Telco economics: The price of loyalty

The Cost of Churn for Mobile Operators

Customer churn continues to present a significant and costly challenge to the mobile industry. Churn rates for MNOs can range from less than 0.75% per month (c. 9% pa) to over 5% per month (80% pa). Postpay rates of churn are usually lower and typically lie between 0.75% and 3% per month (c. 9–43% pa), whereas prepay churn typically lies between 3% and 5% (30–80%pa), although it can be as low as 1% in some circumstances, for example when number portability is not permitted.

The costs of churn are felt in several ways. The major costs come from lost revenues from customers churning away and the costs of acquiring new customers to replace them. During periods of high growth operators can also lose significant market share, and hence revenues and profit, if much of their expenditure on acquiring new customers is devoted to replacing customers that have churned away, rather than on growing their subscriber base.

Analysis of data published by operators shows that average costs of acquisition (CoA) are about four times average monthly ARPU, and it will therefore typically take over four months’ revenue to repay the SAC incurred. The figure is slightly higher on average for postpay customers at about 4½, whereas prepay CoA is on average between 1½ and 1¾ times ARPU.

We estimate that the industry average EBITDA is around 25%, so for an individual postpay subscriber it will take on average 17 months to repay the investment from EBITDA. With typical contract lengths of 24 months, this does not leave much time to generate a positive margin.

These costs mean that it is important for operators to find ways of minimising churn and of maintaining it at a low level.

Some level of churn is inevitable, since customers may move to a new region or country, die, or perhaps acquire a new phone and subscription from their employers as part of their job. Other forms of churn are largely voluntary, and operators have to focus their efforts on these if they are to contain their costs of doing business.

In doing so, operators can find it worthwhile to take into account the different characteristics of their customers. Some people show a much greater propensity to churn and are always seeking improved tariffs or a better deal, but many others remain loyal. If the latter churn, they are more likely to do so for other reasons, such as poor quality of service.

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Mobile Operators Strategies for Reducing Churn

In an attempt to find an effective means of reducing churn, mobile operators have adopted a variety of churn reduction strategies. These include:

  • Offering financial or other incentives to customers who are about to churn, such as discounted handsets or tariff bundles.
  • Monitoring usage and using data analytics to predict which customers are likely to churn in the near future and offering them incentives and improved service bundles.
  • Using more flexible contracts to allow early upgrades or other changes.
  • Giving bonuses (e.g. extra minutes or increased data allowances) or other rewards for loyalty.
  • Offering multiple services, such as quad play, to increase the stickiness of their service.
  • Offering additional and popular services, such as Spotify or Netflix, at attractive rates or bundled with basic services, or discounted entry to events.
  • Improving overall customer experience and service quality to reduce the triggers for churn. This can include significant organisational and cultural changes and efficiency improvements including increased automation. Changes include transfer of customer support functions to marketing, and the introduction of chatbots and apps to speed up and improve handling of routine customer enquiries.

Causes of Customer Churn

This report reviews the causes of churn and the characteristics of customers that are most likely to churn. It draws on examples from operators’ experiences to illustrate different strategies used by operators to reduce churn and to establish which approaches have proved most successful in delivering reductions in the level of churn or in maintaining low levels that have already been achieved. It also looks at the costs associated with churn and their impact on revenues and profitability. Operators discussed include TELUS, O2 and Telstra, which provide examples of MNOs that have achieved low levels of churn, and Globe, which provides useful insight into the different customer behaviours found in a predominately prepay and multi-SIM market and an example of the relationship between churn and SAC.

