It was another banner year at the Mobile World Congress (MWC) show in Barcelona. Attendance was up 11 percent over last year to 67,000 people. The event has outgrown its venue, and will next year be held on the outskirts of the city in anticipation of continued growth. It really is impressive to be able to interact with so many players in the industry.
The mood on the show floor and in the sessions was very positive and upbeat. Innovation is moving rapidly, and many people were excited to see the latest products and services from both industry stalwarts and fledgling start-ups. But among all the product releases and high-tech announcements, the real buzzword at the conference was "customer."
Most signage contained words and phrases about customers and nearly every keynote referred to the power of the consumer.
From an end-user perspective, the need for simplicity and guidance from experts outweighs the best new gadgets on the market. Operators are beginning to understand that differentiation comes not from new products or pricing plans, or even how fast their network is. It comes from the ability to simplify the customer's experience and help make sense of it all as a trusted advisor.
We at Peppers & Rogers Group looked at many of the show's happenings through the customer lens. The overall trend is that the user experience is permeating every part of the industry. Here are three specific takeaways from the show:
1. Make usage experience seamless and consistent across multiple screens
Once of the biggest stories to come out of the show is the announcement of "Joyn," a new RCS-5 messaging platform developed jointly by carriers as a way to compete against OTT players. A number of OEMs have signed on to build the service into their devices, and the industry hopes that customers will use Joyn instead of messaging services on OTT players like Google, Skype or Facebook.
The concept is a good one, but just because you build it, doesn't mean customers will use it. In order for it to catch on, the user experience must be considered, and the benefits must be clearly communicated to lead customer segments. Those mobile broadband-hungry customers must find the new service valuable, convenient, and worth their time for it to be successful. Remember, they were drawn to the OTT services in the first place for the same reason. Operators that get psychic about the distinct usage experience requirements of a new generation of digital customers will consistently win.
2. Focus on growing "digital customers" to their full potential, in their context and on their terms
A majority of attendees sought information on how to solve consumer challenges. Topics like Mobile Number Portability, multi-SIM card use, and growth in mobile payments and m-commerce dominated meeting room conversations. There was an entire hall dedicated to mobile apps, most of which are designed to help simplify consumers' lives. And a number of partnerships were announced, such as Facebook's support of mobile web apps and HTML5, and agreements between Orange and Visa and Ericsson and Western Union regarding mobile payments. These reflect the importance the industry is placing on retention and growth by meeting customer needs, not just focusing on acquisition with a trendy device or fast network.
Retention and growth requires operators to think strategically about their relationships with customers. They must act in customers' best interests to create a trust-based relationship that rises above price or device competition. Operators can take advantage of the vast amount of customer data they already collect to identify critical "customer usage patterns" and invest in "sense and respond" capabilities to translate them into customer delight and incremental revenues.
3. Compete like an agile and customer-centric retailer
Convergence is another topic that never gets old in the mobile space. Demand for information access and connectivity continues to grow exponentially. Carriers are expanding operate in ways many never expected. There are opportunities to partner or lead in places like m-health, retail, cloud computing, and more. Operator agility is key to tackle the new opportunities on the horizon and activate latent customer demand by competing in micro-segments in micro-geographies. Companies that can move quickly and match the local need with the right offering and right retail access will see success. A geo-marketing approach to managing a customer-focused retail organization will consistently win.
Where do we go from here?
These are only a few examples culled from an exciting week at MWC. The key takeaways are that the user experience has become a business imperative, digital customers will reign supreme and that agile retailer will prevail. The race is on for companies to know their customers and devise the best business models, partnerships, products, and experiences to acquire, retain, and grow those relationships.
One bright takeaway from the show is that "treating different customers differently" makes more sense and promised more impact than ever before in the telecom industry.
About the author: Ozan Bayulgen is the managing partner in Peppers & Rogers Group's Telecom, Internet, Media, and Entertainment (TIME) practice. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.