Bringing Digitalization to the Telco Forefront: The Celcom Transformation Story Featured

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Klaus Michael Kuehner, the CEO and Executive Director of Celcom Axiata has close to three decades of global leadership experience in telecommunications and technology industries. As an accomplished leader, he delivers organizational stability with his strategic vision and thought leadership to achieve growth in demanding multicultural environments. 

In a recent interview with M Prushothma Rao of The Fast Mode, Michael shares about Celcom's digitalization plans and how its various initiatives in this space are fast transforming the Operator towards becoming the region's leading digital operator.  

Driving Change via Digitalization

M Prushothma Rao: Celcom has been spearheading major digitalization plans with a host of initiatives that see the organization adopting newer digital technologies to transform and enhance its business functions, with special focus on automating and expediting the delivery of services for the end customer. Can you share with us more about Celcom’s digitalization initiatives and how these have begun transforming customer experience (CX)?

Michael Kuehner: Driving change through Digitization starts with changing mind-sets and the culture of our organization. It is not a traditional technology driven transformation program, rather we are changing the DNA of our organisation to become “Digital”. We have defined culture attributes which represents what it means to behave and act Digital. It’s about becoming much more Agile, work in a collaborative manner across different business functions, take ownership and do it now rather than waiting for the perfect solution to be developed. Ultimately it will also change the organisational structure, moving away from traditional hierarchies to instead work in truly cross-functional smaller autonomous teams. We are challenging everything in our “business-as-usual” way of working. New digital technologies are enablers to deliver and accelerate this change.

We have made good progress in revamping our digital customer experience. For example by introducing the all-new MyCelcom Postpaid App and Xpax app, where customers are able to manage their own subscription – data quota purchase, airtime transfer, digital gifting, device self-care and many other features. This allows them to do more without having to visit our outlets and less dependency on our call centre.

We have launched a completely new Social Media Experience (smEX) hub – a cross-functional integrated team and among the first of its kind in Asia. It combines marketing, sales and service activities through social media channels to ensure quick and engaging responses to customers, creating awesome moments when engaging with Celcom through Social Media.

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The team members of the Social Media hub are organised in cross-functional tribes and leverage on the latest technology in the social media space. All of the key social channels such as Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other community forums are covered. The hub complements existing customer service channels such as the Contact Centre, Retail Shops and Online Customer Service.

We are also digitizing the way we work with our channel partners and dealers, which has improved overall availability and enabled a better dealer experience in terms of acquisition and mobile internet provisioning at retail outlets. Interactions with our dealers are now done through an App. Registering a pre-paid customer now only requires the dealer scanning the customer’s ID with the form auto-filled. It takes 15 seconds now and enable greater dealer efficiency, reduces fraud and most importantly reduces effort for our customers and channel partners alike.

We have launched an all-new website that is more customer friendly, which is getting great reviews from our customers, We are soon launching a-new online store that will further enhance customer experience and make all our services available through online.

Last but not least, it is critical to have the right performance metrics in place to measure progress. We have implemented transactional Net Promoter Score (tNPS) as the key metric across the whole company – everyone in the company has tNPS as a KPI in their scorecard. The change in mind-set, supported by the initiatives above have delivered significant improvement in tNPS during the last 12 months.

M Prushothma Rao: Celcom's digital vision targets to automate more than 80% of its transactions through the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) by 2021. With AI becoming the next big technology to drive change across organizations, what are your thoughts on AI and how will AI change the ‘Celcom experience’ in future?

Michael Kuehner: A.I. has made tremendous progress in the last couple of years and is now becoming more mature. It is now possible to automate simpler more mundane transactions through Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning. This will enable our front-liners to spend more time solving more complex problems our customers may be facing. AI will also help us predict when a problem will occur and fix it even before it is impacting the customer. It will also help automate internal processes and reduce human errors when processing simple tasks like orders or trouble tickets. This is where tools like robotic process automation (RPA’s) comes in, to assist front-line people by automating high volume and transactional processes freeing them up to provide higher value interactions with our customers. Virtual assistants are becoming mainstream and it is likely you will be able to interact with your service provider through a virtual assistant in the not too distant future.

Another area we are focusing on is using AI to improve Network Experience. AI can help us predict when a base station is likely to fail and we can carry out preventive maintenance averting outages to occur in the first place.

M Prushothma Rao: Also on the topic of digitalization, we followed Celcom’s recent launch of Digital Jam aimed at enhancing the development of ‘digital talent’ within the organization. These are such interesting concepts. Can we have more details on how these concepts are implemented in an Operator environment?

Michael Kuehner: Enabling the change I spoke about earlier puts great emphasis on talent development. The Digital Jam was Asia’s Largest Employee Online Activation Day across Axiata Group which was a great success, where 12,000 employees came together online to experiment with and experience new digital tools, BOT interfacing games and many more digital learning experiences.

One example of how we put these concepts into practice is that all our development of Digital Channels is now run in a fully agile manner with scrums and sprints. We have also taken small IT development teams and placed these directly in business functions which is improving our speed of delivery.

