Airtel, Vodafone Idea, Reliance Jio change their operating models

Industry executives and company officials said that even the sales operations will change, with teams now targeting neighbourhoods instead of long distances to generate business leads. They are also expected to restart talks to lower network costs...

MUMBAI: Airtel, Vodafone Idea and Jio are changing their operating models for the post-lockdown era, enhancing digital recharges and deploying more chat bots and other automation tools while drastically reducing call centre operations.

Industry executives and company officials said that even the sales operations will change, with teams now targeting neighbourhoods instead of long distances to generate business leads. They are also expected to restart talks to lower network costs, with demand surging in an era where social distancing will become the norm.

"Earlier, subscribers routed all their issues to the call centres but now that is getting decentralised. Software is being built that will help you access all details via app. Even those who do not have apps will see more chat bots on their laptop screens or have specific numbers where they can message and get their problems solved," said a senior executive in one of the three private telcos.


Rajiv Sharma, head of research at SBI Cap Securities, expects such call centre costs to come down by at least 20%.

Another result of the Covid-19 upheaval is the push toward digital recharges across cities and towns. During the lockdown, telcos allowed recharges via tie-ups with local grocery stores and ATMs. That drive will increase so that physical recharges no longer remain an urban practice.

"The digital recharges will increase and the distribution costs will go down," said Kunal Vora, senior telecom analyst at BNP Paribas India.
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Another senior industry executive told ET that before coronavirus, 35% of a telco's recharges were processed digitally. In the next two quarters, that share is expected to jump to 65% even when travel restrictions are removed.

At an earnings call recently, Gopal Vittal, Bharti Airtel's MD for India and South Asia, detailed out how the pandemic had exposed "substantial waste" in "many parts" of the business. "…We have discussed this at length and we believe we need to put renewed vigour behind our War on Waste plan".

Vodafone Idea is also betting big on digital.

"Digitisation will help the company remotely manage many aspects of its business operations," said a company spokesperson.
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Industry executives see the critical sales operations going through big changes as well.

"Sales teams are now targeting neighbourhoods to generate leads. Those days of going out to cover large distances in customer acquisition no longer exist," said another industry executive. Emphasis will be given on using the millions of existing customers to generate leads.
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Also, “negotiations with vendors will get more competitive since the industry has consolidated to three operators and post Covid-19, there will be an increased emphasis on optimizing costs," said Vora.

A senior technology executive in one of the three operators said that pressure will be on telcos to also become more efficient in their enterprise businesses.

"Cloud-based solutions, machine learning, augmented reality and data science will be the focus in a post-Covid world," said the executive.
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