Contents:

  • Executive Summary
  • Actions of successful operators
  • Financial implications of churn
  • Benchmarks
  • Introduction
  • Causes and costs of churn and remedies
  • Customer behaviours
  • Costs of churn
  • Common approaches to reducing churn
  • Case studies and results
  • TELUS: churn fell over five years
  • O2 outsourcing: changing approach to customer experience
  • Telstra: analytics and customer experience
  • Globe Telecom: costs of churn
  • Cricket: reducing churn in low-cost prepay
  • Adjacent and complementary services
  • Conclusions
  • Customer behaviours
  • Costs of churn
  • Actions of successful operators
  • Benchmarks
  • Resulting organisational and financial issues faced by operators
  • Recommendations

Figures:

  • Figure 1: Share of TELUS revenues taken by SAC and SRC
  • Figure 2: Costs of churn when CoA = 50% annual ARPU
  • Figure 3: Examples of reasons/triggers for customer churn
  • Figure 4: Mobile customer characteristics
  • Figure 5: Customer average lifetime versus lifetime value
  • Figure 6: Relative proportions of customer types in mature markets
  • Figure 7: Costs of churn when CoA = 50% annual ARPU
  • Figure 8: Costs of churn when CoA = 80% annual ARPU
  • Figure 9: Costs of churn when CoA = 10% annual ARPU
  • Figure 10: TELUS monthly churn
  • Figure 11: TELUS EBITDA
  • Figure 12: TELUS monthly ARPU 2007–2016
  • Figure 13: TELUS SAC and SRC % of revenues
  • Figure 14: TELUS costs of acquisition and ARPU
  • Figure 15: TELUS SAC, SRC and EBITDA
  • Figure 16: UK MNOs blended churn
  • Figure 17: O2 customer satisfaction
  • Figure 18: Telstra annual postpay churn 2012–2017
  • Figure 19: Telstra revenues by service
  • Figure 20: Telstra ARPU
  • Figure 21: Telstra EBITDA
  • Figure 22: Globe prepay customers 2011–2017
  • Figure 23: Globe postpay customers 2012–2017
  • Figure 24: Globe revenues 2012–2017
  • Figure 25: Globe and TM prepay and postpay monthly churn
  • Figure 26: Inverse relationship between Globe’s postpay SAC and churn
  • Figure 27: Examples of costs of churn and CoA

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Telco digital customer engagement: What makes a winning strategy?

Introduction

Customer experience is at the centre of telcos’ digital transformation efforts

Telecoms is one of many industries that are transitioning towards becoming more digitalised businesses. More specifically within digital transformation, the need to be customer-centric, and improve customer engagement, has been a crucial theme in telco digital transformation efforts. This is exemplified by Orange’s CEO Stèphane Richard who recently claimed that users needed to be “at the core of systems”.

As revenue growth in the industry continues to decline and telecom operators’ core services become commoditised, customer experience remains as one of the few areas operators can differentiate themselves from their competitors and maintain relevance with consumers. This places greater need for operators to make customer engagement a priority.

The way in which telcos engage customers has changed dramatically in recent years through the growth of different channels and touch-points a customer has access to. This is often contributed to the rapid adoption of smartphones and tablets, initiated by the launch of the iPhone in 2007, and the speedy adoption of social media platforms like Facebook (launched 2004) and Twitter (launched in 2006). Customers now expect businesses to be digitally savvy, knowledgeable and “joined-up” in their interactions with them.

There is no shortage of commentators and technology providers extolling the virtues of a more customercentric focus, urging operators adopt an omnichannel approach. By integrating online, call centre and bricks-and-mortar store customer experiences – through omnichannel capabilities – the promise to operators is that they can deliver joined-up customer experiences: simultaneously improving the effectiveness of telecoms marketing by building a ‘single-view’ of the customer, reducing time spent on resolving customer service issues, and preventing data from getting stuck in specific siloes.

But are these investments in technology (and the considerable internal resource implications) really a priority for operators or just another example of technology vendors pushing operators to spend more on expensive capabilities that they will never benefit from? Our survey suggests that those operators who have built omnichannel capabilities are reaping the rewards. However, operators also appreciate that success is not just down to implementing fancy systems: it’s also about what you do with them and having the right skills.

Telcos’ benchmarks come from within and outside the industry

Although most telcos are investing in their efforts to digitise the customer experience, it may not be obvious where they should be concentrating their efforts and what targets they should be aiming for. For this, there is a need to determine what the relevant benchmarks are when it comes to best-practice for digital engagement, how well they stack up and how they should seek to close the gap.

