The implementation of 5G will help Romania to become more digital, while enabling transformation and modernization in the country, Vodafone and UPC CEO Murielle Lorilloux told Business Review.
Vodafone has taken over UPC Romania and entered a new market: convergent services. What does that mean for the customers of UPC?
We closed the deal on 1 August, after a long period of preparation, having done a lot of work with both teams, Vodafone and UPC. So, completion of the deal was the first priority. Now, we’re starting a new journey: being together and undertaking integration.
From the customer’s point of view, we will continue to leverage the strengths we have on both sides, mobile and fixed, and our customers will continue to enjoy the quality of services, products and delivery that they receive today. We don’t want to rush and do too much disruption on that, because we are already delivering a good quality of services and we will continue to do so. Of course, on the longer term, we are certainly going to leverage us being together by building a convergent portfolio of new benefits, new services and new innovations. This is an ongoing process, it takes some time to perfect, because we’ve just started the journey and we need to build it together. We had to balance when we’re going to launch the new services or new benefits with doing it well, because, if we had done it too fast, the results might not have been too great and our clients would not be satisfied with what we are delivering. So, we had to prepare for it – there is a lot of IT and systems integration at stake. We also wished to produce meaningful services and benefits for customers and, when we are ready, we will offer these new services and products to them, which is actually going to be very soon. So, I’d say: if you are a Vodafone or UPC customer, be prepared, we will have great services and benefits to come.
You described a lot of challenges for the management related to this integration. What are the main priorities you are addressing right now?
At the moment we have three priorities. The first one is to preserve: we have two successful companies and we want to continue to deliver on our traditional businesses, on each component: mobile, fixed, TV and so on. So, that is our first priority, to continue to deliver well to our combined customer base, on all our core services. We also want to accelerate our growth, of course, and in order to do so, we need to bring new benefits, new services, new innovation to our customers – and this is the second priority we have. The third priority, and perhaps the most important one, is to work together. We need to have the combined teams sitting and working together, learning about each other, understanding each and every business and how to integrate them and to have the best seamless customer experience. And this has definitely started from day 1 of the integration. Both teams are engaged now and it will definitely take some time to discover how to build together.
Vodafone’s core business is mobile, but now you are entering a new market, with different competitors. How do you see the Romanian market in terms of competition?
There is a new market to address, but on the corporate segment, we were already in this market in some way through components of our own network. On the corporate side, for our business clients, we had already a full portfolio to offer, from mobile and fixed to IoT services.
So, on this side, I would say that it is going to be rather marginal in terms of integration. On the consumer side, there will be added value due to a converged portfolio, and it will be for sure a great opportunity not only for us against the competition, but, first of all, for our customers – to have all the benefits from our side. Regarding the competition: from the first day I joined Vodafone Romania, I have always said that the competition in this country is unbelievable. It is a very tough market from a competitive point of view and this is to the benefit of the customers.
Maybe the competition will change, because all of us have our challenges, but on our side, I see many more opportunities. We will become, together, one of the biggest challengers among the mobile & fixed players in the market and I think that this is a really great opportunity.
Members of Generation Z are now becoming adults and are also becoming your clients. They grew up in a very technological environment – and your business is very technology-related. How are these new clients changing your business – and your market?
They are the future and they are also, sometimes, the trend-setters. I think that one of the key components for them is to have the best experience. They don’t want to waste time, they want to get what they need quickly and easily.
And I think this is all about digital. For over a year, I have set as a priority our digital transformation and the goal to become a tech company, not only a telecom one. This is still moving forward in parallel with the integration with UPC. For me, digital transformation is not only important for the young generations to come, but it is important for the entire Romanian society – the corporate side, the general public, young adults and all our customers.
That’s why this is at the top of our priorities. I could talk for an hour about digital, whether I’m talking about digital content, digital gears, digital sales, digital interactions, and we have already implemented a lot of IT capabilities that we needed to develop in order to have the right applications and customer experience from a digital point of view. We have different teams and different tasks for that; it is definitely one of our biggest priorities.
