Telstra’s Belong Goes Full Digital Support After COVID-19

Belong Goes Full Digital

Belong: An example of how the coronavirus is driving business decisions

The coronavirus pandemic has almost completely ended in Australia, but its effects still linger. From economic impacts to changes in lifestyles, COVID-19 is shaping the way things will be done in the future.

The latest example is Belong, the Telstra-owned Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO). The MVNO has announced that its customer support team will now be fully digital, following the coronavirus lockdown.

This isn’t really a negative effect, depending on how you look at it. In fact, it might be positive – very positive, indeed – for Belong. A fully digital customer support department should result in savings on overhead costs and a lot more, if managed correctly.

Belong says full digital customer support was its plan all along

Perhaps the coronavirus doesn’t get all the credit for Belong’s decision to go full digital. The MVNO said the move had been in the works even before COVID-19. However, “Covid-19 just sped up the process,” said Dion Van de Kamp, Belong’s head of social media and digital content.

When the pandemic hit Australia, there were several actions taken by the government to stem its spread. Businesses were shut down and there were general lockdown measures. The result was the majority of Australia’s workforce (those who were fortunate to remain employed) working from home.

At the time, this seemed like another negative effect of COVID-19. But, perhaps, it gave Australian companies a chance to explore other ways of operating their businesses – cost effective ways.

Having a work-from-home team eliminates several overhead costs. And the couple of months the coronavirus has been around has given businesses a significant amount of time to adjust. The same is true for their employees who, by now, must be used to the parameters and nuances of working from home.

Belong is set to take advantage of that learning process. But even before the pandemic, the MVNO already had a work-from-home arrangement in place for some of its employees. As a result, the transition to a full digital team could be quite smooth.

How COVID-19 “sped up” Belong’s decision to go full digital

Despite Belong having a plan to go full digital all along, the speed at which the coronavirus made the plan a reality is significant.

Eighty-five percent of the MVNO’s overseas customer support workforce could not work, according to Van de Kemp. The coronavirus outbreak, being global, put countries like the Philippines into total lockdown, and such countries are popular hubs for overseas customer support teams.

Belong’s Melbourne team began working from home, but those staff alone couldn’t handle the load. Apparently, 11,000 requests are now piled up waiting to be cleared by the telco.

The MVNO, being overwhelmed, also had to stop selling services to most new customers, turning its focus to existing customers. Van de Kemp said, “we asked our Australian partner TSA to switch completely to service mode, which enabled us to really quickly focus all of our efforts on serving our existing customers.”

Perhaps these significant effects might have tested the telco’s resolve, making them confident that they are prepared for a full digital customer support staff. But with 11,000 requests piled up while their support staff has been digital the past few months, its difficult to predict how their performance will be with a permanent work-from-home model.

Final words – Other telcos’ customer support teams also took a hit from the coronavirus

Belong wasn’t alone – other telcos saw significant reductions in staff as well. For instance, their parent company, Telstra, also experienced a loss of overseas staff as the Philippine government locked down. Optus, too, experienced the same.

But while the majority of businesses had to move to a digital, work-from-home model, we’re yet to see if they’ll take as bold a step as Belong now that the coronavirus is almost over in Australia.

A full digital customer support team could do wonders for the bottom line if a company can pull it off properly. The cost savings are significant, leaving room for growth in other areas. Perhaps Belong should be a great experiment, especially for Telstra which owns the MVNO.

As an MVNO, Belong was already operating at a lower cost than the major telcos, because such companies, by design, simply resell the major networks. As a result, they are able to offer focused, value-driven deals to customers. It would be interesting to see if the costs Belong saves by moving to a full digital support team will trickle down to its phone plan offers, giving customers even cheaper deals. Only time will tell.

Neil Aitken

Having worked in 3 countries for 4 telcos on both voice and data products, Neil is in a position to give you the inside track. Get beyond the marketing messages to the best plan for you.