Telcos are looking to learn from outside their industry as customer engagement is a domain that all businesses constantly seek to improve. Digital natives, companies such as Google, Facebook and Netflix that started off as digital businesses and did not have to make a transition from legacy practices, are often leading the way when it comes to offering customers a truly digitized experience. However, for a telco, it may seem like an unrealistic dream to replicate their efforts, therefore telcos often look for best-practice examples from other industries, which are undergoing a digital transformation and still have the burden of legacy services, systems, processes, people and infrastructure. These industries include finance, retail and media.

Nonetheless, when comparing telcos’ digital customer engagement to these industries, many different measures suggest that telcos are lagging behind. When looking at cross-industry Net Promoter Scores (NPS), telecoms operators come out at an average of 11% compared to an average of 50% for retail (which leads all industries). The next worst industry, insurance, has an average score of 23%, just over twice that of telecoms.

These statistics suggest there is room for improvement, but in which specific areas do the most critical gaps exist and how should telcos go about changing this?

So, STL Partners has attempted to answer two questions:

  1. What should telcos be aiming for?
  2. How well are telcos measuring up to their ambitions in digital customer engagement?

To address this, we created an online tool to benchmark telcos across various metrics in three domains related to digital customer engagement: commerce, marketing and sales & service.

The Digital Customer Engagement Benchmarking Study5 took place in two phases. The first phase was focused on commerce and took place over July and August 2016. In the second phase, the scope was expanded to include marketing and sales & service and took place in April and May 2017. In total, 70 respondents from 47 telecoms operators took part in the study.

For the purposes of this study, operators are categorised into 2 ‘peer groups’:

  • Mature Market: Medium-high income per user, predominantly post-pay, developed fixed infrastructure
  • Mobile First: Low-Medium income per user, predominantly pre-pay with limited fixed infrastructure

Figure 1: Respondents by region and peer group

chart on global customer experience survey

Source: STL Partners

Contents:

  • Preface
  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Characterising operators’ digital customer engagement strategies
  • Commerce: selling more digitally and selling digitally more
  • Telcos’ online channels are still not being used enough by customers and prospects
  • Revenue benefits from online channels are relatively lower
  • Leveraging digital channels to upsell customers is one way to help drive online revenue
  • Data use is the key differentiator for a successful digital commerce approach
  • What is best practice for commerce?
  • Commerce Case Studies
  • Marketing: this time it’s personal
  • A (good) personalised marketing approach is more likely to secure returns…
  • …but most telcos’ marketing still uses traditional customer segmentation
  • What is best practice for marketing?
  • Marketing Case Studies
  • Sales & Service: Delivering the promise
  • Customers of the Omnichannel operator group are most actively engaged on digital channels
  • Online service engagement requires adequate channels and functionality
  • Omnichannel operators add value to customer service by ensuring complete visibility of customers
  • What is best practice for sales & service?
  • Sales & Service Case Study
  • Conclusions

Figures:

  • Figure 1: Respondents by region and peer group
  • Figure 2: Mapping operator digital customer engagement strategies
  • Figure 3: On average, less than 20% of total sales are from online channels
  • Figure 4: Variation between average telco and best performer across online sales
  • Figure 5: ARPU tends to be higher for customers who purchase their core package on offline channels
  • Figure 6: Mature Market operators have higher online attachment rates than Mobile First
  • Figure 7: Most operators are offering at least one online channel for upgrades
  • Figure 8: Omnichannel operators out-perform in digital commerce
  • Figure 9: Our research shows a link between the levels of personalised marketing and online marketing conversion rate
  • Figure 10: Most operators are not using personalised marketing techniques
  • Figure 11: On average, most customer interactions are not contextual
  • Figure 12: Online marketing conversion rates are at 31% across operators
  • Figure 13: A minority of purchases are being scaled up
  • Figure 14: Omnichannel operators excel in app-based customer engagementrst
  • Figure 15: Omnichannel operators are ahead in the number of channels a customer can use to raise a ticket
  • Figure 16: Omnichannel operators excel in the functionality of their channel offerings
  • Figure 17: Omnichannel operators lead converged billing capabilities
  • Figure 18: Omnichannel operators are on average twice as likely to have complete and partial visibility of customers compared to Digital Nascent operators

