Digital Transformation in Telecom

People are becoming increasingly connected through their mobile devices voice and data networks, and with advancements in technology, dependence is further increased on data. Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android operating systems are the two most dominant operating systems for mobile devices and have offered users thousands of apps for increased connectivity, productivity, and entertainment.

Such developments in the telecommunication industry pose a challenge to telecom operators who rely heavily on voice services and could face a decline in profits and increased churn rate due to intense competition and digital media innovations.

Some telecom companies resorted to transforming their business. However, it is worth noting that its not enough for a company to go lean or improve its network infrastructure. It is however imperative that telecom companies focus on the customer experience and retain their customers through excellence in service. Believe it or not, customer retention costs 50% less customer acquisition (link).

Successful transformation will require companies to take a holistic view of their business and reconsider their strategies, structures, people, cultures, systems, and management styles all at once. To put it differently, it is not enough to expand delivery capabilities, but to also improve efficiencies, reduce costs, seek excellence in customer service, and improve on the customer experience.

According to Deloitte’s 2017 Telecommunications Outlook, the digital transformation of customer experience is one of the top strategies telecom companies should strive for to remain competitive. Such transformation would span customer care, sales, and billing.

To really stand out of the crowd, companies must invest in Big Data to understand their customers’ behaviors, and deliver products and services that match such behavior. Companies must understand the Moments of Truth their customers go through to purchase service plans, activates them, and/or switch between them. They must also understand how their customers like to spend their time, where they like to spend their money, what products interest them, and what significant anniversaries they have.

Here is a short video that really offers a very innovative approach to a pro-active customer experience through OmniChannel, which might seem a little farfetched at the time being, but not impossible to achieve:

So where am I going with all of this? Transformation projects are inevitable to telecom companies in Bahrain to remain competitive. However, to borrow from a previous article I wrote about Transforming Banking in the Middle East, and while strictly referring to digital transformation of customer experience, nearly 80% of Customer Experience Management projects fail (link) because managers think that adopting a new software or system is transformation, internal capabilities and operations are not ready, and finally for not having a follow-up plan post implementation (link). Only those who lead the way will succeed, while others wait and catch up at a later time. It could however be too late to catch up. Just remember Nokia’s late jump on the wagon of mobile device innovation.

My advice to companies considering digital transformation is for them to take a holistic approach and begin with an Organization Readiness & Competence Assessment, then perform an Outside-In analysis to better understand the relationships between their internal processes and systems and how they are affected by customer touch points, and finally how transformation strategies will affect them.


Time to Transform Banking in the Middle East

The Central Bank of Bahrain has announced its plans to launch the first phase of the national electronic wallet next month (Link). The eWallet will truly revolutionize the way banking is conducted in Bahrain to both the banks and customers.

Customers will be able to pay for their online and in-store purchases, and other institutions will be able to collect electronic payments via debit, credit, and prepaid cards all through the eWallet.

Such development got me thinking on the banking scene in Bahrain. It offers banks a wealth of opportunities to offer positive, simple, and rich customer experience.

It is no longer safe to say that saving and investment products, alone are enough to attract and retain customers.  According to EY’s 2014 Global Consumer Banking Survey (link), 41% of customers who opened a new account did so because of the customer experience.

Imagine passing by a grocery store to get a notification from your cellphone reminding you of buying milk? Or your bank’s mobile app advising you on how much money to put aside to reach a savings goal for that car you’ve been wanting to buy for so long? Not only that, but what if your bank could prepare you a report on where your spend your money the most (gas, restaurants, telecom. etc.) so you can better manage your budget?

A 2012 research from Peppers & Rogers Group and Efma, examining prevalence of customer centricity in Banking in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa concluded that embracing basic customer-centric activities, with further opportunities available to fully optimize the customer experience (link).

