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By Tala Issa

It has been two years since Virgin Mobile brought the first fully digital mobile service to the country. Virgin Mobile offers a simple and transparent technology through its innovative app-based service. It prides itself on delivering an unmatched consumer experience and continues to find ways to improve its service. Telecom Review had the opportunity to sit down with Karim Benkirane, managing director, Virgin Mobile UAE, to discuss how Virgin Mobile keeps up with customer demands.

Virgin Mobile has recently celebrated its 2nd anniversary in the UAE. How was the journey so far and what have you been working on in the past year?

It has been an eventful couple of years for Virgin Mobile. We first entered the market in September 2017, launching the world’s first fully digital mobile brand. Since then, Virgin Mobile has been dedicated to delivering a continuous stream of mobile ‘firsts’ to the UAE. Virgin Mobile has introduced a remarkable number of innovations in its two years of operation. We provide an app-based service, unique home-delivery service, and even flexible plans that can be paused while travelling. We have improved our service with over 70 app updates and 30 major new features. This is all based on customer feedback. We want to make our customer experience the best in the telecom industry. Virgin Mobile has also won 22 industry awards in recognition of its customer-centric digital proposition throughout the first two years in operation. We started on a solid foundation and set out our company values. We put our employees first and built a strong culture. The end product will always reflect the ethos of the company.

Our two most exciting projects happen to be around the two most disruptive technologies in telecoms in the past 12 months: eSIM and 5G. Virgin Mobile was among the first mobile brands to launch eSIM in November in the UAE last year. We were also the first to offer customers the opportunity to order or switch to eSIM services via the Virgin Mobile app without having to visit the store. In June 2019, Virgin Mobile launched the new ZTE 5G handset. We offered UAE residents the chance to be amongst the first in the country to get their hands on the new mobile device. Of course, we delivered the devices straight to the home using our home-delivery service. Customers could order their 5G device from the Virgin Mobile website with the possibility to pay in instalments. This was the case with the launch of Huawei 5G handset and, most recently, the new Samsung Galaxy Note 10 + 5G. 

Last September, we also launched our new ‘Add SIM’ feature, bringing SIMs, free minutes and simplicity together to help Virgin Mobile customers easily manage their family mobile services. Customers can now add up to four mobile plans onto their main account via the Virgin Mobile app, with each SIM plan fully customizable for each additional member, allowing families to mix and match their data and minutes via the Virgin Mobile app in order to suit everyone’s needs. 

Virgin Mobile has always pushed boundaries in the telco sector. As we enter into our third year, we are continuously innovating in order to provide the very best product and customer experience for our users. We are contributing to the UAE’s 2021 Vision in following a strategy of innovation.

Looking forward to 2020, we are focused on delivering even more cutting-edge services, exciting digital features and bigger partnerships to meet our ever-changing customer needs. We will continue our journey on delivering an all-round amazing mobile experience.

Why is customer experience so important and how is Virgin Mobile leading in this field?

Customer experience is a key trend for the industry. Emerging technologies are changing customer expectations, and impacting their loyalty to traditional products and brands. At Virgin Mobile, our fundamental quality is to provide a superior customer experience.

The GCC region has some of the top countries in the world for digital adoption, with more than 100 percent smartphone penetration and more than 70 percent social media adoption - even higher than the United States. Consumers have constant access to exciting digital experiences and on-demand service. Brands must be responsive to the needs of the consumer. The telecom industry must create compelling digital propositions that meet customer needs by simplifying and improving the experience and relationship that customers have with their brand.

Virgin Mobile is rooted in understanding customer needs and therefore providing a service experience that suits their evolving requirements. We want to offer a unique service and make customers feel important. Our brand purpose – Making Mobile Better – challenges the status quo. It is tailored to customer needs and is continuously evolving to drive quality of service.

In launching our fully digital proposition, we sought to meet these expectations by reimagining the way our customers interact with our brand. The Virgin Mobile UAE app redefined the mobile onboarding process, allowing customers to choose their number, customize their plan and receive their SIM card at their home, thus avoiding any stress or hassle for the customer. Our customers have complete flexibility to set their usage plans and change them monthly, without any long-term commitment base on a subscription model. All of these interactions can be completed in-app, revolutionizing the customer experience for telcos in the Middle East.

