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73% of mobile customers want their operators to be more like digital-first companies, such as Amazon, PayPal and Netflix according to a recent survey by Matrixx Software.

At first glance, this is just one more voice in the crowd making a reasonable but not a particularly ground-breaking point. What struck me about this statement, however, was the ways in which the customers wanted their operators to change.

What was it about the digital-first companies that they liked so much? Simply, it was “ease of use, clear pricing structure, real time access to services and the ability to personalise”.

In other words, it wasn’t the digital that they wanted put first – it was them; the customer, their services and their experience. The ‘digital-first’ descriptor we apply to these few dominant global players is misleading and almost certainly adding to the confusion about digital transformation and how to do it.


There is no doubt the digital-first companies are children of the internet – made from software, born fully connected and plunging directly into a digital world. But evolution has played it part ruthlessly – those that survive to thrive and dominate are those that worked out that success lies in putting the customer first: And then finding a way to make that happen.

And they don’t just do this once and sit back. They do this every step of the way; a process of continuous and agile experimentation and improvement that allows them to keep refining the experience of their customers and finding yet more services to excite them.

The key to understanding digital is that it is the consequences of digital technology that drive the transformation, not the technology itself. Digital is most certainly a powerful enabler and  market differentiator but not the primary driver of transformation. Success comes from the confidence to seek out and learn  what the technology can offer to enhance the customer experience.

Returning to the original article, the desire of 64% of customers to switch their mobile services from traditional operators to digital-first versions is perhaps all the more surprising given that the mobile telecoms world were the original leaders in delivering mobile data services.  It is a lesson for us all that digital transformation demands rather more than radio spectrum, wireless connectivity and data services of IoT. We must all be customer first companies now.

Tim Murdoch

Tim is Director of Digital Services here at Cambridge Consultants with a background in innovation for mobile payments and digital services such as M-PESA.