Want to know the secret of telecoms success in the next 10 years? Here’s what Jeff Bezos reckons

I often get asked what the telecoms market will be like in 10 years. More recently, this question is framed in the 6G timeframe. “What will the 6G market be like Teresa?” people ask. “When will that be? And what is 6G exactly?” I reply. “Oh around 2030, and we’re still not sure,” they say somewhat unconvincingly. “Faster speeds though,” they add, confident at least of that.

The fact that we’re only in the early stages of 5G hasn’t stopped our industry from jumping forward to thinking about the next shiny thing and how we can make it better. To some extent that’s inevitable. But what’s also inevitable is that we continue to overlook the fundamentals of telecoms – by which I mean all communications technologies irrespective of network type – provision from the customer’s perspective.

Apparently Jeff Bezos gets asked similar questions about the future of retail.

I very frequently get the question: ‘what’s going to change in the next 10 years?’ And that’s a very interesting question; it’s a very common one. I almost never get the question: ‘what’s not going to change in the next 10 years?’ And I submit to you that that second question is actually the more important of the two.”

Jeff Bezos

Bezos says that it’s actually the things that are not going to change that you can build a business strategy around. Things that he says “are stable in time”. In the retail business that’s lower prices, faster delivery and bigger range, according to Bezos. “It’s impossible to imagine a future 10 years from now where a customer comes up and says, ‘Jeff I love Amazon, I just wish the prices were a little higher [or] I love Amazon, I just wish you’d deliver a little more slowly.’” He concludes that when you have something you know is true over the long term, you can afford to put a lot of energy into it.

The telecoms equivalents of these things that are “stable in time” are also fundamental truths about what our customers want. I’d argue that what our customers most want today are clarity, usability, relevance and trust.

They are sick of what they perceive to be a lack of honesty in service providers who aren’t clear about terms & conditions, revel in overage charges, and confuse them with bills. They’re fed up about advertising that says nothing about their lives and makes service providers look out of touch and sometimes even a bit ridiculous.

Yes, I’m talking about you EE and your 5G-enabled shaving robot on top of a mountain. How many drugs do you need to be taking to come up with such an idea in the middle of a global pandemic when access to mountains was somewhat aspirational? Have you already forgotten Greta? How out of touch with your own green credentials are you when you fly barbers chairs, robots and a film crew to the top of a remote mountain in Wales simply to make an ad? That’s a little bit more of Bangladesh you flooded right there. Go plant a few more trees and reflect on what you just communicated.

In fact, one of the most powerful customer experiences I ever had was from a humble Amazon CSR. When I offered to send in a photo of a broken delivery he said it wasn’t necessary and followed up with: “we trust our customers”. Of course he had data in front of him that showed I’d been a customer for 20 years and rarely complained. I was unlikely to be lying. But his words reminded me of how abused I’d become. I’d become so used to businesses disrespecting me and telling me in a multitude of ways that I couldn’t be trusted and that my loyalty and spending weren’t valued.

Yes, I’m talking to you CSPs who save all the good deals for new customers and fob me off with disdain when I say my quality of experience is terrible. (‘Our data shows there’s nothing wrong with the network in your area’ roughly translates to ‘you must be mad, stupid, deluded or just enjoy complaining – now go away because you’re ruining my KPIs’.)

Networks, products and prices will change beyond recognition in the next 10 years, but the fundamentals of how we treat our customers – the things that should be stable – also need both change and investment, because at the moment we’re not doing so well on these. Maybe because we always seem to have a weather eye on faster networks rather than a steady gaze on our customers.

Here’s the 5G-enabled shaving robot ad, just in case you missed it. I also checked EE’s coverage map (1 August 2021) and as far as I can tell there’s no 5G coverage 729 metres up Mount Snowdon, unless it’s some kind of stealth 5G.