Valuing Digital: A Contentious Yet Vital Business

Introduction

Tech VC in 2014: New heights, billion-dollar valuations

Venture capital investment across the mobile, digital and broader technology sectors is soaring. Although it stumbled during the 2008/9 financial crisis, the ecosystem has since recovered with 2013 and 2014 proving to be record-breaking years. Looking at Silicon Valley, for example, 2013 saw deals and funding more than double compared to 2009, and 2014 had already surpassed 2013 by the half-year mark:

Figure 1: Silicon Valley Tech Financing History, 2009-14

Source: CB Insights Venture Capital Database

As Figure 1 shows, growth in funding has outstripped growth in the number of deals: consequently, the average deal size has more than doubled since 2009. In part, this has been driven by a small number of large deals attracting very high valuations, with some of the highest valuations seen by Uber ($41bn), SpaceX ($12bn), Dropbox ($10bn), Snapchat ($10-20bn) and Airbnb ($13bn). Similarly high valuations have been seen in Silicon Valley tech exits, with Facebook’s $19bn acquisition of WhatsApp and Google’s $3.2bn acquisition of Nest two high-profile examples. These billion-dollar valuations are leading many to claim that a dotcom-esque bubble is forming: what can possibly justify such valuations?

In some cases, these concerns are driven by a lack of publicly available information on financial performance: for example, Uber’s leaked dashboard showed its financials to be considerably stronger than analysts’ expectations at the time. In other cases, they appear to be driven by a lack of understanding of the true rationale behind the deal. See, for example, the Connected Home: Telcos vs Google (Nest, Apple, Samsung, +…) and Facebook + WhatsApp + Voice: So What? Executive Briefings.

The Telco Dilemma: What is it all worth?

Against this uncertain backdrop, telecoms operators are expanding into such new mobile and digital services as a means to fill the ‘hunger gap’ left by falling revenues from core services. They are doing so through a mixture of organic and inorganic investment, in different verticals and with varying levels of ambition and success:

Figure 2: % of Revenue from ‘New’ Telco 2.0 Services*, 2013

Source: Telco 2.0 Transformation Index
* Disclaimer: Scope of what is included/excluded varies slightly by operator and depends upon the ability to source reliable data
Note: Vodafone data from 2012/13 financial year 

However, this is a comparatively new area for telcos and many are now asking what is the real ‘value’ of their individual digital initiatives. For example, to what extent are Telefonica’s digital activities leading to a material uplift in enterprise value?

This question is further complicated by the potential for a new service to generate ‘synergy value’ for the acquirer or parent company: just as Google’s $3.2bn+ valuation of Nest was in part driven by the synergy Nest’s sensor data provides to Google’s core advertising business, digital services have also been shown to provide synergy benefits to telcos’ core communications businesses. For example, MTN Mobile Money in Uganda is estimated to have seen up to 48% of its gross profit contribution generated by synergies, such as core churn reduction and airtime distribution savings, as opposed to standard transaction commissions.

Ultimately, without understanding the value of their digital businesses and how this changes over time (capital gain), telcos cannot effectively govern their digital activities. Prioritisation, budget allocation and knowing when to close initiatives (‘fast failure’) within digital is challenging without a clear idea of the return on investment different verticals and initiatives are generating. Understanding valuation was therefore identified as the joint most important success factor for delivering digital services in STL Partners’ recent survey of telco executives:

Figure 3: Importance of factors in successfully delivering digital services (out of 4)

Source: Digital Transformation and Ambition Survey Results, 2014, n=55

Crucially, however, survey respondents also identified developing this understanding as more than two years away from being resolved. In order to accelerate this process, there are three key questions which need to be addressed:

  1. What are the pitfalls to avoid when valuing digital businesses within telecoms operators?
  2. How should telcos model the spin-off value of their digital businesses?
  3. How should telcos think about the ‘synergy value’ generated by their digital businesses?

