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From telco to tech-co

What’s it like being a teenager in Uzbekistan, or a small business owner in Pakistan? How do you unlock their potential when the price of technology is what’s holding them back? And how do you answer these whilst driving profit and reducing costs? That’s the 250 million customer question.

The telecoms industry has connected millions of people, invested billions in infrastructure, and yet now faces a very real threat from over-the-top services and Silicon Valley digital giants. Customers see their telecoms providers as utilities who must offer the lowest price, whilst they delight in the experiences of apps that exploit the very networks that the telecom companies have built.

How could a telco not only survive, but thrive, in such a hostile environment? How could it do this and open the wealth of inherent opportunities that come with smartphone ownership in markets dominated by feature phones?

To understand the problem, we first needed to understand the behaviours. A two-month program of ethnographic research was conducted in a diverse group of VEON markets, from Russia to Kazakhstan, from Italy to Pakistan. This deep immersion and insight gathering was only made possible by living with real customers, shadowing their lives & businesses, and observing the role of technology within them. What emerged from this research was a fundamental insight that, for many, the smartphone was an opportunity. Not an opportunity to take a selfie or play the latest game, but an opportunity to do better, to become more successful, to simply fulfill their potential.

The smartphone is one of the most powerful personal computing devices ever made, and presents almost limitless potential. But this potential is meaningless if you can’t afford to use it. So, what could a teenager in Uzbekistan really achieve if there was no barrier to information and services? What would happen if we made access free? What if data cost nothing?

Whether you’re an Uzbek teen, a parent in Moscow or a Pakistani farmer, what happens is completely transformative – free access to everything gives everyone the chance to succeed without worrying about how they’ll pay for it.

Armed with rich user insights and new hypotheses, a conversational platform strategy was created which would allow customers to use integrated chat, entertainment, partner and digital payment services, all for free - even when they had no credit. With a largely pre-pay customer base across the VEON markets, this idea took hold, and took off.

An entirely unique brand interface engaged customers in innovative new ways, reduced churn, and introduced revenue sharing partnerships for VEON with services that could integrate seamlessly; providing real value to customers lives.

Over 18 months we established new principles, developed prototypes, user-tested solutions, and refined the product & design language experience, all the while supporting VEON’s expanding internal teams as the platform evolved. To ensure the solution was seamless and holistic, we supported the redesign of customer journeys across all of VEON’s operating companies.

Launching in 10 markets in 2017, the VEON product will introduce a broad range of world-firsts in digital top-ups, integrated services, bespoke entertainment integration, and all importantly: no barriers to use.

From research and strategy, through to digital product design and experience thinking, our collaboration with VEON has assisted in the transformation of their company from one that provides a network, to one that provides futures for all of its 250 million customers.