I think you can pretty much realize by now that banking is transforming; it doesn’t stop at digitizing customer centric services and enhancing the customer experience, but also extends to how branches operate.  Check out on how this company advocates the new role branches would play in the future of branch banking:

And do you know something? One bank is already implementing such innovative, customer centric solutions. It’s called Meem; a retail bank established by Gulf International Bank, which prides itself as being the first Shariah compliant digital bank in the world, and the first digital bank in the Middle east. Meem currently caters to customers in Saudi Arabia though.

However, enhancing customer experience, which is a common target for most companies’ nowadays, doesn’t simply involve improving a service. This is where companies fall short. The plan to enhance customer experience revolves around transformation. Just as there are external customers, there are also internal customers, who are the company’s own employees.

A company’s strategy, structure, people, management style, systems, and culture must all be accounted for when undergoing transformation projects. Strictly referring to digital transformation, nearly 80% of Customer Experience Management projects fail (link) because managers think that adopting software is transformation, internal capabilities and operations are not ready, and finally for not having a follow-up plan post implementation (link).

And it doesn’t stop there, to ensure the success of transformation projects, banks need to better understand their customers’ behavior and invest in Big Data analytics to establish a strong foundation for such projects. Banks must gather, analyze, and act on customer data to help identify the value, needs, and behaviors of segmented customer groups (link).

It is time for banks, specifically in the Middle East, to make an effort and evolve from simply being banks for savings and investments, to a role that revolves around understanding how its products and services play in their customer’s lives, and to making these products and services available in the right place, at the right time, and in the right way to their customers. To achieve successful customer outcomes in a very competitive market, Middle East banks ought to re-engineer their processes and simplify and digitize their products and services without neglecting transforming the the inside of the organization, and lobbying for proper legislation.

Speaking @ Let’s Get to Work Seminar

Speaking invitations are truly my favorite. I get to share my expertise, meet people, and learn from them; specially when interacting with a young audience. Opportunities to attend seminars and conferences early in my career were very limited. I had to learn to cope with the stress of finding a job, keeping it, and exceeding at it the hard way. I had no expectations whatsoever. So this is truly an opportunity for young college graduates and current students to learn from the speakers’ experiences and understand how careers are difficult to manage.

I’m therefore very happy to have been invited to speak at the “Let’s Get to Work” seminar, to be held under the patronage of H.E. the Minister of Labour and Social Development. The seminar is co-organized by Task Consultancy and Lenark Management Consultancy, and is due to take place on May 8, 2017 in Amwaj Rotana. Follow @BahrainSeminar on Twitter for updates on the event and when registration starts.

Street Smart? Think Web Smart!

Street smart refers to “having the experience and knowledge necessary to deal with the potential difficulties or dangers of life in an urban environment.” (Oxford) This is a very valid term to this date. However, with technology and the internet invading our lives, perhaps we should think about being Web Smart.

I’ve been working a web project lately, and part of this project involved outsourcing of web development activities. I did what many people would do, Google a web development company!

I sent out an RFP (Request for Proposal) document to approximately ten candidate developers. Nine out of the ten responded. So I began negotiating with the top three companies the terms, cost, and their understanding of requirements (I’ve already filtered candidate companies through stages).

Everything is fine and dandy up to this point.

Earlier last week I went to have a cup of coffee with a friend of mine, who started his own packaging business. He’s been working at it for about a year, and traveled back and forth between Bahrain and China to procure packaging equipment. I spoke to him about the project I’ve been working on and he suggested that I contact reference companies just to make sure that I’ll be doing business with a legitimate company.

At first, I disregarded the idea. I was so sure of the legitimacy of companies in my shortlist. I showed him the portfolio of each company and even visited some of the websites listed on their portfolio to illustrate how good their work is. I also checked in their commercial/business registration information through the publicly available commercial registrars.

He didn’t buy it, and insisted that I get in touch with past clients of each company. So I did. I sent an e-mail through to at least three clients of each web development company to inquire about their experience in dealing with the vendors.

Some responded, others didn’t.

