Post-Covid, we’re unquestionably in a new and uncertain landscape, and one that will most likely remain in flux for the foreseeable future. As such, MVNOs need short-term, effective but flexible strategies, all the while keeping an eye on the longer-term horizon. With the help of some experts, we unpick what their priorities should be, now and into the future.
When it comes to short-term challenges Danny Sritharan, Senior Principal Consultant at Titan Global Consulting, refers to his experience in Malaysia. “The main challenges that we saw there were going digital, changing from offline to online and the retail to entrepreneur model.”
Sritharan is candid about his approach. “When it comes to O-to-O – offline to online – a lot of people still aren’t tech-savvy. So, we need to grab their attention and get them out of their comfort zone. It’s a case of saying to them – ‘This is the new way and you have to change. In this day and age, you can’t just open up a shop and wait for people to come in.’
“In the midst of the pandemic, 30-40% of retailers closed down,” he continues. “We saw a great deal more people take us up on our entrepreneurship programme.”
For this, he explains, would-be retailers don’t need shops and, importantly, can start doing business straight away. Malaysia, as yet, doesn’t have advanced eSims, so physical sims are still necessary. But, Sritharan explains, MVNOs can simply register for the programme, buy 10 or 20 sims and start a company straight away.
But what about stability? How can MVNOs provide the necessary assurances to customers in a post-Covid era? Sritharan explains that they use not only their own marketing, but marketing via their customers, dealers, retailers and entrepreneurs. “We offer digital marketing training to all our retailers,” he says. “We train them to do their own social media posting, which means they, in turn, start to post about us – how we helped them, how they earned income from us during the pandemic. This is much more convincing than us posting about ourselves.”
“My biggest take away from the pandemic is the need to be agile,” Gary Bhomer, Principal and Founder at Tel-consult, says. “I’ve spoken with operators in Malaysia and other markets where there was, previously, a very substantial dependency on physical sales and distribution. These companies had to adapt very quickly to enable digital sales collateral and service models in order to grow.”
Meanwhile, Richard Osborne, SVP Strategy & Commercial Operations, Virgin Mobile Middle East & Africa, explains that their focus in the next couple of years will be keeping their brand experience fresh. “Our brand purpose is very simple, it’s all about making mobile better. The way that we address this is by fully embracing the service experience that digital can offer,” he says. “We’ve actually given our customers the choice of removing human interaction for every single need or task they have, which takes away any queuing. We’ve also tried to design our customer experience so it’s as seamless and intuitive as possible. That’s core to what we want to offer – our aim is to digitise every aspect possible.
“The problem that this comes with is that we’ve created this digital innovation magician-ship expectation, and now we have to keep at the forefront of it. Staying on top of that is challenge that we’re going to face going forward.”
What about long term? “I don’t think we’ve seen massive changes in propositions since the pandemic,” says James Gray, Managing Director at Graystone Strategy. “I think that what we will see is greater change in the ways organisations do business – a greater reliance on the likes of digital tools and chatbots, for example.
“We also saw a tremendous move in terms of getting call centres staffed by people working from home. If you’d have gone to the CTO of any major telecoms company or any MVNO and said, ‘you need to stop us having call centres and make it possible for people to be able to talk to your agents from their homes, and you’ve got six weeks to do it’, they’d have said you were mad. But they all managed to turn it around at pace, and I don’t really see them coming back from this.”
Back-end aside, Gray maintains that he doesn’t think there will be a huge pivot or change in direction as a result of Covid. “With the caveat that people focusing on roaming are still having difficult times and distribution is probably still not back to how it was previously, I don’t think COVID has necessarily alerted the overall direction of MVNOs. We’ve seen the natural progression as brands evolve and expand, and even change their positioning, but I think that those incremental changes will remain, and that large scale ‘pivots’ won’t be necessary.”