For years, telecoms have been obsessed with speed: the faster the network, the better.

But with the industry continuing to lag behind in customer satisfaction surveys, it’s clear that this singular focus isn’t enough.

This realisation comes at a crucial point. With the advent of new technologies like 5G and automation, what telecoms do now will set the course for years to come and, ultimately, decide who thrives and who just survives. While new technology can bring faster speeds and better service, it can’t be the only solution.

For telecoms, it’s time to take a step back, identify the problems they’re facing, and do things differently. The players that will thrive in the next two to five years will be those that see new tech not just as something to sell, but to actively use to transform their businesses, and keep a clear focus on improving service experience.

To that end, here are the three things telecoms need to do to thrive in the years to come.

1. Harness 5G to change business models

The advent of 5G in the UK has been in the news for some time, with plenty of talk around reduced latency and better connectivity.

As good as that is, the business case for 5G is far broader than faster download speeds. Rather than just a service to be passed on to customers, 5G is an opportunity for telecom operators to create something different that really enables their business to grow with the times.

What do I mean by that? Well, direct sales is a traditional strength for telecoms, but it’s increasingly less lucrative. To be frank, simply selling the same thing as everyone else — whether handsets or tariffs — has limited appeal. Instead, telecoms need to monetise the value of their networks.

The path to real success is no longer “sell to” but “sell with” or “co-create”: collaborate with other organisations, partners, and even ecosystems to use their own 5G networks (and other new technology) to open up platforms, develop new apps, and create intricate, engaging, innovative solutions. That might be a customer-facing partnership, or it might be an even bigger collaboration between brands, vendors, and networks.

This kind of project doesn’t just happen overnight and will require a mindset shift around how telecoms view their own business. But without telecoms using their own tools to transform themselves and not just others, future-facing tech just won’t progress as fast as it could.

Customers always value experience over price, and the hassle and cost of switching can be a significant barrier to changing providers, especially for businesses.

2. Focus on customer experience

Telecoms have focused on retention in the past, but brand loyalty has eroded as the service as commoditised.

But in today’s age of customer experience, that’s just not true: Customers always value experience over price, and the hassle and cost of switching can be a significant barrier to changing providers, especially for businesses.

In an industry where there’s little differentiation to be had at the product level, and where small, innovative providers use their manoeuvrability to knock other players out of the water, the biggest opportunity to differentiate your brand is through service.

To build brand loyalty, improve service, and boost experience, we need to address the elephant in the room. More than a few telecoms have had underwhelming net promoter scores for some time, and it’s partly because of a reactive, head-in-the-sand approach to customer service: Due to a fear of bad press, communication around network issues is often limited.

This kind of damage limitation actually does more harm than good. To better serve customers and show you really value them, it’s vital that telecoms realise the importance of proactive customer touchpoints — particularly when something goes wrong.

How? It needn’t be complicated. If you’re going to make a change that impacts your customers, or there’s a breakdown in the systems, you need to communicate that. Send notifications to the right portals so customer engineers know what’s going wrong (and they aren’t forced to contact you); inform your call centre staff so they’re not misleading customers with out-of-date information. Or better yet, use your customer data to discern exactly who is affected, and contact them directly with updates and an estimate on when their service will resume.

Customers know that sometimes things go wrong. If you’re open and honest, they’re much more understanding. That makes it far less likely that tempers will fray, and much less likely you’ll appear on a front page somewhere.

3). Automate where necessary

Automation has become something of a buzzword of late. And while it’s true that the potential benefits of technologies like AI and machine learning are huge, there’s one key caveat to bear in mind: Don’t automate for the sake of automating.

Don’t automate for the sake of automating.

It may sound like common sense. But in the rush to modernise and digitise systems, businesses can easily fall into the trap of using technology to complicate processes rather than simplify them, using technology to treat the symptoms of an issue rather than the root cause.

Getting right to the bottom of a problem may require you to ask a lot of questions, and it may require you to cross into other people’s departments. But the results — reduced costs, saved time, simpler workflows — are worth it.

I’d recommend a three-step process when approaching any problem to ensure it’s dealt with most efficiently. Firstly, eradicate; that is, get rid of any steps or processes that aren’t required. Secondly, simplify by trying to reduce a process to as few steps as possible. And finally, automate the processes that will deliver the greatest benefit.

If you’re in any doubt, it’s worth stepping back and seeking expertise to see exactly where automation can help you get the most benefits.

It’s time to take the plunge

It has been more than a decade of significant change and disruption for telecoms, with technology after technology upending the status quo. And while a new generation of technologies is bringing further new opportunities, this time, just upgrading networks won’t be enough.

For telecoms to succeed in the era of 5G and automation, they’ll need to actively reach out to partners to create projects which harness the value of their technology rather than just selling that technology to others. And with customers expecting seamless service everywhere they turn, that top-grade technology needs to be matched with top-grade service that anticipates problems rather than just reacts to them.

That may sound like a complex task, but there’s help at hand. We at ServiceNow are skilled in managing complex ecosystems and maintaining third-party relationships, making it easier for you to identify what really matters, and when.

Original article by Chris Holmes is senior director of telecommunications (EMEA) at ServiceNow.

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