And this is where the story gets interesting:

  • Two previous clients of company X responded advising me of not doing any business with them; stating that they never actually did any business with them, and asked a number of times for their name to be removed from company X’s portfolio with no responses. Not only that, but I also found an entire blog post advising of the misconduct of company X and warning against doing business with them due to poor customer service and even poorer coding.
  • None of company Y’s previous clients responded to neither e-mail nor phone calls. Their contact information wasn’t real.
  • Company Z on the other got all the praise it could get.

You can imagine my surprise to go through such experience. I was so happy to have had that cup of coffee with my friend that night.

Lesson Learned

If you plan on doing business online, you should probably put on the “web smart” hat and investigate vendors. There is so much information on the web, you’re sure to find something either positive or negative.  Never send money through to someone you’re not absolutely sure of, or conduct financial transactions through insecure websites.

An Excellent Customer Experience with MOO

Design and print customized business cards with MOO! This is the website description that appears to you when you search for MOO on Google. This online business offers its customers the ability to create beautiful, expertly crafted business stationery and promotional materials through an easy to use web interface. MOO’s promise to its customers is: “When we say we’re not happy until you’re happy, we really do mean it”, and I attest to that.

I recently made an order with MOO. I wanted premium and customized business cards at an affordable price; so I turned to MOO. The experience was simple and straightforward. I created an account, chose a designed, customized the design a little bit with their easy to use interface, printed a proof of concept to make sure I liked what I’m about to order, inserted my shipping address and I was done.

What I didn’t expect was this, somehow my order was misplaced and I received someone else’s business cards. Apparently the shipping labels were mixed-up, because the other person received my cards. I wasn’t bothered or frustrated at all. Mistakes do happen. I was though a little disappointed that my first order wasn’t very successful, but that was it.

What truly mattered to me was what happened after I got in touch with MOO to fix the error. I went online and explained the issue with their customer service representative via LiveChat. Nick (MOO’s customer service representative) was very responsive and didn’t take much time to investigate the issue. He asked about my order number, what the issue was, and almost immediately issued a reprint of my order. I didn’t have to even ask!

But wait, it gets better. MOO decided to upgrade my shipping option to expedite the card’s arrival to my door steps.

Again, I stress the notion that I didn’t ask for anything. It was simply MOO’s desire to ensure that I, the customer, had nothing less of an excellent and memorable customer experience.

The Science

Actually there is a science behind all of this. A study by Aspect Software and The Center for Generational Kinetics issued last year found that:

76% of consumers say they view customer service as the true test of how much a company values them. (Aspect)

Another study by Temkin Group concluded that

Loyal customers are 5x as likely to repurchase, 5x as likely to forgive, 7x as likely to try a new offering, and 4x as likely to refer. (Temkin Group)

There are many business out there that could learn a lesson or two from MOO:

  • Ensure an excellent customer experience for your clients to obtain their loyalty, not just satisfaction.
  • Empower your customer service staff to take action when things go wrong; because it really wouldn’t make sense for me to wait until Nick went back to his boss, explained the situation, and decided what to do next.

So will I order from MOO again? You bet I will. I’m telling the whole world right now about their promise of ensuring the customer’s happiness. Was I annoyed that my order was misplaced? Not at all. Who would get annoyed with such business that accepts its mistakes and ensures that you’re happy!?


Job Hunting Strategies

I’ve been delivering speeches and presentations about job hunting strategies and career planning for years now. My audiences were a wonderful mix throughout this journey; ranging from grade school students all the way to junior position staff.

The most common thing about all of them was: they didn’t have a career plan and didn’t know how to find jobs that matched their skills, and didn’t know how to approach employers.

Bahrain is a small country, and we joke about how everyone knows each other. This prompts a challenge to job seekers because networks play a major role in filling those vacant positions. Some call it networking, others call it pulling strings. I say if you have the right skills, attitude, and strategy, you’ll be able to get that job interview and impress the potential employer.

I’ve recently compiled my experience in this field in a short eBook: Get the Job You Want. In it, I’ve included how job seekers can plan a straightforward strategy to job hunting. Here is a link:

Get Your Copy

So what job hunting strategies do you follow, and what stories do you have about interviews and job application success?

