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75% of telcos increase digital transformation investments in 2021 but 3 out of 4 still rely on stores and call centers for revenues

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Three quarters  of telcos are increasing their digital transformation investments following the unprecedented connectivity demand across the globe brought in by the Covid-19 pandemic. Similarly, around 65% have developed a roadmap for their own digital transformation.

However, only one in four have established by what metrics they are to measure their own success. Operators still rely predominantly on physical channels to sell their products and services but know of the value that digital sales can create for them.

That’s according to a new report from the Technology Innovation Council (TIC), commissioned by mobile technology specialists, Upstream.

The report, titled: “The Road to Digital” provides a snapshot of how telco operators are walking the digital transformation path so far and how they are adapting for 2021 and beyond to create value, enhance top line growth and achieve quick wins in their digitalization journeys.

Connectivity heroes

“During the pandemic telecom operators worldwide worked around the clock to meet a never-before demand for connectivity in order to keep economies going and allow work-from-home for whole industries. At the same time, they supported access to critical health information, distance learning as well as offered online entertainment,” says Upstream CEO, Dimitris Maniatis.“This,” he adds, “has caused them to step up their own efforts to become more digital, bringing their more mid to long term plans forward.”

According to the “Road to Digital” report, the majority of telco operators (75%) agree that Covid-19, still in full-force, is expediting their digital transformation journeys, with nearly 65% of them having already coined their digital strategy roadmaps and change management blueprints and more than half (57%) having assessed their technology needs.  At the same time though, only one in four (25%) profess they have determined the metrics (KPIs) by which they are to measure the effectiveness of their digitization strategies, pointing to a gap between top line strategy and tactical digital project deployment.

Value from digital: Opportunities & hurdles

Upstream’s report notes operators across markets identify the following as the top five benefits to their business from digital transformation, in this order: Cost reduction via automation (66%), improved customer experience (59%), improved revenue growth (46%), efficiencies through automation and more effective marketing.

At the same time, telcos’ top five perceived challenges for turning to digital are: integrating new solutions with existing technologies and platforms (73%), privacy and data concerns (54%), cost of new solutions (46%), establishing the Return on Investment (ROI) (43%) and, lastly, internal skillset (34%), or rather the lack of it.

“These are totally legitimate concerns. For instance, how can you improve customer experience by going online, when you still haven’t figured out how to make online transactions safe? To succeed in creating value from digitalisation and fast, telcos need to indeed balance a fine line, overcome the big organization inertia, escape the drawing board and aim for smart quick wins and solutions,” says Maniatis.

Are telcos selling online?

The evident disconnect between telco digital strategies and action also manifests in the chief reliance of operators on physical channels to peddle their own goods. During a year with enforced lockdowns and closure of physical stores, telecom operators did go online to sell their products. However more than 70 percent of them say they still generate revenues predominantly from physical stores and call centres.

“There is a quick win to be made for telcos in digital sales. They are less costly than stores and call centres, have proven higher success rates and allow more accurate targeting than physical channels”, says Kostas Kastanis, Upstream Deputy CEO. “The consumers are already online, some will never return to close-up transactions, as they did  before the pandemic,” Kastanis, adds.

Making the case for switching to digital sales channels, the report cites the capability of telcos to use multiple channels for any given customer reaching campaign – SMS, RCS, e-mail, push notifications etc- as a key upside. Campaigns can be proactive and customizable while analytics and testing allow digital customer journeys to constantly improve.

Telcos have already started to employ data to strengthen and grow their customer base with digital sales, using it for upselling and cross selling to their existing customers (66%) as well as to acquire new ones (55%) digitally. Around half of them (52%) say they have already discovered the power of targeting and retargeting, an essential tool to connect with your customers, help them make the decision to buy, increase sales and loyalty.

The world is not flat

Not surprisingly North American telcos (USA & Canada) have the highest digitally driven revenue percentage in the world (45% from digital channels already), followed by APAC (including Japan & Singapore) (39%).  In the Middle East and Africa physical sales are still king (72% physically driven revenue) while in Latin America 100% of telcos say they mostly rely on physical channels to derive revenues most of the time. European operators are somewhere in the middle (57% having switched from physical channels and deriving 29% of revenues mostly from digital sales). Interestingly American operators have jumped headfirst into digital sales (switching to digital channels is the number one step 91% of them report in their digital transformation journeys) while their European counterparts, have prioritized their digital transformation roadmaps and change management strategies.

“The world is not flat. It is evident that multichannel campaigns, the power of analytics and in some cases security and privacy are on the radar of only a few, more progressed telcos. As the so-called ‘new normal’ takes shape and millions continue to rely heavily on their mobile devices for work, entertainment and communication, there’s never been a better time for telcos, particularly MNOs, to take note of the ones ahead of them and work out solutions for the hurdles they see, i.e. integration with legacy systems or working out ROI, to start seeing the benefits of the digital road in their top line and customer experience sooner rather than later,” Kostas Kastanis says.

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