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EITC (du) has differentiated itself in the telecoms industry in the MENA region through its customer centric approach which is at the bottom line of everything they do. du’s mission is to make customers’ lives easier.

Telecom Review secured an interview with the telco’s chief digital lifestyle and innovation officer, Anthony Shiner to discuss the latest trends in the industry as well as du’s approach to customer service and digital transformation.

Could you provide our readers with some background about your position in the company, your experience in the industry and du’s objective here in the UAE?

I’ve been in this industry for over 25 years now, having worked across south East Asia and the pacific roles have included Chief Revenue Officer at Singtel which involved optimizing all the different digital businesses across Asia-Pacific region, right through to the Executive Director of Digital at Telstra which involved handling all the digital assets across the Telstra businesses in Australia.

My role here at du is a diverse one. It covers everything from business intelligence and analytics, through to robotics, process engineering and AI, through to customer experience and complaint management through to digital online sales and services as well as bringing new products and innovations into the market.

It may seem like quite a disparate and distinct group of businesses to pull together but actually there’s a very strong common thread that does bring them together. Many companies have a great knack of pushing all of their internal complexity onto the customer. What we are trying to do at du is removing the complexity from the customer. We want to make it easy and effortless for them.

These business units all contribute to understand, design, build and implement solutions for customers.

When people think of du, we want them to think that doing business with us is effortless.

Are we on the journey? Yes, we are. Is it perfected yet? No, it is not. They think it is a project that’s the biggest mistake companies are making. This is not a project to us, it’s a way of working and continuously moving forward.

We believe that customers have to see, taste, feel and believe in order to become regulars, digital customers.

Today we have had well over 100,000 interactions through using WhatsApp where our customers have come to us and asked us questions. We are evolving this service so it’s still in its early stages; it was more of a concept as we look to understand our customer’s needs. Over the next several months and over the years, you will see us continue to do more and more as we interact with them.

Customers want to be served and they want clarity; they don’t want to be confused. They want to be able to interact with you where they want, when they want and how they want. If you think about that, that doesn’t mean picking up the phone or going into some store. In fact, we are the first Telco in the UAE to launch an e-shop and this is an important thing that isn’t well known in the market. You could actually go on du’s website, purchase a phone and have it delivered to you in 24 hours. Actually in your hands in 24 hours!

We re-launched the app last year and a huge amount of functionality was made available such as the biometric payment of your bills and the ability to check your balances. All these features, which in the past would have involved calling into a call center, are now available online in a very simple, seamless and easy way.

It’s not complete, but it’s certainly the first step for us. For example, if you need to do your ID renewal, you can actually do it online without having to call anyone or visit a store. If you want to pay your bills or buy a recharge, it is all available to be done online, even activate your roaming pack before you fly, all at your fingertips.

My competitor is not in the UAE. In fact, it’s not even a company anymore. My competitor is the last best experience a customer received. For example, when it comes to some of the food delivery companies that I use to order my lunch from sometimes, I give them about 20 minutes and they hardly ever arrive on time, so I give them an extra 15 minutes. One day, I came back to my office after a meeting, 20 minutes had passed and my food didn’t arrive. Before I could complain, I received an apology email from the company along with a refund on the meal and a discount voucher for my next purchase. I thought to myself, “Wow, this is now what I expect as the best service”. It didn’t have anything to do with anyone else.

People have often asked me, why are Telcos so disliked? My answer to them is, because every one of those experiences that happens that you benchmark against, is on your mobile device, it makes you wonder if you could do it on your phone, then why can’t your Telco do it for you also?

The levels of comparison are very different nowadays. It’s not about the best rate plan or coverage; these are a given. People expect us to know what they want and help them get what they want, when they want it. When looking at it form an innovation perspective, many things that used to require more time and effort in the past are now able to be done in the palm of your hand and you get that immediacy of knowing that it has actually been done.

How would you describe the solutions and services that du is currently offering?

I would describe it as evolving. Transformation is no longer a project, it is a culture.

There’s an old saying that says, “The only thing that doesn’t change is that everything keeps changing” and you actually have to embrace that. If you look at what the UAE has done as a nation, it has continuously transformed itself at such a rapid rate, it has almost needed to take a breath. But actually, the world doesn’t let you take a breath, you have to constantly evolve.

Our customers, whether they are enterprise customers, government customers or consumer customers, they’re all thinking: “So, what next? How are you going to take problems out of my lap and put them in yours and make my life easier?” That’s a big change for us and we are currently on a journey that is never going to stop because I’m not sure perfection can ever be reached. As soon as you think you got a process right, something else comes along. As soon as you got 4G, 5G was coming and 5G, 6G will come, then 7G and so on. But it’s that constant need to stay ahead of the game.

If you think about it from a product perspective, we are the first carrier in the Middle East to have both Netflix and Amazon streaming services. This is something that our customers wanted and we are making it easier for them to access it. You’ll see our plans for these types of services are to make our customers’ lives easier and in a year’s time we’ll be thinking, “I did not see that coming, that is amazing!” and get that “wow” experience.

Our main theme is to stop customers from stressing about their Telco.

What are some of the main trends you have noticed in the industry and how is du addressing them?

It’s not actually about your mobile phone anymore. It’s not about whether you’re android or iOS. Looking back, Motorola, Ericsson, etc., they have all had their time in the sun so the device itself becomes less important. The biggest trend is the segment of ‘me’ and how we can make our customers’ lives easier.

