How Has COVID-19 Affected Telco Digital Transformation?

Illustration of people in a line wearing masks

Telcos can easily be compared to oil tankers. How? They’re both big, they move steadily, and are relatively safe. But when your try to change the direction of either, it’s a long, slow process.

The later twenty-teens saw telcos scrambling to juggle enough CAPEX to effectively build their future (5G networks) and transform their 1990’s legacy infrastructures in an effort to monetise it.

Cue Digital Transformation. A buzzword. Telcos love buzzwords and are notorious for leaning on them. If you’re a telco, you are also probably familiar with Customer Experience, another buzzword coined by departments that never actually talked to customers directly.  

Throughout boardrooms across the globe, projects could guarantee their longevity so long as they attached themselves to the right buzzword.

Digital Transformation has proliferated for a long time now. Many projects have involved swapping outdated billing platforms in favour of flexible solutions that support real-time billing for a variety of products, services, and subscriptions. Other projects focused on enabling quick pricing and plan changes and ensuring customers are billed correctly. And some projects focused on bringing an omnichannel customer experience to life (yet another buzzword).

Enter COVID-19

COVID-19 has been a seemingly unrelenting force that’s brought the entire world to a screeching halt and breathed new life into the meaning of digital transformation, customer experience and omnichannel.

A family wearing medical masks inside a bubble.

Amid the pandemic, telcos have had an interesting experience to say the least.

Services, such as WiFi and Data, have skyrocketed. Video calling, content streaming, online shopping, social media scrolling, remote working, online banking – all have reached new levels and record audiences in the wake of COVID-19.  

But that isn’t to say telcos haven’t faced challenges. Some telcos have scrambled to keep everything up and running, faced vandalism over misinformation, struggled to connect and serve customers outside of their physical stores, and clambered to collect cash or complete transactions.

To meet the demand and overcome the challenges inflicted by COVID-19, telcos have had to get creative and leverage their digital channels.

As parts of the world embark on the long, slow path of re-opening or returning to their full capacity, what have we learned? What has COVID-19 taught telcos?  Two things come to mind here:

1. Prepare For Your Emergency Tactics To Become The New Normal

Telcos have had to find ways to connect with both rural and urban customers who usually depend on the retail store to serve them.

Some telcos have used digital channel to create a network of virtual stores, advertised new shopping methods via social media, and using direct peer-to-peer messaging platforms like WhatsApp to serve customers. Using these tactics, telcos have been able to perform simple transactions and take payments.  

Other telcos have used their physical channels in new ways, such as using mobile retail stores to keep communities connected, enabling socially distanced transactions via the windows of a small bus and implementing curb-side pick-up.

People lining outside a retail store wearing medical masks.

Customers have responded positively to these tactics and new channels. So well in fact that many will expect these ways of transacting to remain even when things return to normal.

2. Be More Agile and Focus More on Customers

Many telcos are in the midst of 2-3-year consumer transformations, migrating customers from legacy to digital billing stacks, and augmenting commerce solutions to improve transaction speed and reduce the load on retail stores.


Except they’re too slow and have missed the whole purpose of a digital transformation, which is to put the power of the journey into the customer’s hands. Now, their business is behind and their competitors, who acted quickly, have developed their channels and penetrated the market.

This isn’t a unique situation for telcos. Many have felt the severe pain of an over complicated omnichannel/digital transformation/customer experience execution – and COVID-19 has illuminated this.

For too long, telcos have focused on the internal “how” and not enough on the “why”, overlooking the needs of their customers.

Digital transformation isn’t a rebuild - it’s a common-sense project that empowers customers. It’s about building processes from retail stores to call centres, with appropriate handoffs and communication. It’s about instructing your courier partners to use larger retail stores as distribution hubs to offer a true next day delivery service. It’s about communicating your capabilities to your customers so they are educated on your services.

Two people looking at a chart.

8 Considerations For Your Digital Strategy Moving Forward

Ensuring your channels work together has never been more important. Here are 8 things to consider when refining your digital strategy.  

1. Appointments:  Appointment booking is a necessity, and it must be done well. Ensure you can access customer data from your CRM. Ensure the appointment process is straightforward and effective. Offer both physical and digital appointments. Make sure appointments can be booked from multiple channels.

2. Advanced Queuing:  Implement queueing solutions that eliminate the need for customers to queue outside of the store. It’s just not safe right now, and customers won’t want a crowd in a small store. With the right solution, customers can be notified of their appointment time via SMS or an in-app notification.

3. Blended Channel Strategy:  Determine which channels and store types make sense for your market. Consider your mix of flagships, neighbourhood stores, and kiosks. Consider strategies that span the digital and physical, like curb-side pick-ups, self-care apps, and mobile sales. Consider solutions that elevate the customer experience across all channels, like paperless contract signing.

4. Tech-Enabled Customer Journeys:  Implement solutions that elevate your customer experience and allow you to serve customers from anywhere, using any channel, at any time.

5. Tablets That Visualise the Product Catalogue:  Embrace the “low-touch” age. Show customers their options digitally on a device. Ensure you’re able to compare options and perform transactions from the tablet.  

6. Invest in Digital Channels and Focus on the Penetration KPI:  Make it easy for your customers to spend money with you. Give customers the channels they need to make bill payments on their device, upgrade on the go, and check balances – i.e. an awesome self-care app.  

7. Self-Service Is Exploding:  While having a mix of physical stores and self-service kiosks is important – consider where each is best suited. There are huge cost-saving possibilities here.  

8. Fewer Vendors:  Stop using systems that don’t talk to each other. In 2020, all systems should be able to integrate with each other, no excuses. Pick vendors who work in an agile manner.

Telcos have done an extraordinary job at dealing with this pandemic. And as restrictions lift at different rates around the world, there is a lot of opportunity if telcos put the right time and resources towards digital channels.

If you are interested in discussing any of the strategies or concepts I discuss in this blog, connect with me on LinkedIn.

Offering insight and concrete solutions for telcos looking to take their business to the next level.

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