Telcos should stop talking technology to customers


Telcos should stop talking technology to customers

It's always nice to win new business.

What's more important though is understanding the reasons why - and reflecting on how to respond to customers' requirements and aspirations.

Recent discussions that I've had with customers have centred on understanding how secure network connectivity plays its part in their strategies for business growth.

Few, if any, have been about infrastructure specifications.

To get straight to the point: while the network is important (it has to exist, it has to be resilient, it has to be flexible and it has to be secure) what counts most is how that connectivity helps customers get from where they are to where they need to be, in the new worlds they now find themselves in.

That quickly becomes a discussion about the applications they need to run, where those applications sit (which means the cloud) and how secure those applications are.

By way of example, the Superloop team recently won a piece of business from a financial services customer. They made it clear that they simply expected access to that part of our infrastructure offering that was relevant and pertinent to the needs of their business, in the context of what it needed to support around their distributed customers and employees.

These conversations and expectations around connectivity, network access and data security were clear and unequivocal.

And brief.

Then we moved on to how having secure access to cloud-based applications would help them fulfil their growth and customer service strategies. Those discussions were around consolidating and streamlining what they could offer to their customers, and how they might remove some of the accrued friction customers sometimes experienced when accessing those products and services.

For sure, the reality of changing network providers was discussed as we moved deeper into contract negotiation, service level agreements and the deliverables that we were proposing. Again, though, these centred on managing the implementation, rather than on the type of implementation: around managing the engagement with NBN as one example, or how migration was going to happen without outages.

All of these points of detail connected to their future state, their strategy for how they were going to win business and keep customers, based on a network solution that was "fit-for-strategy" as well as fit-for-purpose.

This also has implications for services as well. With another customer in the specialised industrial space, they were receiving poor service from a global telco partner.

In this case, I suspect they were the victims of not being large enough to care about. They had a very strong vision built around applications residing in the cloud. Alongside that, there needed to be a consistent experience across their employees and their customers. At the core was their belief that their operations and infrastructure should be  delivered from the cloud, and that their security should therefore be in the cloud as well.

Their telco provider was not convinced - or convincing with the alternatives they had to offer. We were able to map to their strategy but also to their future intent, mostly by listening to what they were saying, and having an agnostic, integrated suite of solutions designed to make things like secure cloud access a reality.

Don't give customers letters. Give them strategic insights

It's interesting that our industry continues to discuss the relative merits of 4G, 4G LTE, 5G and fibre. I often worry that it's an inward-looking discussion, about what matters to us, the telcos.

I'm not sure the customers care as much as we do. By focusing instead on the customer, the definition of what the technology solution might be, alongside possible migration paths, then becomes a better fit.

In that sense, a modern network is so defined by how it's operated and what it delivers, less about which choice of spectrum or channel has been made.

Most of us know that fibre will indeed still beat wireless on the speed, latency and reliability stakes. After all, gigabytes today are very affordable. So if you're gaming, or running a factory, or seeking to run a global consulting business from a regional centre, you want a network partner that can deliver you those gigabytes as a given, not as a differentiation.

The differentiation and the value to the customer in the new distributed world of people and information comes instead from what's done with those gigabytes, not that they are simply there.

It seems that the desire that business leaders have to understand how technology helps them change their businesses, and the preference technology companies have to talk in jargon, is nothing new: digital analyst and Salesforce advocate Brian Solis made the point very well as long ago as 2014.

Businesses today talk about where the ability to create great value and experiences for customers and employees comes from. The bigger the company, the more global the company, and the more diverse its locations, the more it needs a partner that understands business as much as it understands infrastructure - perhaps more.

Telcos are supposed to be infrastructure experts, and businesses expect this to be the case. What then counts is how that connectivity delivers value. That's business strategy, built around secure access to the cloud to partners, employees - and customers.