To ensure we are continuously innovating and providing an amazing mobile experience, we actively listen to consumer feedback. By actively listening to customers and using A/B-testing, we deliver a product and proposition that is built by and for our customers. Through this customer feedback service, we have developed innovative features such as up-to-the-second billing so customers can amend their plans according to their actual usage and have the ability to pause your plan when you travel.

With digitalization reshaping consumer’s demand, how can mobile operators remain relevant to their customers’ evolving needs? And what has Virgin Mobile done with regards to this? 

While this can seem a daunting challenge, it is indeed exciting for telco service providers in the region to rise up to the demand.

The key to the success of mobile operators will be in deciding if they want to move beyond their core business to becoming a digital navigator. They must be willing to change their traditional mindset to adopt an agile, digital business model that puts digital engagement at the center of everything they do. They will also need to be open for partnerships to stay competitive and relevant to their audience.

Mobile operators need to be bold and start digitizing the customer journey to get positive results. Not only can this reduce the cost to serve, but it will also delight customers and uplift the customer experience – ultimately driving top-line growth and higher retention. One way for telcos to achieve this is to keep the customer in mind and build products that simplify their lives and interactions with your brand. By doing so, you are ensuring that your brand builds trust and integrity through transparency and strong customer experiences.  

The launch of our digital strategy symbolizes a paradigm shift in the mobile industry and truly disrupts the digital landscape in the region. A purpose-led, deeply experiential mobile brand, Virgin Mobile delivers a consumer-centric approach, focused on making mobile better. This is at the heart of our business and customer strategy.

Aside from constantly enhancing our overall customer journey and user experience, we are also committed to adding more value to our portfolio by partnering with equally disruptive brands such as Apple, Careem and Netflix that share the same innovative approach towards digitalization. As the digital era continues to revolutionize the industry, Virgin Mobile will still be at the forefront offering more ways to bring about a seamless, optimal experience to our customers.

How is Virgin Mobile adapting to the growth of OTT media services?

Virgin Mobile globally has always pushed boundaries in the telco sector. Being a fully digital brand, we view OTT media services as an opportunity to elevate our strength as an app-based model. It is a way to create new digital offerings that will enable us to complement streaming services. For example, we have partnered with Netflix to offer customers the option to register and pay for their Netflix subscriptions via the Virgin mobile app. This feature allows our customers to manage digital subscriptions and enjoy streaming content through a single app and device, thereby delivering a seamless customer experience and meeting the expectations of today’s switched-on consumer. This, in turn, brings revenues through driving both new customer sign-ups and increasing brand loyalty and retention.

With the rollout of 5G, the network will turn a new chapter in the digital world and telco brands will have to step up and creatively look for avenues to showcase their range of services and products. We are working on more partnerships in the coming months to support and enlarge this growing opportunity.

Where do you see the telecom industry going within the next few years? 

It is nothing new that the telecom landscape has always been in constant evolution. With the growing importance of digitalization, it is safe to say that the years ahead of us will show big changes. The traditional physical SIM will leave more room for the new eSIM, simplifying the customer’s journey and allowing multiple lines in one single handset. It is thought that eSIM-based devices will see a 550 percent increase from 2018. They are set to reach almost two billion units by 2025. The growth of eSIMs will revolutionize how the connectivity across the devices will be activated and managed. The connected devices such as mobile hotspots, routers, connected PCs, drones and smartwatches would grow at a higher rate due to a relatively smaller base of adoption right now.

For telcos, eSIMs can significantly reduce the SIM distribution and activation costs with the potential to generate higher roaming revenues. The rise of the fifth-generation wireless network (5G) will, more than ever, encourage a mobile brand to develop a business model that is agile and innovative to keep up with the requirements of this new technology and make the most out of it.

With the rise of an increasingly young, digitally-savvy customer base, the telecommunications industry must not be left behind and must continue to innovate by listening to customers’ needs and demands. Millennials, as an example, are happy to switch brands if it’s not working out for them so brands must continually deliver a customer experience that meets or exceeds their expectations. These trends seem to be being mapped across to Gen Z, who will outnumber millennials for the first time this year. Like millennials, Gen Z tend to value time and ease when choosing a brand or service and are more risk-averse than previous generations. Telcos will have to keep this in mind for the future generation – spending a lengthy amount of time instore, complicated propositions and having to commit to long-term contracts will be no-goes for this generation.

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