A company part-owned by Telia is in discussions with European and Asian operators after reporting a three-fold improvement in customer engagement.
The company, eBuilder, produces an app that helps mobile users sort out problems on their phones themselves and directs them to upgraded services from Telia.
“We can lower churn and drive customer loyalty upwards,” Gustav Berghog, product and commercial director at Telia Sweden, tells Global Telecoms Business. “If we see you have a problem we contact you with tips and tricks or suggest an upgrade.”
The eBuilder service now has 100,000 Swedish users among Telia customers, who have given it a Net Promoter Score (NPS) of 29. “The NPS for telecoms operators in Sweden is 1, though Telia is better,” says Morgan Curby, eBuilder’s chief commercial officer.
Operators that eBuilder is now talking to include MTS in Russia, says Leif Bohlin, the company’s CEO. He would not name any other potential customers.
However, since taking over at the company in 2013 he has built up an influential board. It is chaired by Julian Horn-Smith, former Vodafone executive who is on the boards of Digicel and Veon, and board members include Ming Maa, a senior member of the management team at SoftBank. However, Maa is involved in a private capacity.
“We want to build a global network,” Bohlin tells GTB. “But we are also collecting a lot of data on the health of devices. We know the status of batteries and we know if a device is performing badly.”
Around half of the 100,000 Telia customers have experienced no problems – the number of users, he says, is now big enough to provide statistically significant information. “But 30% have small problems and they can change the settings on their own” to improve performance, using the eBuilder app.
“The rest are having quite severe problems and they are in the market for a new device or they are at risk of churning,” says Bohlin. “We can target them with a personalised message.”
The app, which Telia calls Min Mobil, can be downloaded by non-Telia customers, he adds. “Min mobil” means, simply, “my mobile” in Swedish or, if you’re American, “my cell”.
eBuilder, based near Stockholm in Kista, the Swedish city that is home to much of the country’s technology industry, realised that often phones aren’t broken but are just not functioning well. “We’d built up a good knowledge of devices,” says Curby, who worked for Ericsson for 15 years. “We thought people should be able to fix many of these issues themselves.”
Service and differentiation
Telia wanted to increase its focus on services, partly as a way of differentiating itself from other operators in the market.
“People who go into a store are people who don’t want to fix problems themselves.” But if an operator can show some customers how to make simple fixes, there’s clearly an opportunity. “No other operators are doing it today,” says Curby. Telia started a pilot and those first 100,000 customers downloaded the app within six months, he adds.
“If the service is going to be relevant, the app needs to have specific information on the device. What features are available?” The app needs to be able to monitor the battery and storage. “It offers customers what we call ‘tips and tricks’,” Curby adds.
Who are the 100,000? “People who like self-service. We think they are profitable because they are loyal.” How profitable? Telia and eBuilder aren’t sure yet. “Now we have 100,000 users we are going to measure their average revenue and see if there is a difference [from Telia’s other customers in Sweden].”
For Telia, introducing the eBuilder app was a move to “stay relevant” to customers, says Berghog. “It’s not fixed-mobile convergence. That’s a short-term solution. It’s about meeting customers – and at different touch points. It’s about how relevant we are.”
With eBuilder, “we can see if a customer has a device problem and we want to take responsibility”. It’s a way for Telia to differentiate itself compared with lower-cost operators, he adds.
“We will see if we can reduce churn and drive up customer loyalty. If we can see you have a problem, we will contact you with tips and tricks or maybe suggest an upgrade. It makes the service process more efficient.”
The move also gets Telia into new revenue streams. “Service and repair are often done by small shops that are unauthorised. Using them means the handsets are no longer covered by warranty. We can do this much better than they can,” adds Berghog.
Telia moved into the market in a serious way when it bought a chain of Apple service centres in Sweden. Lan-Master became a wholly-owned subsidiary of Telia from April 2016. The business, in operation since 1988, is authorised to service products such as iPhones and iPads at its centres in Stockholm, Malmö and Gothenburg. Telia took its stake in eBuilder about the same time, notes Curby.
“Now people can go into Telia stores and get their phones fixed,” says Berghog.
This customer care end of the business is where eBuilder started. When it was set up it focussed on the repair process, before moving to a more high-technology solution. According to Pitchbook.com, eBuilder raised its first funding in 2006. It was profitable by 2009, when it had its early-stage venture capital round. The third stage, in 2016, raised the equivalent of $5.59 million.
Pitchbook, lists four investors in alphabetical order: Eqvitec Partners, Industrifonden, Telia Property, and Verdane Capital.
One of the challenges for an operator, says Bohlin, is that the type of service built around the eBuilder app does not fit easily within any one department. “Is it customer care? Is it sales and marketing? There is not an obvious sponsor. This is an area that spans different functions. But we are getting a lot of good feedback.”
His colleague Curby jumps in: “It’s a support service, but the main point of the app isn’t support: it’s to monetise the service.” Within Telia, “the commercial team is steering” the project, notes Berghog.
The information that comes from the eBuilder app is delivering surprising information that Telia – and, no doubt, other operators – can use in their business. “We can start tracking the behaviour of different brands,” says Curby. Berghog agrees: “You can see if a device has a better customer experience.”
And, if some customers are reporting poor experiences after upgrading to a new version of an operating system, Min Mobil – which is available for both Android and iOS devices – can send others a warning not to do the same. “We can be neutral,” says Berghog. “It means we can be much more intelligent in how we contact the customer.”
Battery performance is clearly a big issue in monitoring phone performance. “If the operator sees that the battery is under-performing, it can send a message about it. It can run a campaign to encourage customers to replace their batteries, or they can offer upgrades to this affected,” says Bohlin. “It can also offer a new bundle.”
He sees a considerable future in using the data that the app produces. “Operators have huge data lakes,” he says, “but their data on the health of the devices is very limited. We know the status of the battery and we know when the device is performing badly”.
But eBuilder “is starting to apply some machine learning” to the data. The app might advise people to switch off Wifi if the device is not performing well.
Messages are personalised, he adds, and that’s one of their strengths. Normally messages from operators to customers have a click-through rate of 20%. “When we send out a personalised message the click-through rate is 60-70%, more than three times higher.” And customers with problems were more likely to click on a message than those without – a 14-percentage-point difference, he suggests.
This opens the door to “intelligent marketing”, he says. It’s still early days, though, he admits. “We are starting to work on this, though we don’t have all the proof points yet.”
Those among the 100,000 Telia customers with problems aren’t just directed to the operator’s own centres, says Telia’s Berghog. “If they have a Samsung phone, we can suggest they call Samsung. We offer a number of options – including to contact support or to request a call back.”