Infrastructure is important but customer identity will future proof success

By Ajay Biyani, Asean Managing Director of ForgeRock

The COVID-19 pandemic, perhaps more than any other event in human history, has pushed people towards digital. New research from Facebook and Bain & Company shows that Southeast Asia will be home to 310 million digital consumers by the end of this year, reaching a number previously forecasted for 2025.

For telcos, this has brought scrutiny back on regional connectivity speeds. Consumers want quick connectivity, and regional telcos have subsequently redoubled efforts to roll out 5G.

But building next-gen infrastructure is a time and capital-intensive task and the potential benefits for consumers are still a way off. In the meantime, consumer expectations of providers are changing. Whether they want to speak to their providers to find out information about their service, buy more products or even complain, customers can find a better deal elsewhere if they don’t receive a good service. On the other hand, providing customers with a slick and effortless digital experience will build brand advocates out of customers, even before companies make the infrastructure upgrades that will take their services to the next level.

I’ve been privileged to work with some of the region’s most respected telco operators, including Telkomsel and XL Axiata, to make their digital platforms more efficient and effective. By making customer identity the central focus on digital operations, these organisations are able to better personalise services to their customers and create new revenue streams. This is giving them the flexibility to respond and find opportunities within challenging environments, such as the unprecedented times we find ourselves in now.

Replacing in-store interaction

It is critical to remember what the pandemic has taken away from customers in their relationships with brands. If they had issues with their device or wanted to upgrade their service, the first port of call for many was still the brick-and-mortar store. And the service they received from customer service experts left a lasting impression.

With face-to-face interactions now so much more limited, and with the market as competitive as ever, digital has become the only way that telcos can give customers a great experience. It’s important to remember that whether it is a login system that feels clunky, a landing page that feels irrelevant, or a chat bot that doesn’t know the answers, customers will blame the brand, rather than the underlying tech, for their issues.

Companies like Telkomsel and XL Axiata have realised the role that identity plays in these digital experiences. In practice, this means using multiple data points to corroborate a customer is who they say they are. By knowing a customers’ identity, these telcos can give them access to their bill without requiring them to re-enter their password, they can onboard customers to new services (if requested) without having to re-enter credit card details, and they can present customers with tailored services that better suit their needs. Technologies such as passwordless authentication, autonomous identity and biometrics, which are all available today, mean that customers can interact even more seamlessly with brands. The more a customer is able to ‘flow’ through their interactions, the more they will want to come back.

Future proofing telco businesses

The commercial opportunities of identity can be developed in more explicit ways too. Telcos like Singtel for example, have already developed relationships with health, banking and insurance businesses to provide services to customers. This is all dependent on customer data, which is used to customise services or offer rewards. A customer with a phone in their pocket can now unlock rewards via a health provider if they clock a certain number of steps a day. At the same time, with fewer customers visiting retail stores and bank branches, these brands are looking to telcos to provide them access to paying customers.

Most telcos are already working to open up these new revenue streams. But with customer data being at the centre of every one of these opportunities, the telcos that are best able to respond and adapt are the ones who have already done the groundwork to bring customer data out of silos and put the technology in place to autonomise customer data analysis. This frees leaders up to focus on making the right decisions and building the right partnerships. In short, this can future proof a telco business.

The genie is out the bottle

Telcos have to understand that changes in customer behaviour and expectations won’t be rolled back. The global pandemic could continue for much longer than experts anticipated and even when it ends, demand for slick digital experiences is only going to grow. The days when customers were fine with signing 10 forms in store to get a new phone contract are over. But with the global pandemic effectively throwing all business growth plans out the window, telco operators that can best leverage customer identity for new opportunities are the ones that will be flexible enough to weather any storm.