Almost every five years we see a significant evolution in technology lifecycles. In 2000, we saw IP-based communications (mostly desktop) go mainstream in the developed world. From 2005, it spread to mobile and then the adoption of smartphones exploded, led by the iPhone, and getting ‘stuff to things’ became mainstream.

But by 2010, apps were de rigueur, and there was a dramatic shift of customer conversations to social media (think Twitter and Facebook). We also saw the introduction and rapid take-up of chat apps (WhatsApp, WeChat, Viber, etc. ), which have themselves become multi-device platforms for Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and video calling, messaging, content distribution, payments, and other services.

Interestingly though, a recent white paper – commissioned by IMImobile – suggests the way consumers interact with companies is perhaps going back to the future.

In the early noughties, we were using voice and text over telco-dominated channels which then shifted online as consumers conversed more between themselves and businesses.

We seem, though, to have now returned to natural language (text and voice) but with one significant difference. The always-on culture means consumers want to interact with brands on multiple channels of their choice and at a time of their convenience. In industry speak, it means companies are now faced with orchestrating a true omnichannel customer experience. Not a new concept, but one which is becoming increasingly core to companies’ success in the world of the digital citizen.

This has all happened so quickly, thanks mostly to telcos. They have been instrumental in the dramatic change in how we communicate with each other by investing heavily in network infrastructure, including high-speed data networks. For example, BT announced investments of £6bn across Openreach and EE in 2015 while Vodafone had committed to an additional £2bn in mid-2016.This has enabled the social and digital platforms, content and services that stimulate interaction between businesses and their customers today. In fact, it has helped develop a whole new ecosystem, with connectivity and high-speed internet almost a given, certainly in advanced economies and in many other areas around the world.

With this evolution in technology comes a rapid change in consumer behaviourClick To Tweet

In the past two years, we’ve seen the rise of AI through Natural Language Processing and Machine Learning –  including automation via chatbots and virtual assistants, powered by powerful platform-based engines such as Amazon Alexa and Apple Siri. We are just at the start of the AI journey in business-to-consumer interaction.

But with this rapid evolution in technology comes a rapid change in consumer behaviour. And today’s telcos and businesses have to be able to adapt quickly to succeed, ensuring that they can effectively and proactively interact with customers across their journey at the perfect point to deliver maximum value.

This is also key for telcos to be able to effectively upsell services resulting from initiatives such as the vast investment made in quad play (mobile, fixed line, Broadband and TV), which has resulted in service fragmentation. And it is why omnichannel has such value, and why it’s essential to the future of telcos.

So what do they need to do to get it right?

Firstly, telcos need to identify and address capability gaps in their organisational competence and technology platforms, if they are to maintain optimal relationships with their customers into the future.

To successfully deploy a platform approach to omnichannel customer experience, telcos must also commit to providing a unified view of the customer that extends across all of their departments and data systems.

And they must focus on achieving four key objectives as they build out their omnichannel platform: customer or persona recognition, orchestration, continuous adaptation, and protection of the customer.

Orchestration is particularly important if telcos are to avoid customer journey fragmentation. They must remove system and operational silos and create a single unified customer orchestration layer, utilising the right digital channel at the right point in the customer journey.

Last but not least, digital transformation has also put pressure on telcos to respond to rapidly changing market dynamics, including the imminent rollout of 5G networks, integration into the IoT and the increasing use of Artificial Intelligence.

In sum, digital-savvy consumers with higher expectations are driving the need for telcos to radically improve the customer experience. An intelligent orchestration layer, supported by real-time contextual data, predictive analytics, and automation, all integrated with back-end systems for fulfilment, provides the platform for omnichannel. This is a major milestone towards ensuring profitable growth and staying relevant to the customer and ultimately keeping them.

The recent white paper “Orchestrating the omnichannel customer experience” by Ovum Consulting provides a clear pathway and guidance on how telcos can digitally transform the customer experience in a “dynamic, unpredictable, complex and ambiguous environment”.