This Executive Briefing (Part 1) focuses on question 1; questions 2 and 3 will be addressed by future research (Part 2).

 

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Tech VC in 2014: New heights, billion-dollar valuations
  • The Telco Dilemma: What is it all worth?
  • Challenges in Valuing Any Business (Analog or Digital)
  • DCF: Theoretically sound, but less reliable in practice
  • All models are wrong, but some are more useful than others
  • DCF’s shortcomings are magnified with digital businesses
  • Practical Issues: Lessons from Uber, Google, Skype and Spotify
  • A Conceptual Issue: Lessons from Facebook
  • Proxy Models: An improvement on DCF?
  • The Synergy Problem: A challenge for any valuation technique
  • Synergies are Real: Case studies from mobile money, cloud services and the connected home
  • Synergies are Problematic: Challenges for valuation in four areas
  • Conclusions
  • STL Partners and Telco 2.0: Change the Game

 

  • Figure 1: Silicon Valley Tech Financing History, 2009-14
  • Figure 2: % of Revenue from ‘New’ Telco 2.0 Services, 2013
  • Figure 3: Importance of factors in successfully delivering digital services (out of 4)
  • Figure 4: Sensitivity of DCF valuation to assumptions on free cash flow growth
  • Figure 5: Different buyer/seller valuations support a range of potential sales prices
  • Figure 6: Impact of addressable market and market share on Uber’s DCF valuation
  • Figure 7: Facebook vs. yield businesses, EV/revenue multiple, 2014
  • Figure 8: Facebook monthly active users vs. valuation, Q1 2010-Present
  • Figure 9: Three potential investor approaches to modelling Facebook’s value
  • Figure 10: MTN Mobile Money Uganda, Gross Profit Contribution, 2009-12
  • Figure 11: Monthly churn rates for MTN Mobile Money Uganda users (three months)
  • Figure 12: Conceptual and practical challenges caused by synergy value

 

Telco 2.0: Making Money from Location Insights

Preface

The provision of Location Insight Services (LIS) represents a significant opportunity for Telcos to monetise subscriber data assets. This report examines the findings of a survey conducted amongst representatives of key stakeholders within the emerging ecosystem, supplemented by STL Partners’ research and analysis with the objective of determining how operators can release the value from their unique position in the location value chain.

The report concentrates on the Location Insight Services (LIS), which leverage the aggregated and anonymised data asset derived from connected consumers’ mobile location data, as distinct from Location Based Services (LBS), which are dependent on the availability of individual real time data.

The report draws the distinction between Location Insight Services that are Person-centric and those that are Place-centric and assesses the different uses for each data set.

In order to service the demand from specific use cases as diverse as Benchmarking, Transport & Infrastructure Planning, Site Selection and Advertising Evaluation, operators face a choice between fulfilling the role of Data Supplier, providing the market with Raw Big Data or offering Professional Services, adding value through a combination of location insight reports and interpretation consultancy.

The report concludes with a comparative evaluation of options for operators in the provision of LIS services and a series of recommendations for operators to enable them to release the value in Location Insight Services.

Location data – untapped oil

The ubiquity of mobile devices has led to an explosion in the amount of location-specific data available and the market has been quick to capitalise on the opportunity by developing a range of Location-Based Services offering consumers content (in the form of information, promotional offers and advertising). Industry analysts predict that this market sector is already worth nearly $10 billion.

The vast majority of these Location Based Services (LBS) are dependent on the availability of real time data, on the reasonable assumption that knowing an individual’s location enables a company to make an offer that is more relevant, there and then.  But within the mobile operator community, there is a growing conviction that a wider opportunity exists in deriving Location Insight Services (LIS) from connected consumers’ mobile location data. This opportunity does not necessarily require real time data (see Figure 9). The underlying premise is that identification of repetitive patterns in location activity over time not only enables a much deeper understanding of the consumer in terms of behaviour and motivation, but also builds a clearer picture of the visitor profile of the location itself.

