IT might seem irrelevant for a cellular company to set up a consumer lab but Celcom Axiata Bhd has been doing just that for the past two years.
The purpose was really to find out what the consumer wants.
For those in the fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) business, all this is not new but for a celco (cellular company), it is something that more are seeing as a necessity.
Shazalli: ‘We have to look at new ways and methods to do things.’
“When I first joined Celcom, I could not poke you on Facebook. There was no such thing as social media and behaviour. But that has changed and we need to also evolve to meet the needs of today’s consumer,” says Celcom chief executive officer Datuk Seri Shazalli Ramly.
Often, the celcos will come up with products they think are best for consumers based on the technology available, but in comparison a FMCG business will invest in research and labs to find out what the consumer wants and whether their product will find acceptance. So far, Celcom has launched two voice products based on the findings from the lab.
“Take a bar of soap as an example. Those in the FMCG business will know when you shower, how you shower, how many times you shower, and what smell you want after your shower and the choice of every element in the bar of soap has been catered to consumer needs,” he says.
For the labs, Celcom hired some behavioural scientists from the United States to help analyse data to find out what the Malaysian consumer wants.
“They did not come cheap but we needed to create products that consumers want, not based on technology,” he says.
One segment that information is being put to use is in the data market.
Data, to him, has yet to be refined in consumers’ minds as to how it can fulfil their needs, as up to now, people are introduced to the Internet and they just ride on it.
He believes Celcom should be in the domain where it triggers usage and not wait for people to want to use its product. By doing so, it will be able to differentiate itself from the rest of the pack.
He cites the example of having WiFi at a shopping complex. While other operators may just provide it as a means for people to remain connected, Celcom believes that triggering the urge to get connected will automatically make people want to come back.
For that, it has plans to create a space, like a waiting lounge for them to connect with others, watch a short movie or just chat over the Net. If they know there is such a place, there will be an urge to be there.
Celcom Axiata has partnered with Samsung Malaysia Electronics to offer the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 for Celcom subscribers.
“Once you trigger that, then the urge will come. It’s about adjusting to new behaviour. From a customer-centric point of view, we would have created a place for them and not merely a hotspot,” he says.
For that, Celcom is building 391 Blue Cubes around the country and to make sure its workforce knows how to handle those who come to the cube, the front-liners are trained to service the users.
All these are the building blocks for the future and is materialising because of the five-year transformation exercise Celcom had embarked on two years ago. It is in year three of the transformation and this year, the focus is on the customer, hence the labs, the data analysis of the consumer and the cubes.
But those are not all.
The company is in fact transforming its entire network to allow for different user experiences.
“We have to abandon every single service element of the past and look at new ways and methods to do things, be it virtual or in the real world. If we take that position, we have to then equate it with all the roll-outs,” Shazalli says.
For him, this is the first time in the company’s 24-year history it has undertaken a real, full-blown transformation. In the past, he says changes were on an ad hoc basis. There are 38 initiatives of the transformation.
“One of our biggest legacies is our back-end system and the time has come for a change. Our biggest fear is losing sight of what we are doing while the transformation gets going, but we have been very diligent in the execution of that and we have achieved 40% in terms of workflow,” he says.
What the company has done thus far is change its NGIN (Next Generation Information Network) to be behavioural-led and that was done in October on the prepaid platform. It has also awarded a contract to IBM for business intelligence. Celcom is at the stage of changing its nodes to be Long Term Evolution or LTE-ready.
“It is like changing the wheels of a running train. While we must continue business as usual, we also need to transform and evolve,” he says.
The whole transformation leads to ubiquitous access.
It wants to be the company that provides access to users wherever, whenever and however. Shazalli says “who owns the (infrastructure) is secondary, but who sits on it is what we want.”
“Companies like ours will have to make choices where we want to specialise and where we want to dominate. There will no longer be a mass approach to a highly-segmented market as companies will take unique positions in the concept of your offerings,” he says.
Picking its spots does not mean Celcom will ignore the mass market, It wants to be good at a few areas and focus on that.
He says the “need to” serve all market segments will blur over time.
A model at Celcom’s launch of the full touch screen smartphone by BlueBerry.
For ubiquitous access, it needs to work with other players and that is why it has partnerships with Telekom Malaysia for its high speed broadband access and with DiGi.Com Bhd on sharing of infrastructure. So while it builds, directly or via partnerships, it will have the access for its users.
The transformation is not complete if it does not reorganise itself. The days of having a single chief to handle everything, be it marketing to infrastructure development, is fast fading. This is an era where there is one CEO but multiple heads where each manages a separate segment of the business.
He has broken the organisation structure into three units where he oversees the consumer needs. Technology is headed by Suresh Sidhu (formerly from Axiata Group and before that Maxis Bhd) and there is another unit that takes the support services (human resource, finance and admin) role. Farid Yunus is the head of strategy for Celcom.
The transformation also covers the element of energising Celcom’s talent so that it can provide the service expected from consumers.
“We are in an era where there is an explosion of data and now it is an issue of how we manage that. It is about an organisation that is ready to manage voice and data business in parallel,” he says.
To him, a long-term view is no longer 10-20 years. The business window is as short as 3-5 years, as technology changes everything fast. And within that window, Celcom has to look at its ability in terms of where its strength lies and which areas it gets the most revenue. “The area we think we can continue to dominate is data ubiquity,” Shazalli says.
And in areas they are not good at, it works with other players under the mobile virtual network operator (MNVO) concept to maximise its infrastructure. It has four MVNO partners that allow it access to different segments of the market.
In all that it is doing, does it have the stickiness to keep its consumers since ubiquitous access is what it is striving for?
“We are not there yet and we need to engage with customers clearly. But we cannot do it fully as we do not have the full market intelligence and systems. We do not know what exactly they want. But we are putting all the building blocks together and we should be there,” he says.
Shazalli adds that by 2015, “our data will be 50% of our business from 38% now, and there still will be the voice business.”