PARTNER INTERVIEW: The Covid-19 (coronavirus) pandemic has further outlined the strong role of digital systems in the customer journey, with communication service providers (CSPs) which had already embraced this change at a significant advantage in their abilities to continue serving customers and introducing new propositions during lockdowns.

Thales’ Strategy and Marketing Director Emmanuel Legros spoke to Mobile World Live about the importance of digital offerings and provided insight into how CSPs are using new technologies to make market gains and improve customer service.

Mobile World Live: Why is it important for operators to increase the scope of their digital offerings, and how can it benefit their businesses?
Emmanuel Legros: Almost every industry is being forced to evolve quickly thanks to the impact of digital disruptors and competitive pressure to move to digital systems, and the telecommunications industry is no different.

If we look at different sectors, you have seen new players coming into very traditional markets with a fully digital offer and quickly achieving good market share. Telecoms will not avoid this wave, so it is important for operators to increase their digital offers.

Although the process of digital transformation for many CSPs started well before the Covid-19 pandemic, this factor has definitely accelerated it. The industry had to face something completely unexpected, with lockdowns and retailers being asked to close in almost every country.

Some CSPs have performed better than others, largely because they had already transformed their businesses with several already having a separate pure digital brand in place. This allowed continuation in distribution channels and offered the ability to adapt services quickly.

Away from the pandemic, the trend of digital transformation is being reinforced by the fact 5G is coming, or already here in some cases.

The new network technology will bring wider digitalisation, especially in the enterprise. IoT has been here for years, but it is now really taking off in the context of 5G. Companies just cannot avoid digital transformation.

What is the best strategy and the internal impact for the operators?
The situation of each operator will ultimately define the shape of their own strategy, but in our experience we see there are clearly a number of best practices.

Firstly, by developing pure digital brands CSPs can foster faster growth. Many companies already have a plan for digital transformation, but it’s often a long and heavy programme. What they can do much faster is to create a specific digital brand to test innovation, new distribution channels and fresh offers.

A full digital experience is completely possible with technologies such as eSIM solutions delivering mobile subscriptions remotely and instantly, online ID  verification enabling trusted digital identity (also referred to as eKYC) and 5G providing benefits such as low latency and high data rates. However you have to be careful to ensure a good quality of customer experience as people are used to fully digital experiences elsewhere.

In terms of internal changes, existing backend legacy systems are usually not adaptable to offering a digital experience, they need extra layers to provide consumers with a full digital experience.

Organisationally, you need to have a specific, agile team dedicated to digital projects. For example if you have an application but are not able to update regularly to create interest for the end user, it will become useless.

We are in the app game here. People download a lot of applications, but after a few weeks they delete many of them, and here it is exactly the same. You can create stickiness with end users with a good proposition, but for that you need to have the right tools and be more flexible than you can with an IT legacy system.

How do the needs of today’s customers differ from those of five years ago and what is holding operators back in ensuring they attract or retain customers in 2021 and beyond?
Many younger customers and the large proportion of the rest of the population who have become digital adopters have very different expectations to other customers.

We’ve done several pilots with end users and each time we notice they are very sensitive to the customer experience. For digital natives and enthusiastic adopters from other generations their norm is Netflix, Uber, Revolut and other fully digital companies offering high customer experience.

It is really important to pay attention to these customers. CSPs need to replicate the same level of service experience provided by successful digital businesses like Uber. There are new standards being set everywhere.

In this context, marketers need to react quickly. Very often they have good ideas and want to move on them, but often they don’t have the tools to.

So if you really want to pursue this direction, you have to ensure experience teams can adapt in a few days not months with things like delivering personalised offers.

A seamless customer journey is key. It will make the difference, but you also must ensure you respect the rules. Today more than ever security is everyone’s concern, you have to secure your application and ensure privacy regulations are respected.

What are the pitfalls of introducing digital systems and how can CSPs ensure there are no negative effects on legacy technology they have in-place?
Speaking to a range of our customers we see several barriers to fully embracing digital services, though there are a couple of strands which really stand out.

Some have found it difficult to offer flexible user experiences due to issues related to existing IT infrastructure. One operator told us they have 25 different systems in place and each time they want to implement something they were concerned there would be an impact elsewhere.

Resistance from IT departments can be a major pain point for the marketers, so in response at Thales we’ve created a whole digital journey to allow the implementation of an end-to-end digital offer without impacting legacy systems.

Another issue is logistics. It is never easy to distribute physical goods quickly, but now we have had to in the context of the pandemic. Digital distribution is now the most efficient channel, and with increasing adoption of eSIM this has also become much easier.

Please explain what your value proposition for the CSP is in this context? What benefits are expected?
We’ve put together a whole journey which helps mobile operators to provide the full digital experience: identification; billing; access to the connectivity service and customer care. It’s a complete end-to-end digital solution.

This includes offering a complete “digital operator” in white label form, which can be combined with eSIM management. We can also provide tools enabling trusted digital identities and mobile payments.

Together with partners Thales can deliver BSS systems, catalogue management and customer care. By providing this end-to-end experience we help ensure resilience and growth even in uncertain times.

We also have the means to measure the effectiveness of a digital experience for consumers. We can track success using KPIs related to customer stickiness from digital offerings with churn rates down as low as 2 per cent in some cases.

People sometimes say digital services increase churn, but it’s exactly the opposite. This is an opportunity for CSPs to retain existing customers and increase their base.

Security is also key, it’s in Thales’ DNA really. Having privacy and secure systems in place is fundamental. We cannot go digital without security, it’s just impossible. Interactions will be increasingly remote, so CSPs need to have a reliable system in place to accurately verify customers’ identities, whilst complying with local regulations and specific CSPs’ requirements.

Examples of Thales’ work with operators around the globe in developing and deploying fully digital consumer journeys, and the results of its customer pain points study, are available in Thales Trusted Digital Journey web page.