ORANGE - When digitalization becomes the standard
The Diplomat - Bucharest's talks with Jean-Francois Fallacher, CEO Orange Romania, to reveal how Orange is planning to connect everyone to what really matters to them
What is your expansion strategy for the Orange retail network (direct shops and franchised shops) countrywide?
First of all, at Orange we are very much aware that our stores play a significant role in the overall experience of our customers. They are the physical points where customers interact with us and experience our look and feel, besides their daily contact with our products and services. Customers don't visit our shops only to buy terminals and accessories, sign contracts or pay their invoices, but also to receive information, assistance and support, in order to keep pace with the latest digital trends.
This is why our shops all across the country have undergone a reshaping in recent years, towards a friendly and open concept, allowing customers to touch and try real products. As you may know, this spring we launched - a premiere in Orange Group - a new shop concept, the smart shop; a store bringing innovative digital solutions to change the experience of visitors forever.
First in Cluj-Napoca, then in Baneasa and a few weeks ago in Iasi, we opened the doors of our smart shops, inviting our customers to a simpler, more efficient, more pleasant and more useful journey throughout the shop. To this end, we used a lot of digital solutions; we have replaced paper with innovative systems and applications, such as a digital table, where customers can customize their offer with the help of sales representatives, or electronic signing of contracts. In the same time, we rely on a personalized approach and on a dialogue as tight and concrete as possible between customers and sales representatives.
It is also worth mentioning that together with the Orange smart shop in Cluj-Napoca, we now have ten care centres in our shops, launched as a unique concept in Europe. This is another innovation we brought to this market ten years ago. We were the first operator to offer a dedicated centre for terminal-related issues in the shop, where both Orange and non-Orange customers can have their terminals fixed, upgraded or set up on the spot, in their presence, and receive qualified assistance and guidance.
Our retail network now includes 89 Orange shops, 233 franchise shops with the Orange name, and partner shops, totalling over 700 points of presence. For the next year we plan to extend the number of smart shops, as the concept has been received very well. Customers appreciate greatly that they can manage to solve their requests quicker, that they receive guidance from the moment they step in, while the waiting time in the shop can be spent in a more pleasant way.
Which are the main features identified regarding consumer behaviour - How did they evolve the desire for subscriptions vs. pre-paid?
On both the PrePay and postpaid segments we can see an increasing appetite for internet, which is what we also expected given the current market context. For some time now, internet is becoming more and more mobile. According to ANCOM, last year there were four million broadband fixed internet connections in Romania and 12 million broadband mobile connections, out of which over 700,000 were 4G. We expect this gap between fixed and mobile to increase further, as the appetite for 4G is expanding, due to the great coverage in urban areas, the rich offer for smartphones and the evolving subscriptions which are keeping pace with the consumption. The sixfold increase in 4G traffic in the third quarter of the year compared to the same period last year shows us the dimension of the phenomenon.
Since smartphones are the main driver for data usage, more and more prepaid customers are now deciding for subscriptions, as this type of offer includes smartphones at very affordable prices, many of them even at 0 Euro, depending on the tariff plan.
What are your plans regarding the investment in the development of Orange's telecom infrastructure at country level and what are the main challenges in this respect?
As you might know, the third quarter of 2015 re-confirmed our position as the top mobile operator in the country at internet speeds, according to the speed tests made by customers through ANCOM's app, Netograf.
Watching customers' feedback reports in Customer Service, in Orange shops and on social media in the recent period, I had a very rewarding feeling to see that there were a lot of customers who really appreciate the quality of our network. I believe this is neither by coincidence nor by fortune. This is the result of years and years of constant investments in our entire network, in order to offer better-performing and more-reliable services: from new technologies and equipment that are more reliable and sustainable, to coverage extension and densification, to a more complex system to detect and solve more quickly any network incident that might appear.
At Orange we re- invest a minimum 15per cent of our turnover each year, mostly in our network infrastructure. Our plans are to continue this rhythm, in order to offer customers high-end services as internet adoption and resources consumption are continuously rising.