Development of digital talent is really important to deliver our aggressive digital transformation in all organizational units and functional areas. This year we will continue to build on the success of Digital Jam by running more hackathons. We have defined the future skill sets, including UI/UX, Analytics and Data Science, and are delivering training and development plans for our people in these areas. These skillsets are critical for us to further boost our position into becoming a truly digital company.

The Brick and Mortar Experience

M Prushothma Rao: Back to customer experience, it’s interesting to note that Celcom has recently revamped its customer centers with new features such as three-dimensional (3D) printing and game consoles for families with children. Can you share on how customers have reacted to the new centers and the expansion plans in store for 2018?

Michael Kuehner: Retail outlets are a key anchor among the various channels for the customer experience and a significant aspect for many consumer-oriented industries. It is important to stay relevant in keeping up with customers’ ever-evolving preference with a contemporary design.

We want to create a step-change in the way our customers connect with our brand, as we change to adapt to what they want. A social atmosphere that is defined in how we captivate the customers’ senses as they walk in, and the excellent retail service is a projection of the company’s corporate image, besides driving potential sales.

Therefore we created ambience that will make customers visit us more often – either for the new innovations we have on display or just for getting their shopping needs covered and is like a name card for the new Celcom. We want to touch all senses of our customers from taste through getting a coffee offered to touch-and-feel through natural materials and a service with a smile.

The new concept definitely is being well received by the customers. This is evident when one of the oldest outlet in Kuala Lumpur that was recently revamped, is now receiving more visitors and more transaction within few weeks it was launched.

Celcom aims to revamp the look and feel of the majority of its 61 Blue Cubes in 2018. In the near future, the company will also relocate some of the existing stores to more attractive commercial areas to be more conveniently accessible for its customers.

Market Leadership through Innovation

M Prushothma Rao: ‘Yoodo’ which Celcom launched last month brings mobile data plans to another level of flexibility and customizability. What was the push behind the launch of Yoodo?

Michael Kuehner: Yoodo was launched to push Celcom to the forefront of the digital revolution and to address the varying needs of digital natives. Built on the premise that the customer knows best, Yoodo brings to market a new and comprehensive mobile offering that gives customers the ultimate choice and control over their plans while delivering simple, clear and engaging services. Simpler means there are fewer steps for sign up, changing plans, account inquiries, paying, disconnection and reconnection. Clearer means no hidden charges or contracts, with real-time usage information available through the mobile app. Better means it is more comprehensive, with near-immediate SIM delivery, online community support, number portability, roaming and Wi-Fi tethering all available at launch.

We were able to go to market with Yoodo in a very short time from concept to launch by adopting a completely new operating model. It is run as a startup with a very young and dynamic team outside of Celcom’s organization.

M Prushothma Rao: Talking about innovation, we see Celcom entering into strategic partnerships with major brands such as Uber and Malaysian Airlines. How will these partnerships enable Celcom to expand its digital lifestyle offerings? What has been the market response thus far on Operator led digital services?

Michael Kuehner: We realise that the evolution of the lifestyle today makes us more dependable on our smartphones and non-interrupted data services. The new partnerships we have established are aimed towards enhancing the customers’ digital lifestyle further. Therefore, we came up with solutions in making it more convenient as well as a privilege for Celcom customers.

For example, our partnerships have enabled Celcom customers to enjoy discounts when hailing a cab or booking a flight ticket via their smartphones while on the go!

We have also recently introduced new lifestyle privileges as part of Celcom FIRST and this will pave the way for us to spoil our customers with more privileges of their choice. They can now choose to watch their favourite movies in cinemas, enjoy a GrabCar ride, or even indulge in their favourite food and beverages, all for FREE every month! They can also choose to enjoy discounts or rebates for online shopping and mobile app purchases. Customers who prefer to travel may also choose to enjoy free return flight tickets to either ASEAN or domestic destinations instead of the monthly lifestyle privileges. All these privileges are easily redeemable through MyCelcom App.

Start-up Culture

M Prushothma Rao: In a recent interview, you highlighted the need to create a startup culture within the organization as means to establish market leadership in the mobile segment. Can you share with us how such cultural shifts can help Operators forge ahead in the current competitive environment?

Michael Kuehner: On our way to regain our position in the market, we believe that speed and agility are the traits that we should embed in our culture. This is similar to the culture of new technology and Internet start-ups. Technology is changing at a very fast pace and so does customer behaviour and needs. Many large companies in traditional industries are being disrupted by smaller, more agile companies. If we don’t adapt and change we stand at risk of being disrupted as well. Competition nowadays is not limited only to other telecom operators so we will not be able to stay relevant unless we change our culture and the way we work.

Practising a start-up culture will enable us to respond much faster to changing consumer demands and will also help us adopting and make better use of new technologies. Yoodo is a good example where we have put this theory into practise.

Adopting a start-up culture will give more empowerment to our employees, improving motivation and engagement. It will also help us attract and retain the best digital talents in the future.

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