Failing to connect: redefining the telecoms retail experience

In a world where customers are increasingly loyal to product brands over networks, what’s required is a total brand approach and transformation of the customer experience.

Luke Weston
By Luke Weston
Posted 01. 06. 2020
Telecomms Question Mark 01

It’s ironic, but it’s true - in a sector defined by making connections, telecoms brands are failing to do exactly that, leaving consumers unengaged and uninspired. Network providers especially are being left behind in a new brand era where consumers are in the driving seat and brands are defined by their experience across all channels. Brand spaces are a critical opportunity to define an experience around stories and values and to deliver a dose of retail magic whilst still offering thoughtful and convenient services. Unfortunately, traditional network retail has largely been relegated to function as hubs for complaints rather than places to serve, delight and inspire.

It’s not helped by the fact that networks are operating in a crowded, commoditised market where competitive price plans, data allowances and devices are flattening out differentiation. Increasingly, customers are more loyal to product brands (are you camp Apple or camp Android?) who craft a desirable lifestyle around the product and encourage you into an eco-system. By comparison, networks all seem to offer the same thing, albeit with a slightly different brand flavour.

A recent study from Temkin Customer Experience Insights shows that network providers fall into the poor or very poor range of the ratings - the sector is crying out for bold investment by brands to reinvent their customer experience strategy. Product brands are leading the way and winning over consumers with a more creative edge as demonstrated in Samsung KX in Coal Drops Yard. Here they demonstrate a strategic shift away from communicating product features or commoditised data plans, instead connecting with people on a more emotive level through lifestyle and the creative potential of their products.

Samsung coal drops
photo credit: samsung

So what’s the answer for network providers?

It's not enough to merely emulate the best product brands - this is not a one-size fits all approach. At D&P we’ve long been part of a disruptive retail revolution, a vital shift towards customer-centricity and purpose-led experience, fuelled by new consumer expectations, start-up culture and intense global competition. In our experience working with innovative brands from all sectors - including O2, Google and Virgin Media - we believe the key to thriving in today’s world is to consider the ‘total brand experience’ - that’s everything a brand does to connect with their customers.

We’ve developed a unique framework based around 6Ps to help brands engage, delight and serve across the six pillars of their business as a total brand experience:

  • Purpose - the ‘why’ behind everything a brand says and does
  • Personality - brand image and narrative
  • People - everyone who works for, or with, the brand
  • Place - the places and spaces where a brand exists
  • Process - the step-by-step journey, platforms and tools of engaging with the brand
  • Product - what the brand sells or provides to generate revenue

Those that deliver in all six areas are the engaging brands that win both commercially and in the hearts and minds of consumers. We believe there is huge potential for telecoms brands to explore these six pillars and define a transformative sector experience. Here’s how:


Look inwardly to define why consumers should care

Consumers in the telecoms sector are a fickle bunch - struggling to differentiate between brands or find one that resonates with their values. In today’s world, ‘purpose’ is an inescapable buzzword, to the extent where some are already fatigued from the constant reminder to ‘be better’. But investing in your brand’s purpose doesn’t have to mean saving the world. It does, however, mean standing up for something and having a voice. Telecoms brands should reflect on what their core purpose is and how to express it in an engaging and experiential way.

In our work for Nationwide, in a financial sector which shares the telecom world's homogeneity, we defined an experience that manifested the brand’s purpose of ‘building society, nationwide’. We created a community-focused concept that breaks from the often impersonal, austere feel of so many banks, putting humanity, openness and connectivity at the forefront of its new, revitalised spaces. These spaces reflect Nationwide’s role as a trusted brand, seeking to do the right thing for its members and communities.

With the decline of traditional advertising and consumers becoming increasingly critical of brands and their messaging, it’s more important than ever for them to act ‘on purpose’ in order for customers to see their values in action.

Nationwide community


Be the odd one out

With consumers more fickle and upwardly ‘mobile’ than ever before, a lack of creativity and differentiation between brands is one of the biggest challenges the industry faces. Physical retail seems to be the poor relation across brand channels - homogenous, corporate looking and distinguished only by a restrictive brand palette. Sparks of creativity elsewhere - glossy above-the-line campaigns and costly sponsorship affiliations - are often reduced to cardboard engineering or window posters. Stores are a huge missed opportunity to manifest a brand’s story and values and engage customers authentically, on a local level.

Our work with O2 gave the brand a way to stand out from competitors. Leveraging links to the entertainment industry, the store has an attitude inspired by the local music scene and acts as a gathering space for fans. A front of store activation space hosts regular campaigns and brand takeovers, ensuring newness and an ongoing dialogue with customers and collaborators.

Telecoms brands should have something to say that sets themselves apart from others - stores should not be the poor relation, but seen as a key opportunity to reach out and engage in a local, characterful and authentic way.