Business Analysis Knowledge Areas

I’ve been interested in and good at Business Analysis since undergraduate school; and have chosen to specialize in it despite the various roles I’ve assumed throughout my career. Whether I was a Systems Analyst, Training Specialist, or a Project Manager, Business Analysis skills have always been present in my job duties.

So what is Business Analysis? As per the BABOK® Guide (Business Analysis Body of Knowledge), Business Analysis is:

The practice of enabling change in an enterprise by defining needs and recommending solutions that deliver value to stakeholders.

A Business Analyst is

Any person who performs business analysis tasks described in the BABOK® Guide, no matter their job title or organizational role. Business analysts are responsible for discovering, synthesizing, and analyzing information from a variety of sources within an enterprise, including tools, processes, documentation, and stakeholders.

While preparing to sit for the Certified Business Analysis Professional exam, I organized the Business Analysis Knowledge Areas and Associated Tasks, Inputs and Outputs into a diagram for easy reference, since the majority of reviews and preparation courses I went through stressed on the importance of familiarizing oneself with the BA Knowledge Areas. Please note that this diagram is based on the BA Knowledge Areas identified by the BABOK Guide V2.

You can download your copy here, and I hope it helps.


One Internet, One World

I recently read an article titled “One Internet, Two Nations“, which was recommended to me by a very dear person. The article, written by Henry Louis Gates Jr. and published in the New York Times on October 31, 1999, discusses the degree of digital divide within the American society. It does so based on ethnicity, between the white and black communities. Gates’ conclusion was that blacks have a self-imposed segregation between them and new technological tools of literacy.

Gates uses the days of slavery as his starting point, noting that blacks were denied access to education;  the first right they gained after a long legal battle. Then he wonders why blacks are reluctant to embrace the new digital tools, and why a type of cyber-segregation exists.

While Gates may have explored the topic from a brief economical point of view, including a focus on the content offered on these digital tools; I respectfully disagree with his conclusions. I understand that times have changed, and the article was written nearly 14 years ago. But I’d like to throw in a valid point when I think I have one.

Content is not necessarily what’s appealing to people when it comes to using technology or the internet. Its about the culture of a society and how they tend to behave. People of African, Asian, Arab, or even Latin decent, are known to cherish their family oriented values. Something they grew up with.

To prove my point, I suggest you take a walk in a neighborhood known to be predominantly populated by one of the ethnic groups mentioned above. You’ll notice that residents actually enjoy sitting on the porch, and children either skipping, playing sports, or simply “chilling”. They do that not because they can’t afford technology, but because they prefer to be around people.

In a 2009 study conducted by the National Center for Education (USA), only 33% of respondents reported their lack of access to the internet was due to its expense. This percentage however isn’t based on race or ethnicity.  The same study found out that nearly 90% of Whites have/use internet at home, while 80% of Blacks or Hispanics do. Their variance to me isn’t significant when accounting for cultural values.

More recently however, the internet has played  a major role in globalization, uniting different thoughts and cultures through keyboards and extended networks for different causes. Social Media has been successful due to the fact that it revolved around people. Not technology, research, or literature. Thus expanding its users base by appealing to people oriented cultures.

Twitter for example has a “trends” functionality that highlights what people are tweeting about globally. In fact, the term “The People’s Republic of Twitterstan” was used in this article which speaks about Twitter’s trending topics in 2011. Whether it’s a tsunami in Japan or wildfire in Colorado, you can bet that thousands of people are tweeting about it around the glob. Other terms such as twittersphere and twitterverse have also become common, reflecting on the effect of Twitter on its worldwide users.

So if I was to rewrite the title of Gates’ article, I’d call it “One internet, One world”.

Let it be still

Once upon a time, there was a young beautiful girl whose home was close to a small lake. She used to go out to the lake everyday and contemplate her reflection in the still water.

One day, she decided to take her younger brother with her, and while she was reflecting on her image in the water, arranging her fine hair, her brother took a small stone and threw it into the lake, resulting in waves. The young girl’s reflection was distorted. She became angry, and started an effort to stop the water ripples here and there using her hands, but to no avail.