For instance, take my phone versus my wife’s phone. We use the same carrier, have the same devices and of course, we are compatible, that’s why we got married in the first place, but why are there differences? This is because my personal and specific needs might be different. My carrier has to be able to allow me to adapt to that. Whether that’s through food delivery, transportation, mixed services or interacting with my Telco, I have demands that need to be met.

I think the traditional trend in this industry was that we (as Telcos) needed to cut costs out of the business by pushing the complexity onto you (the customer) and that you need to be an expert to do business with us. This has gone the entirely opposite direction. Telcos now need to be experts at understanding customers and we need to allow them to seamlessly work with us. This could involve customers re-contracting with us and buying a new phone through our e-Shop because it is easier.

And you’ve seen that with Amazon and how they do same day deliveries through Prime service on amazon go and how they can deliver food within an hour in certain US cities. They’re changing the paradigm to be more customer-centric; I think that’s a macro trend.

Speaking of macro trends, there’s a story I just remembered about my daughter. When she watches TV and the show ends, she walks up to the screen and smudges it. One day, I realized that she was trying to start the show again and because she got so used to watching it on the tablet, she just swiped the TV to re-start the show. When you think about that evolution, it’s actually a macro trend that’s happening right now. Our children don’t see a TV, they see a bigger phone or a bigger iPad. They don’t have the sense to comprehend that this is a fixture in the TV in the living room, instead they see a large screen on which you watch content with family as opposed to their personal content.

High security levels, great customer experience and enhanced technology, all come together for the first time in history. And the most cost effective thing to do now is to tick all those boxes. It used to be hardware would cost more but you would have to give up a little bit of customer experience, a little bit of security, or the best security costs a fortune but wasn’t so great for customer experience. This juncture in time in history, all three areas are coming together. The cheapest solution, often allows you the best customer experience and the most secure, when you’re transforming an organization so the other macro trend is we are at a time in history where actually transforming makes commercial sense and us more secure and gives a better experience.

As a Telco, our job is to be mindful and respectful of your differences and understand how we can make your life easier. Whenever I see a customer complain, I will personally jump on the WhatsApp chat or LinkedIn message and I will chase it all the way until I find a solution for the customer. The easiest part is to find out if it has been resolved but the challenge is finding out why this problem happened in the first place and how do we stop someone else from experiencing that same problem in the future. Du actually cares about customers. We are passionate about making lives easier.

How is du navigating its digital transformation? What differentiates du from its competitors in this sense?

We are truly customer-centric and as I said earlier, we are at this juncture where all three elements come together. We are trying to make their lives easier and meet their wants and needs which could be through the likes of entertainment, billing, enhancing their lives, interacting with them, and being available on platforms to assist them.

Our point of difference which we are seeing at the moment is that we are not just giving them a bunch of products to buy, we are actually making purchasing easier for them. We evolve our products to suit your needs, not just give them products that suit us. We map the customer journeys now and hold ourselves really critically and think if we are proud of what we are offering our customers and if it is really the best thing we have to offer them. If it’s not, we put ourselves under pressure to change.

We will hold off launching some products if the experience is not good enough for a customer. We measure an extraordinary amount of processes now inside our business and we ask ourselves questions like why do we ask customers to do this? Why can’t it be done digitally?

Our overarching ambition is pretty bold. We are evolving processes and our automation has already completed over a million transactions this year so far using robotics inside our business. We have saved wait times for customers and lots of man-days of work, because the more efficient we become, the less errors, if there’s less errors then there’s less calls; this changed the paradigm of what we are working for.

How is du contributing to Dubai’s goal of becoming one of the smartest cities in the world?

We are the host of the smart city platform and we have been involved in that for a while now. With Expo 2020 coming, first and foremost, we have got a responsibility to our customers to make sure that we are a smart company.

We have launched the app, the e-shop, put together roadmaps of the products and services that are coming soon, and we are fixing the things that create problems internally in our business so that we are a smarter organization and smart customers come to us because we have smart solutions.

If you think about the smart city as a human being, we are not just the heart; we are the entire circulatory system. So yes, smart processes are run on our networks, but we are also providing the capillaries, the veins and the arteries across the whole body to help you become a smarter consumer, business or government enterprise. It’s not just about giving you access to your data networks, it is about the services that are embedded into your business that allow you to be smart.

We have been actively trying to enable a smart culture. I think that if I can interact with you (customer, business or government) as little as possible with as much trust as possible, then that is what makes a smart relationship.

What does the future hold for du?

There’s the known and the unknown. When people first picked up mobile phones, this is not where we thought we would be.

I have been in this industry for almost 25 years, so I started before du existed.

I think Telcos are going to become even more important to smart societies because of the way we grow. It is going to be necessary for us to be a smart organization. Whether it’s a phone, watch, glasses or home; they are just products and they have become peripheral to me. It’s more about what we are enabling. The future is going to be more reliant on the Telco and we need to step up to make sure that we are ahead of the demand curve and not behind it. We are not big enough a market to put all our eggs in one basket and hope for the best. We have to be pinpoint-accurate with the things we do and we need to do it with ruthless efficiency. We need to make sure that our customers are delighted and pleased with the things we do. We need to add value by taking away all the stress and pain that at the moment, they accept; we don’t want them to accept it.

We have this constant revolution that needs to take place and is centered on the customer. We have this constant program of transformation to stay ahead of the curve and an expectation that is over ‘there’ and no one knows where ‘there’ is.

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