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It’s all about the customer

Ciena aiming to make service selection and delivery a smooth process for enterprise.

The 15th annual Middle East Telco World Summit kicked off on a refreshing note. Instead of the usual talk about the adoption and benefits of the latest and greatest technology, the region’s leading operators showed their softer side, choosing to focus instead on the customer.

Opening the event, Informa Telecoms & Media’s chief research officer, Mark Newman, noted a recognisable shift in the local market in general, where the conversation this year has moved on from chest beating announcements about the tallest building or the most opulent hotel, to approaches for building a sustainable and profitable business.

Etisalat’s vice president of marketing, Khalifa Al Shamsi, warmed to the theme, referring to the approach as “getting back to basics”. In his opening remarks he said: “Services have evolved but one thing has not changed – the customer. The customer is what all this is about, not the technology. We are just here to provide a service for the end user. They need to interact and connect with their social lives. So we are aligning the whole organisation to be more customer centric.”

The telco community has felt the pinch as much as any other industry through the global economic downturn, with consumers adjusting their spending habits with the knock on effect on operator revenues. But Al Shamsi believes that as long as the customer is satisfied, operators in any given market can avoid going down the route of “direct bloody competition.” With no way to differentiate from competitors, operators are relying on price as the only lever and will see ARPU decline as a result.

For once, the message from the infrastructure vendors was in surprising harmony with that of the operators. Henrick Hansen, VP of marketing for the Middle East region at Huawei, acknowledged that an operator “can buy technology from anyone,” and that Huawei’s job now, “is to help operators to mobilise their product portfolio.”

Taking the market shift further, Ericsson’s VP of services in the Middle East, Ray Hassan, said that he actually finds it amusing that industry pundits still refer to the Swedish firm as an “infrastructure vendor.”

“We (the vendors) have evolved as well as the operators,” he said. “We’re moving away from being sellers of hardware. We’re not really an infrastructure vendor, that’s less than half of our business now, the rest is services and consultancy,” he said. “We are operator partners and we interview 80,000 consumers per year to find out what they want from the operators.”

But while the talk was all about the soft side of the business, this is an industry that depends heavily on technology and Etisalat’s Al Shamsi acknowledged that a service provider needs tools that can evolve with the market and enhance the way it delivers services to the customer. The key is having a correctly designed customer experience and enabling systems that can align the organisation with customer needs.

“It’s not just about the age, nationality, or demographic group of the customer, we need knowledge of the customer beyond that what you get when they apply for the service,” he said. “It’s more about their attitude and behaviour. Who will have more attachment to the customer? Those brands that have more insight and knowledge. Knowledge beyond their telecoms requirements and into their purchase behaviour. We need to know what makes the customer tick or run away from particular brands.”

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