Shock as survey shows customers see operators as digital service providers
Reports of telecoms operators enduring a lingering decline to become commoditised infrastructure providers may have been exaggerated if the results of a new survey of mobile operators’ customers can be extrapolated. For once, the survey, commissioned by Openet, presents positive news for operators. It says that customers are increasingly willing to buy digital services from operators and are looking to them for digital innovation. George Malim reports from Dublin, Ireland.
The headline figure of the survey, conducted by Sapio Research among 1,620 respondents in Canada, Colombia, Indonesia, the UK and Singapore, found that 73% of respondents said they would be receptive to greater digital service choice from their operator.
This is encouraging news for an industry jaded from years of digital transformation chatter and tired of hearing continuous warnings that its digital services efforts are doomed to failure. This research bucks that trend and reveals that 32% of respondents do not see their mobile operator as a utility, instead finding that their operator already engages them and delivers real value.
Openet’s vice president of marketing, Martin Morgan, acknowledges that this group is composed of respondents in younger age demographics but also emphasises that, even among the 52% of respondents that do see their operator as a provider of a utility service, 31% say their operator has an opportunity to sell more services to them.
That is the chink of light in the hitherto dark tunnel that operators have been seeking. All their transformation efforts are about gaining the opportunity to sell more services, especially digital ones, to their customers.
“The message from consumers to telcos is clear,” said Morgan. “More digital services mean more customer engagement and, if you offer more services, customers, particularly the younger ones, will stay loyal.”
Although this enthusiasm for operator-provided digital services seems to emanate mainly from FOMO*-focused younger customers, the numbers show consumers of all types are receptive to digital offers and innovation from their mobile operator. The survey revealed that 73% of all subscribers want more digital services and this appetite cuts across all demographics and countries covered in the survey.
However, Morgan says the respondent base can be segmented. “Older respondents and those in the UK and Canada are typically less receptive than younger respondents in Colombia, Indonesia and Singapore,” he explains. “Younger people are more likely to view the telco as a utility but they’re also receptive to buying digital services from their provider.”
Aside from the welcome news that mobile operators have an opportunity to sell more and participate in the digital services world, at least in their customers’ perceptions, the way in which operators are viewed has also changed. The survey respondents ranked telecoms fourth, behind only technology, financial services and retail companies, when asked to select industries in order of perceived digital leadership.
In addition, when asked to pick the top three brands they see as digital leaders, operators performed well. Google led the way with 67%, followed by Netflix (42%), Amazon (40%) and Apple (40%). The consumers rated their own mobile operators as fifth in the digital leaders list with 28% – ahead of digital native companies including Spotify, eBay and Uber. That’s a phenomenal turnaround for an industry more used to being classified as a dinosaur and a laggard, too inflexible to adapt to the new landscape.
In fact, 70% of respondents view their operator as being ‘digital first’. That’s a bit of a leap away from reality for these cell-tower owning, radio engineering, monthly billing titans of an analogue age but, in the digital world, perception is reality. And, if customers feel a company that owns no cars and employs no drivers is a taxi firm, they can certainly feel an infrastructure owner is a digital first company.
This is a new world. The rules are different here and it looks like mobile operators could be beneficiaries of this.
The first wave of the digital economy sought to exclude mobile operators but, if the results of this survey can be extrapolated globally, in this current wave it’s operators’ customers that are opening the doors to the digital kingdom and putting forward the opportunity for operators to play a central role.
*Fear of Missing Out