CEO of Telekom Srbija Group, a provider of fixed-line, mobile, television and internet communication services to over 11 million subscribers
The world of telecommunications has always been a dynamic industry, but the pace of technological change now seems to be faster than ever, and the shifts are tectonic in magnitude. The internet of things, 5G and cybersecurity all top the list of the major shifts in telecommunications. These technological advances have helped force changes to business operating models and a redesign of the workforce. Combined with an ever-globalizing economy, standing still is not an option.
As someone who has been a leader in telecommunications in Serbia for two decades, I wanted to share some of what I’ve learned while leading my company in seizing the opportunities presented by technological and social transformation.
Twenty-five years ago, when I landed my first job out of university as a telephone engineer, my boss told me it was all about one thing: keeping the customer happy. The telephone infrastructure had to work as close to 100% of the time as possible, and consumers had to be able to stay connected, primarily with fixed phone lines. Back then the internet was still in its infancy and mobile phones were just taking off.
Despite technological advances, my guiding principle hasn’t changed: be customer-centric. But even as a consumer-focused industry, we can’t only react to what the customers want. In order to be truly customer-centric, we have to anticipate what’s coming and understand the direction technology and society is taking. In March 2020, when the world was hit by Covid-19, suddenly everything had to happen online: school, university, business meetings and doctor’s appointments. There was little warning, but we had to deliver because our customers were demanding it.
Since the pandemic, customers of all types have migrated quickly to the digital workplace and in a nanosecond, high-quality network connectivity became a prerequisite for business continuity. This led to an unexpected surge in fixed and mobile network traffic. In addition to fulfilling increased network requirements and ensuring resilient connectivity, telecom providers had to update their offerings overnight.
My company’s strategy in the crisis was to leverage digital technologies and introduce products we previously did not offer, such as cloud and virtual network solutions. When offering new services, you have to make sure they are reliable, flexible and secure. But services like this are just the start for the industry and for users to continue to push for better packages, connectivity and features.
To be a competitive provider, you need to carefully develop strategies that combine expansion appetites with a customer-focused attitude. Aim to find the right balance between expanding your markets in your region and making sure to accommodate the needs of your existing subscribers. Work on customized packages, strengthen your products and services and look out for places to improve.
As an example of this, following an assessment of the market in North Macedonia, my company decided to first launch satellite television, followed by mobile packages and fixed lines. We felt this was the best sequence to break into the new market. One of the best and most guaranteed avenues of expansion is bringing connectivity to remote, rural and underserviced areas. Our company discovered interested customers who speak our languages but live outside the region. We offered them satellite television as a way to stay connected with their culture as well as mobile subscriptions to stay connected with their loved ones. Our presence in markets outside the region has enabled us to reach a new category of customers and has laid the foundation for building our brand internationally.
As I said at the outset: standing still is not an option. But the way we respond to the incredible transformation we find ourselves in will chart our path well into the future. The challenges we face may be unprecedented, but we are an industry built on going where no one has gone before. As Albert Einstein said, “The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”
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