Customer experience and innovation efforts face special challenges in the business customer segment. Johannes Beichel, Vice President B2B Strategy, and Elke Heiden-Lemmermann, Senior Manager B2B Strategy, Telekom Deutschland, describe how carriers can address these issues as part of their business customer strategy.
Detecon: Where do you see the core challenges for carriers in the key account segment (B2B), both now and in the future?
Johannes Beichel: As a carrier, we are confronted with the challenge that our traditional “value pool” is under pressure from all sides. In the B2B sector, we have first and foremost the OTT players, who are expanding upwards and downwards in the customers’ technology stack with their software-based solutions such as SD-WAN or communications services, thus also moving into the core business of carriers. What we see is that more and more business decisions are nowadays taken on the application layer and less on the communication/infrastructure layer. As a result, in the future, these players could increasingly integrate these classic telco services into their portfolios and put us on the defensive. That means, we need to be able to partner with them on eye-level and offer value-add to them and to our customers that cannot easily be replicated. Therefore, we also need to increase our own Software DNA and capabilities.
Another challenge is the current delivery model – especially the emerging X-as-a-service approaches that are finding increasing favor. Carriers must adapt and become more flexible (with respect to Device-as-a-Service, for instance) as well as to provide the best end-to-end customer experience via fixed and mobile networks if they want to keep a “right to play” in these areas as well.
In other words, the carrier must be the customer’s trusted partner and not just offer isolated solutions but lead them End-to-End through the “digitalization jungle” along their true business challenges.
Elke Heiden-Lemmermann: In the same vein, I would point to the customer experience, which is becoming increasingly important. A positive customer experience must be constantly generated via sales, the performance of services in all our portfolio and service offerings, or online tools. Customers also need a trusted partner for the provision of services – especially with regard to topics such as Industry 4.0 or Retail 4.0. Customers often do not even know what use cases are available or what added value they can integrate into their own offering. Additional consulting services are essential to work out together with the customer what ideal use cases could enhance their offerings.
Which future and innovation fields do you see as essential for carriers, especially in B2B?
Johannes Beichel: A carrier’s innovation fields could be illustrated very well by an “onion model.” The core business of the carriers is at the heart of connectivity. The adjacent services, i.e., the outer layer of the onion, are the first field of innovation. We are talking here about software-defined LAN, WAN, or even X for Everything, for example. We find the fields of enterprise communication or enterprise collaboration a further layer. The levels such as security form in this region because there are no longer any TC RFQs, for instance, that do not presume security requirements. In addition, there are the use cases relating to IoT for customers. What use cases are available, and which ones help customers to expand their business? This is also the location of innovations revolving around data analytics or artificial intelligence. In the future, other layers such as quantum computing will be added.
Moreover, innovation consists of creating an end-to-end solution with the right partners where all the interfaces are compatible so that the customer experience is kept at the highest level of quality possible.
Elke Heiden-Lemmermann: It is important to note that these interfaces, the coupling of all systems, are never implemented on a greenfield site; any new systems must mesh seamlessly with already existing ones.
Johannes Beichel: The fine art for carriers in the B2B sector is to think ahead for customers. In what direction could their businesses develop? Based on this knowledge, we can continue to drive innovation forward with a more focused aim at specific targets. One challenge here is that we do not develop a tailored solution for each particular customer; we look for scalable products and solutions in the form of modules that customers (or we as a service for them) can freely select and combine as appropriate for their needs.
What role will data play for carriers in the future? How can they be used profitably for the telco industry?
Johannes Beichel: In my view, data and data analytics in general play an enormous role for carriers. When it comes to our own telco data, I currently see two camps. The one side sees telco data as an enormous treasure trove. The other side doubts that the existing data can be used in a meaningful way to generate significant added business value. Of course, compliance to data privacy and security and the trust that our customers place in us with regards to their data always come first. But within that, I do believe that we have to further build up our own analytics skills and sometimes be more courageous in analyzing data from different perspectives within the boundaries that we have set for ourselves.
How can carriers – especially in comparison with the large OTTs – set themselves apart from their “new” competitors?
Johannes Beichel: In this respect, we must think in different vectors. One vector is communication – global interconnectivity, for example. In this area, we are the service providers whose infrastructure is the foundation for the services of the OTTs.
Another vector view is the end-to-end customer experience, especially for midsize enterprises. The requirements in this sector are highly specific, and it is an area in which at least the big OTTs are less involved.
Above all, carriers can differentiate themselves from the new competition by emphasizing their position as a well-known and trusted technology partner offering high quality. We find relationships that have developed over the course of many years, and we should continue to take advantage of the benefits they offer.
OTTs and carriers, however, still need a lot of practice in “co-opetition” as they have not yet mastered this skill. In some fields we are long-time partners, in others we are competitors, and we need to master the resulting complexity
What do you see as the top 3 to dos that Telekom in particular has to tackle in the B2B sector?
I would point to our business customer strategy in response to this question. Its mission statement describes succinctly what is needed:
- Be simple, secure, and innovative – maintain and expand technological leadership
- Be a trusted partner to our partners and customers at eye level – whether the customers are small or large, national or international
- End-to-end digitalization – help our customers to find their way through the digitalization jungle by addressing their true business challenges.
Thank you for the interview!