Edition #4: Cutting Costs? Don’t Overlook These 3 High ROI Projects In 2023

I am fairly confident that no matter which part of the world you are reading this from, you are concerned by the global economic forecasts right now.

There’s a lot happening to keep us up at night. Rising debt levels due to frenetic money printing during the pandemic. The energy crisis that’s impacting the cost of everything. Rampant double-digit inflation. Taxation at its highest levels in decades.  

In business, budgets are being mothballed, projects are being cancelled, and a focus is being applied (rightly) to cost cutting, automation, and energy self-sufficiency.  

We know this, as it’s conference season around the world! London, Cape Town, Kigali, Dubai, and Valencia are just some of the exotic places that Maplewave has been over the past few months. At these events, we’ve been making new friends and hearing first-hand about the challenges our industry is facing right now. Here’s what we learned.

CX Projects Are Out - What’s In?

As telcos make plans for 2023, it does seem that customer experience is now seen as “so what”. It’s expensive to achieve, and in times of rising personal debt and households cutting their own budgets, the attitude is “it’s very difficult to make people happy at all right now, so why try?”.

Now that may sound cynical, and no sane business will ever admit this publicly, but it’s true – and it’s happening.

Instead, telcos are focusing on “de rigour” projects in an attempt to improve their balance sheets. While they’re interesting projects, I fear they won’t produce the quick wins that telcos are looking for (and need).

Here are some of the projects we have heard operators talking about undertaking next year. I’ve scored each one on its ability to drive results in the near-term.  

CAPEX-Heavy Sustainability Projects

Huge investments, such as getting masts to run on solar power, while admirable, are long term cost-cutting projects that are capital hungry in the short term. While not many businesses want to hold cash right now only for it to eat itself with inflation, I can imagine these projects are sensible for the long-term, so I will score the activity 6/10 for the efficient use of capital.

Score: 6/10

Data Crunching - Marketing & CX Projects

Telcos have huge lakes of data but farming this information has never been their strong suit (and they’re still not very good at it). How can they “predict churn” (hint: you can’t, not really)? And how can they target niche sub-categories of customers with a shrinking marketing budget? It seems that telcos are still throwing huge amounts of sums at algorithms and are simply banging their heads against a brick wall. Customer experience, this is not.

Score: 3/10

The Metaverse

Ah, the new trendy buzz word. Telco executives are positively frothing at the mouth at the thought of being the first into the Metaverse so they can beat their rivals. Only there is nobody there, and there won’t likely be for 5-10 years! And even when people do get there, they won’t be doing so with full pockets. The early adopters are the IT geeks, already teched up to the hilt or borrowing from the bank of mum and dad, so this isn’t the gravy train that people think it is – yet!

Score: 2/10  

Some interesting ideas, but with a dubious short-term ROI. Why are telcos not super-powering their balance sheet with more obvious solutions? They might not be as flashy as the Metaverse, but these ideas will help telcos weather the storm and put them in a good place now to ensure long-term success.

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Top 3 ROI Projects For 2023

So, what are the obvious things that telcos can do now, that are not capital hungry, and produce a real ROI within months?

Go Paperless

The fact that first-world operators are still using multiple printers per store is insane. The amount of paper they use is shocking and shameful, with a poor CX. And it’s expensive! We know this, as we proved the ROI with one of the world’s biggest telcos over a decade ago, who haven’t used paper since. They have saved themselves over $1.90 per contract that they’ve sold in that time. You can safely say we have a great relationship with them that is growing continually.

We developed a paperless savings calculator, and tested it on one of the big telcos in the UK. We found that their cost savings per annum would be just a touch over $8M USD if they implemented a full-featured document management solution across their retail channel only. I shudder to think what the figure would be if we expanded the system to their digital channels and call centres as well!

A good solution is so much more than a tethered digital pen in a retail store. It can be implemented in a matter of months, and you’ll recoup your initial investment well within the first year.

Score: 9/10  

Inventory Control

A lot of telcos are resellers of cellular devices and must follow terms set by the OEMs. Many telcos struggle at counting and managing their stock. And they’re even worse at distributing it efficiently across their estate and to all sales channels. It’s common to be out of stock in one store yet have too much in another. “Channel fights” are common, where online competes for the new intake of devices against the other channels.  

One global operator I spoke to told me that this was their “biggest pain point”, yet it is not an active project, as their executive wants to prioritise a commissions standardisation project first. Go figure! If your inventory isn’t in the right channel in the first place, it doesn’t matter what your commission bonus is!  

A good inventory management system often works in tandem with your other customer-facing systems in retail and call centres. It can be part of a fully featured Retail Management platform, or a standalone piece of middleware that can integrate to your current tech stack and deliver huge cost savings in a short time.  

When the first recall notices go out to stores to send their excess stock back to the central warehouse, you’ll know it’s working – just ask one of our clients who reduced their device stock holding by $5M USD in less than a year with the right inventory system and best practices.  

Score: 8/10  

Channel Revamp

Telcos are notoriously slow at re-designing their channels to fit the local and global trade winds. Yes, it can be difficult to exit some retail store leases, but what about the human cost savings of doing this often and quickly?  

Telcos should be focusing on automation tasks that can make things faster or remove the human element altogether. Now I am sorry if this offends you (there are still some people who refuse to use supermarket self-service checkouts as they make people redundant, I get it), but it is a fact of life.  

Telcos everywhere have poor-performing retail stores, badly fitted out, with costly human resources asking for pay rises, and expensive physical locations that are costing more and more to heat and light up. Yet telcos will often give the task of the re-design to one of their channel heads, rather than outsourcing it to an industry expert who will give an un-biased opinion. Would turkeys vote for Christmas? So, don’t ask your Head of Retail to re-imagine a world where they have 30% fewer stores and new channels that they don’t personally control!

An outside perspective is worth its weight in gold for your channel strategy. When a young Bruneian telco was struggling to achieve market share, we assessed their pain points and built a 5-year strategy; 2.5 years later, they were recognized as “Operator of the Year”.  

Score: 10/10

Wrap Up

So, how much could our three project ideas save you? Based on our real-world experience, your savings could be $5 to 20M USD each year, depending on your market and population base. The best part? All these projects will provide immediate savings, and the upfront costs will be less than 10% of your return.  

Flashy, large-scale projects have their place, but when you’re trying to keep the lights on in tough times, don’t overlook the obvious.  

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