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COVID-19: What's next for the communications industry

Like every other industry, the communications sector has not escaped the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. But compared with those that have seen dramatic declines in activity, communications companies are experiencing increased demand across their networks in some areas. As people continue to work from home and consume more news and entertainment content, they're more reliant than ever on the connectivity that their communications service providers (CSPs) offer.

That essential role is likely to continue as economies around the world reconfigure to deal with the pandemic. Companies, educational institutions and governments are all shifting work to virtual environments. No one can say how long these new ways of working will persist, but what is certain is that they are creating enormous changes in network usage. CSPs must make sure that they can cope in the short to mid-term to meet these changing demands and keep a constant eye on fast-moving developments to prioritize the needs of organizations that are providing mission-critical services.

The CSPs that have fared best in the crisis are those that over the last few years have invested in building deep digital capabilities, along with automation and analytics to support their marketing, sales and customer care functions. These capabilities have enabled these CSPs to evolve into increasingly "touchless" providers, and they have been able to provide better support, care and provisioning in these challenging times. That will help to create longer-term customer loyalty.

There are plenty of examples of the industry stepping up to the plate and creating new digital services that are helping people through the crisis. For instance, Verizon is introducing a virtual assistant that enables its technicians to support people in their homes through a video chat, without the need for a site visit.

CSPs can also foster a faster global economic recovery by facilitating collaboration across governments and medical services, and helping global research centers team up in the fight against COVID-19. Why should CSPs do this? Because loyalty and trust are key to generating huge goodwill and long-term value.

But while CSPs have much work to do to maintain services and support a whole range of essential activities now, they also need to start planning for what comes next and the role they can play in helping societies and economies recover in the pandemic's aftermath. So what should they focus on to do that?

For one thing, they could accelerate the rollout of 5G to enable mission-critical services in the future. These will support the buildout of services in key industries like health, medicine and pharma, as well as new ways of working in manufacturing, logistics and so on.

On the home front, CSPs must grapple with new kinds of service demands as the crisis and its aftermath profoundly change peoples' behaviors and habits, as well as consumer loyalty and brand perceptions. For instance, CSPs can start thinking now about how to extend and integrate their offerings most effectively into the future home setting. Their trusted status offers CSPs a platform to become the orchestrator of the connected future home. They can do that by bringing together the many types of technology-enabled home services that consumers need – traditional ones like broadband and TV, as well as newer “smart home” services – to uniquely own the customer relationship and create new revenue streams from highly personalized service. The use of insights from analysis of customer data, along with greater platform capabilities, could also enable providers to bring in a new range of ecosystem partners to enhance existing offerings and develop new ones.

There's no question that CSPs will face disruption over the coming months. However, the resilience they have shown to date demonstrates that the effects of COVID-19 can be manageable. As they deal with the present crisis, CSPs must also prepare for the future, post-pandemic world. With investments in digital likely to accelerate, communications businesses have a clear mandate to enhance their relevance to customers and build greater trust. And ultimately, as the pandemic and its aftermath bring challenges for everyone, being at the heart of customers' lives as a trusted partner has never been more important.

— Francesco Venturini, Senior Managing Director & Global Communications & Media Industry Lead. Accenture

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