5G and gigabit broadband are rapidly transforming how we live, work and play – but there’s a risk that some customers will be left behind. Being able to provide equality of service to all is one of the most crucial challenges that today’s telecoms providers need to face up to.

Telco service providers are a critical part of our infrastructure, supporting our connected lives and enabling digital services that underpin the economy.

As the speed of technology continues to become more personal and more engrained in our day-to-day, providers need to prepare customers for the future of connectivity and support the transitions, ensuring that everyone has equal access.

Here are some of the questions telco providers should be asking themselves.

Are their customers ready for the big switch?

The 3G network is gradually shutting down, yet many consumers have still not been made aware. While some have already turned their attention to 5G and so will not be impacted by this change, others need to be informed.

There is little public knowledge or information regarding the matter, which will have a massive impact on those reliant on certain devices, deepening the digital divide and excluding people who are not digital natives or those who cannot afford to upgrade.

USwitch reported that, “While the third-generation technology is now 20 years old, one in four (25%) say they use 3G regularly, while 7% said it’s the only network they can access.” Elsewhere, in a Which? survey of more than 4,000 broadband customers, half said they were unlikely to switch broadband provider in future and some 47% said they had never switched provider.

In addition, the impact of public switched telephone network (PSTN) switch-off and the digital transition is huge. When all analogue phone lines switch to digital, not just landlines are affected: personal alarms traditionally rely on analogue telephone landlines.

There are a million UK voice-only customers and some have no broadband access. People in this group are more likely to be older, in a vulnerable position and/or financially challenged. Additional tailored support would ensure people understand the switch and are treated fairly, particularly the vulnerable.

Are they giving their customers value for money?

Many consumers aren’t on the most suitable deal. Not enough switch autonomously for this to be relied upon, with too many staying put and paying a ‘loyalty penalty’.

In an age where trust is the foundation of brand loyalty, telco providers are seen as one of the worst offending industries, increasing prices by almost 15% – above the inflation rate and seemingly penalising customers who stay.

The cost-of-living crisis is adding pressure on people’s finances, while ways of working mean many consumers are time-poor, with little patience to research, switch and save, resulting in loyal consumers being penalised even further.

In a Citizens Advice discussion paper, the charity found that, “Worryingly, research has found that people in lower socioeconomic groups are less likely to engage in markets – meaning that those who would benefit most from a cheaper deal are the least likely to switch.”

How well do they communicate with their customers?

Prices are rising and customers must be warned.

As we become more and more reliant on online services, it’s time for providers to rethink the fundamentals of the telco experience and act responsibly, proactively engaging with a tailored approach where providers speak to people and develop a better tariff for them, offering an empathetic and fair solution.

The current cost-of-living crisis is not subsiding, and telco companies need to communicate the impact to their customers. Many customers are unaware of future price increases, while some households are actively cutting back on food and clothes in order to be able to afford a phone or home internet. With rising costs, customers are facing extraordinary challenges. Some have been unable to maintain payment plans and cover usage or arrears, with many experiencing this for the first time.

2.5 million people are behind on their broadband bills, according to Digital Poverty Alliance. This number must go down, not even further up.

Have they managed to get people fully on board with 5G?

5G and gigabit broadband and will shape the future of the workplace. Consumers want 5G when they understand it, but the rollout needs to deliver the connectivity businesses and consumers require.

UK 5G rollout began in 2019 and providers are now starting 5G trials in new cities, introducing the services to more areas and improving reliability and coverage. A clear value proposition that demonstrates what 5G means for their lives would support the expansion. There’s an opportunity to drive demand by showing customers the real benefits of 5G and exploring the potential for its higher-value services.

Are they exploring productive partnerships?

Telco providers are evolving, reimagining their network infrastructures and creating strategic
partnerships. For instance, Vodafone is partnering with Google Cloud, building one of the industry’s largest data oceans on Google Cloud to drive value from data insights and deploy AI/ML models.

Through these kinds of partnerships, telcos can increase operational agility, establish cloud-based serviced platforms to innovate rapidly and respond, and optimise services and products. Simplifying business processes, technical capabilities and operating practices, as well as applying analytics, machine learning solutions and advanced AI operating models, can all increase consistency, responsiveness and flexibility.

The customer experience (CX) is key to driving this rapid evolution. Service innovation, while remaining grounded in equity and inclusion, is a testament to survival. Technologies must deliver exceptional CX, as well as optimise workforce productivity, safeguard data and privacy, and cost-effectively deliver customer relationship management, digital and analytics capabilities.

The telecoms industry has plenty of reasons to be optimistic. The ongoing cost-of-living crisis has been the catalyst for reviewing the way organisations prioritise customers and the wider societal challenges that not only consider organisational growth, but prioritise the employee, the customer and the wider community.

Operators that can align all of these factors within their transformation programme will come out winners as the economy moves to the next normal – with no customer left behind. Ultimately, it’s the operators that keep the digital divide front and centre while creating better outcomes for their clients and exceptional experiences for their people that will be the winners.

We’ve commissioned a series of reports focusing on telecoms and other industries to help you understand more about your customers, including how to best connect, support and transform their experience to gain competitive advantage.

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