How telcos can connect with the post-COVID-19 consumer

By Jonatan Matsson
As enterprises struggle to understand the 'new normal', telecoms face the challenging task of reconnecting with the post COVID-19 customer...

To say 2020 has been a challenging year for the telco industry would be a gross understatement. As the pandemic took hold and the global economy was brought to its knees, millions of people were urged to stay home – and these orders are once again being echoed across Europe. Overnight, things we regarded as luxuries like streaming, video conferencing and mobile connectivity, became essential items in our collective survival toolkit. People quickly became dependent on fast internet connections to stay in touch with families, socialise and get through a day’s work. 

The so-called ‘new normal’ is still an unknown entity, but one thing we can be sure of is the critical role telcos will play as we move forward. Indeed, if there’s any silver lining to be gleaned from this crisis, it’s that it has acted as a catalyst for the telco industry, with the majority of ISPs and mobile network operators (MNOs) in particular stepping up to the plate. 

However, telcos can’t afford to stop innovating just yet. Consumer priorities in a post-COVID world are likely to be drastically different from what they were in 2019. A recent report on homeworking before and during lockdown revealed before the pandemic, just 6% of the UK workforce worked from home. By April, roughly 1 month into the pandemic, this figure rose to 43%. What’s more, 88% want to continue homeworking once the pandemic is behind us.

This is a challenge for telcos, but also an incredible opportunity, which companies will need to leverage to stand out in an oversaturated market. 

The post-COVID consumer

As we hurtle toward this new reality, consumers are going to be expecting more than mere connectivity. They’re going to want fast, resilient connections that can sustain remote working in even the most rural places. To achieve this, consumers will be willing to shop around and will be open to buying telco services from even non-traditional providers like streaming or retail giants, should these firms enter the market. 

What’s more, home internet connections will become multi-purpose. Individuals will have their ‘private’ persona, where they share personal data, stream content for entertainment, and want quick fixes to their problems. Then they’ll have their ‘work’ persona, where a strong, stable connection – no matter who else is currently on their household network – is all that matters. 

Next-generation cooperation

Telcos around the world will already be prepared for peak-demand scenarios, but none could have foreseen such a prolonged increase in network usage. For networks to expand rapidly and provide coverage for all, the best course of action may be to develop their rollout partnerships. While mergers and acquisitions are currently at a five year low due to the pandemic, we’re likely to see that pendulum swing the other way as the industry adapts and consolidates. 

Social responsibility

It is also worth noting that today’s consumer is far more aware than those of previous generations. Individuals now carry the news around in their pockets and can unearth information about companies with a few swipes of the thumb. It’s therefore little wonder that companies are beginning to get their acts together and doing good in the world in order to acquire and retain customers.

Brand loyalty is increasingly being driven by politics, rather than price. In the short term, this might prompt brands to focus on areas like education and healthcare, which are priority issues during the current crisis. In the longer term, it’s things like climate change, poverty and social justice that will drive consumer engagement. 

Telcos are one of the few industries that stand to gain from the current situation, but only if they take the time to connect with consumers and adapt their services to prepare for an as-yet-undefined need. Telcos therefore need to keep an open mind – and be ready for tomorrow’s customer to look very different from today’s. 

Jonatan Matsson is a Partner a nd the European Lead in the Communications, Media Technology Practice at Kearney.

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