An old man passed by and asked her what the problem was . She told him the story, and he offered to help. He said,  “I will tell you the only solution that stop the water ripples, but its very difficult”. She replied, “I’ll do it, whatever the cost”. Very calmly the old man replied, “Just let the lake be still“.

Moral of the story

We often become so accustomed to the status quo that the slightest change or the smallest problem we face disturb us. Not only that, but when we try to solve the problems we’re facing, or fight the change we’re experiencing, we tend to make matters worse.  We can surely give it a try once or  twice, but when we notice a deterioration in the situation, just letting things be, could bring normality back. Being patient, and giving a chance to time is sometimes better than intervening.

Virtual Volunteering

Computer Supported Cooperative Work, CSCW for short, may be self-explanatory, but it carries with it complications of how individuals and groups interact with others using technological means. In my point of view, CSCW isn’t restricted to business only. Its tools and techniques can be applied to what is known as Virtual Volunteering.

With more than 55% internet penetration in Bahrain, you’d think that Virtual Volunteering is widespread.

Unfortunately, not everyone is aware of what virtual volunteering really is. Some of us however do it unawarely (Yes, it is a word, check the link).  There are different types of Virtual Volunteering, and I would like to share a few with you. But first, what is volunteering anyways?

People volunteer, or give some of their time for a cause they believe in without expecting anything in return, except feeling good. They volunteer to improve the quality of life of others, as well as their own. They volunteer to gain new skills and experiences, without being afraid of punishment when not successful. Some volunteer as administrators, others as event organizers, and there are more ways to volunteer than you’d imagine. One of these ways is Virtual Volunteering. Simply put, virtual volunteering is doing tasks online, or via telephone in a collaborative manner.

There are many benefits to virtual volunteering aside from being on the receiving end. The first of which, is that it is not bound by time or space. The best example of this is the UN’s Online Volunteering Service. I can for example help “Develop a website with WordPress” for the Martin Luther King Memorial Foundation in Cameroon, from the comfort of my home in Bahrain. Where is my benefit? This would probably be my best opportunity to market my skills and gain a reputation for being a good web developer. Virtual volunteer work would serve both sides in this case. People love freebies, and we as humans love attention as well.

Another benefit of virtual volunteering is that it enables persons with disabilities to do volunteer work. Some of the virtual volunteering activities may include typing, translation of documents, research, web administration, ….. etc., all of these activities and many more can be done with limited mobility. Which also brings us to one more added benefit of virtual volunteering, which is the vast pool of potential volunteers created. There are many of us who wished they had more time to go out and volunteer. But who said you have to “go out” and volunteer? You can “stay in” and contribute to local, or even global society.

In the Recycle IT project, which aims at creating a culture of recycling electronic waste in Bahrain, the awareness team tried and tested the concept of virtual volunteering by creating a web design competition for the project’s website. Perhaps becoming involved in a competition isn’t really considered volunteer work, but the prizes were modest, and introducing a new concept to the community takes time.

Participation in the competition was fair, and the real virtual volunteers were the common people who went on our Facebook page and voted for whichever design they thought was best. Yet another example of virtual volunteer work done unawarely (I’m just in love with this word now).

The ground for virtual volunteer work in Bahrain is solid, as usage of smart phones and the internet increases by the day. There is a golden rule to keep in mind when it comes to selecting or recruiting volunteers whether virtual or not;  description of the task must always be ready and as detailed as possible, with a point of contact assigned. Otherwise volunteers would lose interest.

So where can you volunteer virtually in Bahrain?  There are more than 500 non-profit organizations in Bahrain, and you can be sure that need your skill whatever it may be:

  • Website design and development
  • Website maintenance
  • Online recruitment of volunteers on forums and bulletin boards
  • Managing social media channels
    • YouTube
    • Twitter
    • Facebook
  • Translating documents
  • Graphic design of brochures and pamphlets

and the list goes on.