Digitisation is transforming the supplier-consumer dynamic in the telecoms industry. Whereas before there were relatively few suppliers and a booming new customer base, now there is stiff competition among suppliers and that same new customer base is quickly plateauing. Perhaps the only factor having more of an effect is consumer buying habits.

The industry’s old guard are facing several obstacles they seem ill-equipped to handle. Many have built their businesses on voice traffic, while as much as 85% of all communication is now done via messaging. And where before regulatory bodies would have protected them, data messaging upstarts like WhatsApp and Google Allo are difficult to regulate, putting the old telecom model at the losing end of a market swing.

One solution is to fight fire with fire. GSM operators, for example, are scrambling to create a new messaging standard by 2020 – intended to replace the archaic SMS with something more competitive. That presents a new challenge: squaring the greatly diminished revenue model of a free messaging service, where data spent stands as the new revenue generator, with the loss of the much more profitable SMS.

Ads and other value added services could be a solution. But that’s before you factor in the already saturated messaging service market. If suppliers are to compete in this new environment, then, they will have to sufficiently disrupt the marketplace, possibly offering a radically better experience.

Economics 101 (demand > supply) has been usurped by Economics 201 (supply > demand). Telecom providers will need to anticipate new customer demands or compete with innovative products for their attention. One of the most powerful tools for this new telecom model is cloud. By digitising products – voice over copper to VoIP, etc. – and investing in cloud technology, telecom providers can offer significant innovation.

Initially, cloud’s ability to affordably store large quantities of data or enable remote connections to VoIP calls, web conferences and collaboration made it very appealing to customers, and a must-offer service for suppliers. But again, as each supplier begins to offer similar products, it is innovation and, perhaps most importantly, service quality that come to the fore.

Omnichannel is an important next step for telecom providers – it’s one that Connection Telecom has developed and integrated at great expense into its own Telviva product. The goal, a single uniform experience irrespective of the communication method of choice. It should all be deliverable by a single telecom provider, ideally via a single comprehensive system for ease of use and convenience. In Telviva’s case, a powerful cloud PBX.

The crux of any telecom system, however, must be flexibility in today’s digital age. Business models change, and telecom providers must be able to offer exactly what is needed, instead of the bloatware/shelfware that was once included as a “packaged deal”. Instead, systems must be modular or agile enough to provide only what a customer requires, either limiting its scope or plugging into existing systems without major headaches.

And in the digital age, perhaps even more important than flexibility for a telecom provider, is its ability to deliver quality customer experiences. An omnichannel experience is only as good as its ability to meet customers at their preferred contact channels – audio, messaging, video, etc. Omnichannel systems must also be able to leverage customer insight gained over one channel, to offer a consistent level of service that is personal and efficient over any channel that a customer subsequently uses. Customers expect to be remembered.

Poor customer experiences travel far and wide, causing reputational damage not easily reversed. And as gaining new customers continues to cost far more than maintaining current ones, the demands of customers cannot be underestimated, especially not in an industry as hotly contested as telecoms. The key takeaway is that, now more than ever, the customer is really king.