested in the SAS ‘Viya platform’ as an overture to embarking on its new digital roadmap. The goal was to deliver a new way of working that enabled agility, flexibility, faster deployment, and reduced risk and cost: “SAS put a commercial framework in place to free the Army of limits in terms of their access to our tech capabilities.”
Doing so was important not just in terms of facilitating faster innovation but also, in Crawford’s words, to “connect the unconnected.” This means structuring data in a simultaneously secure and accessible manner for all skill levels, from analysts to data engineers and military commanders. The result is that analytics and decision-making that drives innovation and increases collaboration.
Crawford also highlights the importance of the SAS platform’s open nature, “General Cole was very clear that the Army wanted a way to work with other data and analytics tools such as Python. We allow them to do that, but with improved governance and faster delivery capabilities.”
SAS realises that collaboration is at the heart of a strong partnership and has been closely developing a long-term roadmap with the Army. “Although we're separate organisations, we come together to work effectively as one,” says Crawford. “Companies usually find it very easy to partner with SAS because we're a very open, honest, and people-based business by nature.”
With digital technology itself changing with great regularity, it’s safe to imagine that SAS’ own relationship with the Army will become even closer and more diverse. As SAS assists it in enhancing its operational readiness and providing its commanders with a secure view of key data points, Crawford is certain that the company will have a continually valuable role to play.
“As warfare moves into what we might call ‘the grey-zone’, the need to understand, decide, and act on complex information streams and diverse sources has never been more important. AI, computer vision and natural language processing are technologies that we hope to exploit over the next three to five years in conjunction with the Army.”
Fundamentally, data analytics is a tool for gaining valuable insights and expediting the delivery of outcomes. The goal of the two parties’ partnership, concludes Crawford, will be to reach the point where both access to data and decision-making can be performed qualitatively and in real-time.
“SAS is absolutely delighted to have this relationship with the British Army, and across the MOD. It’s a great privilege to be part of the armed forces covenant.”