We surely face a lot of challenges. It's not a secret that Romania has some of the highest quality internet services, with some of the lowest prices in Europe. Apart from that, we sometimes encounter surprises in the laws and regulations which make us constantly readjust our plans.
Like any industry characterized by dynamism and the continuous need for innovation, we need transparency and predictability on the market, as well as a level playing field between fixed and mobile, to be able to carry on with our long-term plans to invest and innovate. Our aim is to bring the best possible answer to customers' needs and expectations, connecting them to what is important to them, and to remain number one in their choice, helping them treasure quality and added value.
What are the company's plans regarding the support (customer care) department: investments, new hires?
Support services have always been and will remain very important for us, as we act in the services field. This is why we invest constantly to have well-prepared professionals, offering the right information to customers and acting according to Orange′s focus on quality.
We have a wide range of support channels, in order to always be at reach for our customers, offering them assistance and guidance through the digital world: Customer Service, Orange Experts, Orange helpers on online channels (forums, Facebook, Twitter) and ′Click to Chat′ on our website.
Voice is still the primary communication channel used by our customers, but it is closely followed by the digital channels: chat, e-mails and social media, for which we offer the same very good quality and response rates. We answer customers' e-mails within 24 hours, chat within 15 seconds, social media requests before two hours and we have plans to scale these up and offer them to more customers.
Our customers′ experience when interacting with Orange remains a priority for us, thus our strategy is focused on answering our customers' requests and solving their queries from their first interaction with us. Moreover, continuous improvement and building the skills of our people, as well as empowering them to make decisions on-the-spot and reduce customers' waiting time are key areas in our day-to-day activities.
Which new services are taken into account within the competition market?
One of the main directions of our strategy Essentials 2020 is building around the high-quality services that we offer and which customers trust, in order to develop them and bring the connectivity to another level. It's for the same purpose that we entered the TV market two years ago, that we've just launched Smart Home in friendly user testing for now, and that we are preparing to launch Orange Money next year.
This year we launched innovative connectivity solutions, like Wi-Fi on board, offered with Dacia Duster ′Connected by Orange′ as well, and Orange Net Duo, providing fixed and mobile internet in one pack, with plenty of data and dedicated devices at 0 Euro. These two solutions are helping customers have better coverage at home and to carry their internet with them when needed.
Even if data and content are the star segments of today, with an adoption rate in continuous increase, the existing technology also brings novelties to the voice area. Starting September, our 4G customers can enjoy instant calls, HD voice quality and high speed internet connectivity when making calls, thanks to 4G Call. Very soon they will also be able to make or receive calls even in indoor areas that have poor or even no signal, through Wi-Fi Call. In fact these two new services bring additional benefits for all our customers, allowing an optimization of network usage and high-quality services in a context where usage habits change and people grow more and more connected through different channels.
What is the company's strategy regarding the "one stop shop" - joining together all the telecom services under one provider (mobile, TV, Internet, fixed telephony)?
We are living in the times when mobile's share of media time is rising. As more content is being viewed outside of the home and work (for example in transit), some years ago we started a massive investment in both our infrastructure and services in order to be able to offer our customers ubiquitous, always-on connectivity. Customers visiting our shops and partner stores can find complete communications solutions: high-quality voice services, high-speed internet relying on the 3G+ national network and the widest 4G network in Romania, and multiscreen TV services, available through satellite and internet, on the TV set and also on mobile devices.
In the previous period we've been very vocal regarding our interest in fixed internet services and in a balanced regulation of the market, not only for mobile - as it is now - but for fixed as well. We are looking for a fair solution, allowing mobile operators, who have invested in their own infrastructure, to have the same rights and obligations as fixed operators, who chose to invest in their fixed network. What we want is some space, to also be able to invest in fixed services and to innovate on this market like we have done on mobile, offering customers high-quality fixed internet and a multitude of choices in their favour as well. We are still counting on the authorities to find a solution to ensure that level playing field, as Romania is the only European country suffering from this kind of imbalance in regulations.