O2 store interior


Humanise in a digital world

In an industry that has accumulated distrust over data breaches, unreliable service and poor customer experience, the human touch can go a long way. In-store staff are on the front line of a brand’s experience and should be considered as brand ambassadors who bring more to the role than just sales or service skills. At present they are often reduced to a conduit for complaints or have their hands tied by rigid commission incentives. Bolder still might be a more expansive attitude to staffing, with guest experts, speakers and practitioners activating the brand offer without needing to be on permanent payroll. Regardless, sharing in a two-way dialogue with customers about what matters to them should always be the goal.

Our work with Google Digital Garage has demonstrated the effectiveness of this approach, with Digital Experts sharing advice and teaching digital skills that help customers get the most out of the brand’s products and services. Samsung have even taken this one step further by redefining the role of the traditional ‘shop assistant’ at their new brand home in Coal Drops Yard. Instead of recruiting for tech or sales experience, the brand searches for new staff out-of-sector whose passions and personalities align with the brand’s ethos and bring the creative potential of the product to life.

No one likes a pushy salesperson. A shift away from sales, whether to coaching, educating or inspiring, is key to overhauling customer experience within the telecoms sector.

Google Garage training 2
google digital garage


Reimagine your store as a permanent brand billboard

Consumers in today’s digital world enjoy seamless connectivity, but are often, paradoxically, more isolated than ever before. Shoppers are finding fewer reasons to do in person what they can achieve online. With high value placed on convenience, it’s important for brands to consider the format and location of their physical space, ensuring they go to where the customer needs them most and that they add value to the local community.

Tech repair brand iSmash’s strategy of being positioned by busy commuter hotspots means their expert, express service is constantly on view and the brand is front of mind when disaster strikes and a speedy repair is required. Using a store as a permanent billboard in this way is a clever form of brand advertisement - it can be as much about format and location as it is about communications and in-store experience.

It’s about more than just transactions. Telecoms brands should consider how to make the best use of their physicality in order to remain relevant IRL.

photo credit: ismash


Switch up the tempo

It’s an inconvenient truth that a large proportion of telecoms customers are on distress missions when they enter a store. Regardless of their concern, it's critical that brands deal with them emphatically and in a way that demonstrates they value them as an individual. In fact, the journeys that begin in the most negative manner offer the greatest opportunity for turnaround. It goes without saying that such journeys should be made as fast and seamless as possible, but there’s also potential to break free from prescribed service touchpoints and empower staff to go above and beyond. We can take learnings here from other sectors like hospitality, where brands such as Ritz-Carlton give front line staff a personal budget to ensure customer service interactions come to a solution that surpasses their already high expectations.

At the other end of the service spectrum, brands should consider how a slower, more experiential journey can help communicate their story and simultaneously demystify complex tech. Google’s Curiosity Rooms, a marketing activation that coincided with the launch of their new Pixel phone, is a great example of how a customer journey can inspire a sense of discovery and break category conventions to engage without jargon or pressured sales-speak.

Each customer is different. Flex to provide fast and slow options suited to distress or inspiration missions so that they can shop on their own terms.

Google curiosity rooms
google curiosity rooms. photo credit: Gomez de Villaboa


Inspire with lifestyle activation

5G will have a transformative effect on our lives, but also present a challenge for brands in how to communicate the opportunities to customers and make the intangible, tangible. How brands choose to define an experience offer around this new technology will be critical - tech specs need to be translated into relatable benefits, but the key challenge will be to capture the enormous potential of 5G for customers' lifestyles. When there’s little difference in offer and speed from one provider to another, brands will need to communicate what their unique take on a 5G-enabled life will be and how this will translate into a unique experience offer to make it real for their consumers.

Google’s pop-up Hardware Stores in New York & Chicago were compelling examples of experiences that placed product in context to inspire a lifestyle. Products were displayed in dedicated interactive zones for Work, Life and Home, making the offer far more tangible and desirable, and thoughtful touchpoints and mini experiences throughout the space brought the design story and creative potential of each product to life.

As we live more connected lives, technology has huge lifestyle potential. Lines of dusty dummy devices and generic slat walls of accessories just won’t cut it anymore. Telecoms customers want to be inspired by a brand's unique attitude to a tech-enabled lifestyle.

Google hardware store
google hardware store. photo credit: Courtesy © Barlich Creative LLC 2018

Each one of these pillars is important, but considering them in isolation won’t build an engaging and successful brand for the long term; it needs a holistic approach. Our 6Ps framework is a simple way to align internal teams within your wider business and not only reshape, but reinvent your entire brand experience.

By uniting experts from all walks of life - digital, property, brand, marketing - we are able to define a holistic vision that differentiates, gives you something to say and connects you with your customer wherever they are.

Get in touch if you’d like to know more about how our framework and approach has helped other clients across the world and how it can help you.

Graphic by Grainne Dowling

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