We’re only three months into 2021 and communications service providers (CSPs) are accelerating 5G rollout, pushing boundaries to create more holistic experiences, and keeping a close eye on new and emerging platforms.
This comes on the heels of a year like no other for CSPs. Customer expectations soared for connectivity during the COVID-19 pandemic as nearly all touchpoints turned virtual — from staying in touch with friends and family to our jobs to educating our children. At the same time, CSPs have seen existing revenue streams remain relatively flat, putting them at risk of commoditization. New avenues for growth are now at the top of the priority list.
So, what does the future hold for CSPs?
Trend #1: Digitization will accelerate — and bring B2B with it
CSPs accelerated digitization in 2020, predominantly in the B2C (business to consumer) space. This trend continues in 2021 and will apply to more domains, including B2B (business to business) as business buyers adopt B2C-style expectations. Every experience is expected to be faster, integrated, and holistic. That means direct and indirect sales, retail, and customer care — even the ﬁeld technician who hooks up that new high-speed internet — needs to be connected.
The first place we will see this is in small and medium businesses (SMBs). The SMB customer wants the ability to self-serve through a consumer-grade experience, such as a portal or in an app. AI-powered (artificial intelligence) chatbots can further enable self-service by offering next best actions and offers.
We expect that CSP digital transactions will double in 2021.
Large enterprises also want the ability to self-serve . If you think about the IT department at some of the biggest companies in the world, they don’t want a sales rep always calling; they want to explore, configure, order, and track everything themselves.
Another way we’ll see CSPs digitize is through omni-channel commerce. We expect CSP digital transactions to double in 2021. The customer base is trained to go online and buy online. In fact, customers turn to an average of nine channels to browse inventory, seek advice, and make purchases, according to the State of the Connected Customer report.
For these reasons, CSPs should explore technology platforms equipped with market-leading commerce capabilities, such as Commerce Cloud, that integrate the enterprise product catalog, CPQ (configure, price, quote) capabilities, and order management. This kind of a platform gives a common cart to the customer as they switch channels. It also provides customer-facing personnel in retail stores and in the contact center with a complete view of abandoned carts, carts in progress, and recently completed carts. It lets CSPs nurture the customer through a digital marketing journey, and product managers avoid duplicate entries while customers avoid missed promotions.
Trend #2: CSPs will become digital service providers to drive customer loyalty
By now, customers are used to getting a streaming service along with their cell service — or similar add-ons. We will see this trend continue. Maybe it’s cell service and fixed wireless usage access for broadband along with a cybersecurity package. Or, as we’re seeing in Asia, operators will become financial service providers. In Asia, CSPs say, “You have a cell phone. I’ll provide the all-in-one-wallet Singtel Dash.” American carriers are poised to follow suit. Our carriers have spent over 140 years building trust. That affords them an opportunity to provide a more complete lifestyle experience to customers by offering add-on digital services.
Here’s another example: if a CSP owns a major broadcasting network with theme parks, they can create a mobile brand around a beloved superhero series. Better yet, CSPs can improve the park experience by enabling your mobile device in lieu of a park pass or wrist band.
Today, staying competitive is all about offering customers an array of digital services that blur the edges to increase brand stickiness.
Trend #3: Providers will create dynamic platforms to monetize 5G
CSPs have spent billions rolling out 5G networks. In order to monetize 5G, CSPs need to offer a platform that embraces a partner ecosystem. This will come from a host of new applications — some will be developed in-house but the majority will be developed by third parties and distributed by the CSPs. Developers can build differentiated apps that can be monetized through a tightly managed marketplace, such as for security, transportation, and logistics.
What if a streetlight can sense people coming because of a mobile device and have the lights move with them as they walk?
Imagine offering three-factor authentication without any extra effort to the customer. If you’re at the payment terminal of your favorite coffee, you can use your CSP’s mobile wallet solution. Your CSP also knows it’s you looking at the phone and that you are within three meters of that point-of-sale terminal because of a highly sophisticated 5G geo-location capability. CSPs can take care of payments and security, which provides value to the customer.
Going even further, 5G has incredible applications in smart cities. Controlling street lighting is a huge cost to a city. What if a streetlight can sense people coming because of a mobile device and have the lights move with them as they walk? That’s cheaper and even more effective than motion sensors. These are just some of the incredible ways we will see CSPs unlock the value of 5G and create new monetization opportunities with developer ecosystems and marketplaces.
Extending beyond connectivity is a running theme for CSPs in 2021. Providers that simply offer cellular service and internet will fall behind. It’s exciting to see how the year will unfold and what new trends may yet emerge.
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