Digital experiences will accelerate growth in a resurgent MENA telecom sector
Posted on 2021 Feb,03

Alain Mayni, Head of Tech, Media, Telecom and Professional Services, at Facebook MENA describes the impact global dependence on telecom has on business, underlining how telecom operators in the Middle East have been able to navigate various challenges and respond with a range of solutions for a digital-first world.  

The telecom industry is recognized as one of the most innovative and one that leads future change, playing a role in every sector of the global economy, connecting businesses and consumers. Today, communications lies at the heart of how we engage with one another - as a remote operating environment becomes the near-term normal, telecom services will drive continuity across borders for communities, small and large businesses.

The global dependence on telecom services is business critical. In the past we have seen how a network outage or the snapping of an undersea cable can throw life into disarray. However, with the COVID-19 pandemic and operators managing a remote workforce, services remained on, but were under pressure like never before. They faced declines in sales due to closure of stores, network congestion due to a surge in demand and shifts in consumer behavior, and delayed infrastructure deployment and device shipments.

At the onset, operators proved resilient and essential for continuity, despite the challenges faced during the lockdowns. Telecom operators, especially here in the MENA region, were able to pivot and respond with a range of solutions for a digital-first world, connecting people to vital health information to raise public awareness, accelerating the major shift to digital channels, commerce and payments, and ensuring continuity by enabling seamless remote working and education.

As operators explored opportunities for the long-term, they also needed to evolve their commercial strategies in multiple ways:

Fueling growth in the consumer segment

Despite the challenges of COVID-19, successful businesses have proven that customer-centricity is integral to success. From digitizing the customer journey through the use of bots to reduce cost and increase customer satisfaction, to driving customer value management by unlocking higher revenue per user and retention, the agile telecom operators were able to drive a true shift in operations.

With the use of consumer engagement tools and solutions with precise targeting and predictive modelling, brands are able to use platforms like Facebook to drive customer value. These solutions help operators digitize and enhance customer value management   and unlock several commercial use cases throughout the customer journey such as targeting people who are likely to be acquired with appealing offers, targeting recently acquired customers with ads to drive app downloads or push self-care, and targeting churned customers with offers to win them back.

In the MENA region, Jawwy, the Saudi operator, leveraged automation and machine learning to disseminate their relevant campaign idea through multiple video ads, and succeeded in increasing online SIM sales by 4.2%. Also in the Kingdom, Zain KSA raised awareness of its self-service app which offered an improved and streamlined customer experience. 82% of customers were targeted across placements with app ads that used mobile optimized videos driving 82% app installs and a 52% increase in app launches.

However, the customer journey only begins at the targeting stage with customer experience earning importance within the business like never before, as customers expect a seamless omnichannel experience. With traditional telcos, however, that remains a challenge as they rely on offline and costly touchpoints to service customers with a lack of optimal digital interfaces. On that front, Facebook's messaging platforms, for example, are helping operators digitize their Customer Experience, replacing cost  heavy channels such as stores and call centers and increasing customer satisfaction. Zain Jordan automated their customer care use cases through a Messenger bot where users could also add or customize a data and voice bundle, recharge their prepaid line and even subscribe to entertainment services thereby driving revenue growth.
UAE telecom operator, du, created a WhatsApp-powered virtual assistant, Blu, which was made available to customers in the Support section of du’s website. Customers began to initiate a variety of conversations related to bill payments, roaming service activations, online order tracking, mobile recharge, and account registration. 80% of customers chose to solve their queries via WhatsApp and 50% of customer enquiries received over WhatsApp were resolved on the platform itself, reducing call center volumes.

Telecom operators have also fueled growth by pushing ancillary services to increase loyalty and battle commoditization. Operators in MENA have diversified their services and partnerships beyond the core voice and data offering adding more value to customers by launching their e-shops, youth propositions and MVNOs and investing in new propositions across industries such as fintech and e-wallets, and media and entertainment.

Digital platforms like Facebook played a key role driving the growth and adoption of these services through marketing and analytics solutions. In Saudi Arabia, STC Pay encouraged Saudi youth to download and use its app through a series of video ads that reached a broad audience of youngsters with an interest in financial technology. Not only did the campaign increase downloads and registrations, but it also drove a significant lift in deep funnel metrics such as completed Know-Your-Customer forms.

Empowering the SMB ecosystem with innovative solutions

However, beyond regular consumers, the pandemic impacted the enterprise segment as well. With SMBs comprising 99% and 98% of businesses in Saudi Arabia and the UAE respectively and increasingly contributing to the national GDPs in our region, telecom firms needed to provide solutions that were cost-effective to support the economic recovery of these SMBs given how vital this segment is for telecom firms’ revenue growth.

Responding to the challenges posed by the pandemic, operators sought to become a one-stop-shop for SMBs, offering end-to-end solutions that include core connectivity and cloud solutions, digital marketing web development and hosting and even legal and logistics services. Etisalat UAE’s Business Edge offering would be a good example of that.

And with SMB owners and decision makers using the Facebook family of applications, Facebook helped operators reach out to these SMB owners and IT decision makers in a multitude of sectors even more effectively, with targeting features including profession, education, the employer, industry, and the size of the company itself.

Further evolving their strategy with innovative solutions, telecom firms leveraged Facebook’s products further to digitize and scale many commercial use cases, including: marketing by raising awareness and consideration with engaging video ads, sales by generating qualified leads using lead ads or conversion ads, and customer support or account management using the Facebook messaging platforms.

Consistently measuring efforts

For agile businesses, operating in today’s ever-evolving environment, real success and impact must always be measured. Businesses can achieve new efficiencies through the data created when people interact with their content, uncovering actionable insights. For telecom operators, data is created when people interact with their channels (stores or call centres, the website or the app), and even when they engage with their content and ads. Utilizing this data in an anonymized and aggregated manner, operators were able to obtain deep valuable insights about their customers and their advertising performance through various tools and signals; tools such as Facebook Omnichannel Analytics, Ads manager reporting and Facebook Attribution.

In addition to those tools, businesses can measure incrementality in brand metrics, conversions, omnichannel sales, subscribers, and devices with Facebook lift studies. Using these solutions and practices, Samsung Gulf was able to measure a significant lift in omnichannel device sales during the successful launch campaign of their device, the galaxy note 9: 15% Increase in Samsung upgrades and a 27% increase in acquisition from competitors.

While operators in MENA proved resilient during the peak of the pandemic, their ability to rapidly build and deploy solutions and campaigns ensured enhanced customer engagement. Closure of stores did not limit customer engagement, but simply changed the old way of operating.

As telecom operators look to re-accelerate commercial growth, they will continue to enhance customer value management, digitize the customer experience as well as marketing, sales and servicing while constantly studying actionable insights to optimize engagement investments.