Monday, January 17
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‘Serving customers through digital means is the way forward’

5 Jul 2020

Featured today in this exclusive series of Business Leaders’ Perspectives, Ian Dench, CEO, Ooredoo, shares how the company’s efforts towards a digital transformation paid off, despite many challenges. Excerpts:

What is your brief assessment of the position of your company in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly during the peak season of Ramadan when business in Oman faced a challenge like never before?

Our priority from the outset has been the safety our staff and within just a matter of days we moved everyone to working from home. It was also critical to ensure we were able to cope with the changing and increasing demands on our network, as data grew by 30% on average for home internet services and almost 50% for mobile. We also had to continue make services available to customers and finally, we focussed on providing help and assistance to government to businesses and to businesses, by being responsive to requests and ensuring continuity of operations.   

What plans/strategies did you adopt to maintain your operations during the lockdown period over the past 2-3 months? How beneficial did this prove to be?

People have heard me talk about digital transformation for some time now and our efforts have definitely paid off. We had to shut all of our stores overnight and contact centre staff had to work from home, which naturally produced some challenges. However, we were to keep all services fully operational with access to our contact centre, our app, eShop, and other digital channels. Customers were able to pay bills, top up, subscribe to plans, update their ID, report problems, seek help and much more.

Looking ahead, what are your immediate and short-term plans that you believe will help the company recalibrate and move forward with renewed purpose?

Over the course of the lockdown, we have added numerous new digital services, and communication through social media has increased significantly. In particular, WhatsApp, where our customers can place orders and raise queries. We’ve also added multiple languages to WhatsApp to make it easier for more of our customers to contact us.

We also upgraded services available to business customers through our dedicated B2B digital channels and business customers can remain in contact with their account managers.

As we start to re-open our stores, we will continue to provide convenient digital services, as well as over-the-counter services as before. And our contact centre is fully operational with people working from home.

What immediate changes are required in your workplaces, with regard to physical infrastructure, employee welfare, work culture and business promotion, in view of new guidelines related to COVID-19 (social distancing, hygiene/sanitation, health and fitness)?

Our stores outside malls are now open and operating under strict Supreme Committee guidelines. Aside from adhering to the directives issued by the Supreme Committee to combat COVID-19, we are implementing a number of steps to ensure our Ooredoo family members, and our customers, are safe. Our offices are regularly sanitised and we have placed thermal cameras at all entrances for those entering the office. We also have a strict plan in place regarding social distancing and other safety measures.

What are your primary concerns regarding building/maintaining your company image, post-COVID-19, as well as improving performance to regain connections and trust with your consumers/clients?

From the outset of the pandemic, we stayed very connected to our customers. We saw a huge shift in the way our customers interacted with us, and while there were some initial challenges with customers being able to get through to us, as teams settled into working from home, services improved dramatically. Customers were also able to contact us through digital channels and the contact centre saw a massive 150% rise in traffic on its social media and digital platforms compared to the first quarter of the year and catered to over 25.5k interactions per day. The boosted digital services mean that customers do not need to call to get instant access to products, services and assistance.

What lessons were learnt from this crisis that would help redefine your corporate goals as well as helping your company experience sustained growth in the years ahead?

It’s clear from the situation that serving customers though digital means is the way forward, as well as being able to deliver to the home. We will be doubling down on our digital transformation efforts and even accelerating it further. Being connected is critical to staying informed, for entertainment, business or education. This has been very visible with the growth in entertainment services, such as online gaming and movie streaming. 

Furthermore, we have learned that working from home and flexible working hours and practices have been successful and can be integrated into our future plans. We also have to be prepared for any and every eventuality, which is something we have learned through this process. It’s all about being responsive to change and situations.

In your opinion, how important it is for staff to undergo training to realign themselves with the company’s policies/new strategies as well as to immerse themselves in a new work culture that the pandemic has dictated?

While working from home brought some new challenges for some in terms of feeling isolated or juggling work with family, we quickly found a new way of conducting ‘business as usual’. Technology facilitates many of the day-to-day needs of business operations, but communication is paramount for the wellbeing of employees. We made sure that we were communicating with staff continuously, keeping them updated and connected. We even provided free counselling services to those who felt they needed it and conducted an employee survey to gauge sentiment, satisfaction and ability to continue to work and function both, personally and professionally. This helped us to tailor what we did to maximise employee ‘health’, happiness and engagement during this time. 

Are there examples of new thinking in other sectors that yours could adopt to good effect?

A good example is home delivery, which we have also adopted. A key element of our eShop has been home delivery for services – something that will become a permanent part of our digital offering. 

What is the No.1 positive aspect you would take from the last three months?

The pandemic, despite its challenges, has brought us together in a way we would never have imagined. Suddenly people are taking more time to look out for one another, to call family, friends and acquaintances. People have found new ways to stay connected and entertained. And businesses of all shapes and sizes are learning to adopt to a post COVID-19 world.

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