In many areas, from medical to tech companies, the trend is to create personalized offers for clients. How is this seen in your business?
We have already started this journey, of being more relevant to each and every customer, doing personalized offers for them, providing, of course, GDPR consent, which has changed a lot the way we interact with our customers.
But if we have the customers’ consent, we have the possibility to provide 7 to 10 times more personalized offers for our customer base than before, and we are continuing to make improvements. There are two things here: customization and personalized offers for your needs, and also Big Data and Machine Learning. Because the more we personalize, the more we see the reaction of the customer base and we continue to learn.
We have also developed some Machine Learning, Big Data and Artificial Intelligence models in order to continue to learn and improve our customization. This is something very important and related to digital because you can have a personalized offer from a call center agent or from a store agent, but you can also expect this from the digital experience that you get through your website or application and then you expect eventually to have the right push.
So, we are learning, we are proposing more and more push, providing we have customer consent, and what could make sense for you as a customer to get as an offer, and then we can continue to improve and to be more relevant for their needs.
Many warn that Artificial Intelligence threatens jobs. Do you think that this is correct or might we reach some kind of symbiosis between AI-performed tasks and human employees?
This is twofold. Let’s start with the employees. Some of our employees sometimes do repetitive tasks, they want to engage more and they want more power and tools to engage better with the customers they are interacting with.
So, everything is about that: proving to them that with the tool, the intelligence, and the learning through digital solutions that they will actually be able to pitch faster and more efficiently to the customers. The idea is to empower them. Romanians will continue to be Latin people and they will still want to have someone to talk to, to be able to trust and to interact with sometimes.
But Generation Z will maybe need this less than some others and this is fine, because this depends on everybody’s needs. We need to be there – I believe very much in the customer experience. Last year, we insourced our call centers so all call center agents are now Vodafone employees, part of the Vodafone family, with a Vodafone career, understanding the needs of the customer through day-to-day interactions and supporting them. Now, we empower them through the right tools – digital, Big Data, AI – in order to make them more and more relevant and allow them to have more time to interact rather than having too many repetitive tasks. So, I really think that it is a combination of both. You will always have a percentage of your customers who will go fully digital, who think that they don’t need so much personal interaction.
But some will still need personal interaction and we should be ready to offer support to both types of customers.
We are approaching a major event: the 5G auction in Romania. What will really bring large-scale 5G access to Romanian customers?
For me, 5G is really about the future of Romania. It’s all about how fast it will come, how ready the full ecosystem will be and the take-up of the technology for each and every individual, as happened for the 3G or 4G technologies in the past.
In some way, there is a penetration not only of devices, of network coverage. We have already launched 5G services and we will be at the forefront of this technology, we will continue to innovate on this side.
We are doing this together with IoT, because an urban IoT technology is also very important; it is a success factor together with 5G. So, it is about the readiness of society. It is about ideas or solutions that will help Romania to be more digital. It is about having the maturity with the partners, with different stakeholders, and of course, hopefully the 5G auction going right to the success factors. Regarding the ideas or solutions that we can give to the customers: you have heard of lots of IoT solutions coming for a smart city, public transportation, smart homes or smart retail. Some of the solutions can be done through NarrowBand-IoT and we are already doing it. Some others will be bigger with 5G coverage, and we will partner with some key corporate customers or public stakeholders to develop that. I can mention agriculture, utilities, transportation and automotive.
Of course, holograms have been one of the showcases – it is going to be a dream for gamers or music lovers in terms of latency and what they will be able to do. The tourism industry will also be transformed through AR (augmented reality) and VR (virtual reality). They will be able to enrich their portfolios much more than ever before. But they need to be adapted to us. We need to build the future with each industry and, of course, with the public stakeholders to be sure that we have the right success factors for the digital Romania.
Could 5G become a new driver of economic growth?
Absolutely. It will be an enabler of transformation, of modernization, of new businesses to be created.