Figure 1:  Focus of this study is on Location Insight Services
Focus of this Study on Location Insight Services

  • As part of our Telco 2.0 Initiative, we have surveyed a number of companies from within the evolving location ecosystem to assess the potential value of operator subscriber data assets in the provision of Location Insight Services. This report examines the findings and illustrates how operators can release the value from their unique position in the location value chain.

Location Insight Services is a fast growing, high value opportunity

The demand is “Where”?

For operators to invest in the technology and resources required to enter this market, a compelling business case is required. Firstly, various analysts have confirmed that there is a massive latent demand for location-centric information within the business community to enable the delivery of location-specific products and services that are context-relevant to the consumer. According to the Economist Business Unit, there is a consensus amongst marketers that location information is an important element in developing marketing strategy, even for those companies where data on customer and prospect location is not currently collected.3

Figure 2: Location is seen as the most valuable information for developing marketing strategy
Location is seen as the most valuable information for developing marketing strategy

Source: Mind the marketing gap – A report from Economist Business Intelligence Unit

Scoping the LIS opportunity by industry and function

In order to understand the market potential for Location Insight Services, we have considered both industry sectors and job functions where insights derived from location data at scale improve business efficiencies. Our research has suggested that Location Insight Services have an application to many organisations that are seeking to address the broader issue of how to extract the benefits concealed within Big Data.

A recent report from Cisco concentrating on how to unlock the value of digital analytics suggested that Big Data has an almost universal application and

“Big Data could help almost any organization run better and more efficiently. A service provider could improve the day-to-day operations of its network. A retailer could create more efficient and lucrative point-of-sale interactions. And virtually any supply chain would run more smoothly. Overall, a common information fabric would improve process efficiency and provide a complete asset view.” 

Our research suggests that the following framework facilitates understanding of the different elements that together comprise the market for non-real time Location Insight Services.

The matrix considers the addressable market by reference to vertical industry sectors and horizontal function or disciplines.

We have rated the opportunities High, Medium and Low based on a high level assessment of the potential for uptake within each defined segment. In order to produce an estimate of the potential market size for non-real time Location Insight Services, STL Partners have taken into account the current revenue estimates for both industry sectors and functions.

Figure 3:  Location Insight Market Overview (telecoms excluded)
Location Insight Services Market Taxonomy

Report Contents

  • Preface
  • Executive Summary
  • Location data – untapped oil
  • Location Insight Services is a fast growing, high value opportunity
  • Scoping the LIS opportunity by industry and function
  • Location Insight Services could be worth $11bn globally by 2016
  • Which use cases will drive uptake of LIS?
  • Use cases – industry-specific illustrations
  • How should Telcos “productise” location insights services?
  • Operators are uniquely placed to deliver location insights and secure a significant share of this opportunity
  • What is the operator LIS value proposition?
  • Location insight represents a Big Data challenge for Telcos.
  • There is a demand for more granular location data
  • Increasing precision commands a premium
  • Meeting LIS requirements – options for operators
  • What steps should operators take?
  • Methodology and reference sources
  • References
  • Appendix 1 – Opportunity Sizing
  • Definition
  • Methodology

 

  • Figure 1: Focus of this study is on Location Insight Services
  • Figure 2: Location is seen as the most valuable information for developing marketing strategy
  • Figure 3: Location Insight Market Overview (telecoms excluded)
  • Figure 4: The value of Global Location Insight Services by industry and sector (by 2016)
  • Figure 5: How UK retail businesses use location based insights
  • Figure 6: Illustrative use cases within the Location Insights taxonomy
  • Figure 7: How can Telcos create value from customer data?
  • Figure 8: Key considerations for Telco LIS service strategy formulation
  • Figure 9: Real time service vs. Insight
  • Figure 10: The local link in global digital markets
  • Figure 11: Customer Data generated by Telcos
  • Figure 12: Power of insight from combining three key domains
  • Figure 13: Meeting LIS Requirements – Options for Operators