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Rob van den Dam, Global Telecommunications Industry Leader, IBM

Rob van den Dam, Global Telecommunications Industry Leader, IBM

By Rob van den Dam

The way we communicate has changed dramatically. Traditional telco providers are increasingly challenged by open Internet platforms that meet diverse, rapidly changing user wants and needs. Specialized communications apps like Skype are increasingly siphoning conventional messaging and voice calls away from telcos.

A new IBM study of 22,000 consumers in 35 countries out today shows just how disruptive these new kids on the block are to telcos. Fifty three percent of respondents use specific apps like WhatsApp daily to communicate with others. At the same time, almost a third have or will cut traditional voice calling. Nearly the same number have or will reduce their usage of direct SMS text messaging.

Social media too is redefining this century-old industry. It has not only become a primary communication vehicle for an increasing number of digitally-aware consumers, but it’s also allowed consumers to seize control of the decisions and reputation of the telcos themselves. The web, social media and word-of-mouth dominate traditional channels for sharing and researching information about telcos, their products and services. While the most preferred source for information is Internet search (71 percent globally), next is recommendations from family and friends with 59 percent, and social media with 56 percent. Remarkably, only 41 percent of respondents globally visit a telecom provider’s web site.

It seems that consumers increasingly trust their peers – and even strangers – more than telco providers. And their influence should not be underestimated; 39 percent of respondents said a key reason not to buy from or subscribe to a provider is discouragement from friends. And almost half (46 percent) said, word-of-mouth reputation is key before even considering buying from a telco provider.

SP IBV at MWC

Telecom companies need to recognize that consumers are in control and are conducting conversations in which they may not be included. As such, they must reinvent themselves in a quest to adapt and remain relevant. It’s about getting in tune with today’s digital consumers, becoming part of the digital dialogue to better understand their wants and needs, then responding with compelling user experiences. Fifty-one percent of respondents in our study said they will become more loyal when they have good experiences.

As could be guessed, getting high quality and compelling products and services is the most important aspect in creating loyal customers. Receiving quick and effective responses to questions and issues is the second reason for consumers to stay loyal. But less than half of respondents who do not even engage with their provider on issues said that’s because they always have to wait too long in the queue (49 percent) or it’s too much hassle (45 percent) to get through to customer service. Respondents believe their providers must perform better — in particular on personal and emotive aspects — to earn their loyalty.

Fortunately, systems that learn and other innovations are arriving on the scene to help telcos and their customer-facing personnel assist consumers with deeper insights from Big Data more quickly than previously possible. Armed with such tools, telcos can once again take control of their reputations and business models to improve and evolve the ways we all communicate.
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February 25, 2014
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