How COVID-19 is changing the telco CX needs & preferences of SMEs in the Middle East

How COVID-19 is changing the telco CX needs & preferences of SMEs in the Middle East

The Delta Perspective

Daniele Pe - Senior Managing Director
Anthony Dornan - Principal

There are an estimated six million1 small & medium enterprises (SMEs) in the Middle East, representing substantial business for telcos from connectivity & ICT services. However, it has typically been a segment they have struggled to address effectively, with SMEs often overlooked when it comes to customer experience & digitization. 

It is common practice for Enterprise initiatives to be repackaged for SME (e.g. a single business app for enterprise and SME) or for the SME segment to be treated in a similar way to Consumer. Yet SMEs have different needs, requiring the business grade services and reliability of Enterprise offerings, coupled with the simplicity and standardization of Consumer products. 

We have recently run a survey to better understand this segment and their needs, with specific focus on how the turbulence caused by Covid-19 has impacted their preferences and highlighted the relevance that customer experience (CX) plays for them, and consequently for telcos wanting to serve them.

96% rated CX as important or very important to their business, as this allows them to differentiate from other small businesses and compete against larger players. As such, they expect the companies they work with (including telcos) to provide them with a great experience: 67% of SMEs mentioned that they have switched vendors based on bad CX – and in today’s world they have lots of choices, both on the connectivity side due to deregulation, and beyond connectivity where Tech players are expanding their offering with innovative ICT solutions tailored to small businesses with great CX.

Figure 1: CX is a critical factor in SME decision making

For telcos to succeed in this space, they must ‘raise their experience bar’, investing in CX and moving from a reactive to proactive approach to reimagine the experience they provide. This starts by truly understanding the needs of this specific segment.

The starting point: understanding what is it that SMEs really want
As can be expected, the current business climate, with the impact of the pandemic, has changed things. There is increasing pressure on business survival, particularly for SMEs. 81% of SMEs expect 2020 sales to be lower than 2019 and 48% are struggling to manage cash flows2

To adapt to the changes and pressures facing their businesses, SMEs have adopted new ways of working. In a recent survey of MENA SMEs, Delta Partners found that due to COVID-19 48% of SMEs have moved key daily activities to be digital, with 93% using digital collaboration tools such as Zoom & Teams and 98% introducing digital payments3.

SMEs want to engage digitally with their providers, as they do their own customers
A core part of the shift in the way of working is the increase in digital tools to interact with customers, with 80% of business customers stating that COVID-19 has increased their expectations of companies’ digital capabilities4.

As SMEs adapt and engage more digitally with their customers, they also expect the same from their providers. Today the primary channels used to interact with telcos are email and call centre. However, SME respondents showed clear desire to interact using a range of digital channels, including WhatsApp and through an App, with 40% and 33% of respondents respectively stating they want to use these channels to interact with their operator5.

Figure 2: Expectations for digital first interaction

SMEs need new products and services to support their digital transformation
This digital transformation has happened at an unprecedented scale – and is not expected to revert after a ‘return to normality’, but rather represents a new paradigm, with 43% of business leaders believing that investments in digital and technology will actually speed up post COVID-19. 

To embrace this new digital way of working, they need faster connectivity and new sets of products from telcos. SME respondents highlighted high-speed fiber, data center / cloud, SaaS and cybersecurity as important or above to support their business transformation.

Figure 3: Increasing focus on services beyond connectivity

SMEs expect compelling and consistent experiences across all touchpoints and services
SME respondents point to consumer-focused companies, who have well-structured and compelling digital interactions as benchmarks of good CX. Ikea, Noon, Microsoft, Zara and others were referenced as examples, with these companies typically having simple to use UI/UX on their digital touchpoints, transparent and seamless ‘journeys’ for customers, and customer-centric policies and practices. 

Telcos need to keep pace with best practice from the consumer world to ensure they meet the needs of SMEs. Yet they must not focus only on digitization but rather ensure that they maintain a consistent level of experience across all interactions and services. SMEs highlighted that many aspects across a customer journey are relevant to them, with no single reason identified as the key driver of good experience, but rather that a holistic approach is required to meet their needs. 

This makes the CX improvement journey more difficult for telcos, but also highlights the importance customers place on good CX.

Figure 4: Critical to deliver a good experience across journeys

How can telcos adapt to better serve SME customers?
To meet the needs of SMEs, telcos need to focus on 3 key areas:

  1. Product offering:
    • Telcos need to evolve their portfolios and enhance their propositions, with ICT products, from SaaS to Solutions, becoming more and more relevant to support the working needs of SMEs. Telcos are well placed to play a lead role providing both telco and ICT services to this segment due to their existing customer and billing relationships, strong brand recognition and sales channel reach. To capture this opportunity telcos need to develop/partner to offer the right products with the right propositions, respecting SMEs need for high-quality service, with more flexible commercial models that can scale.
  2. Customer Journeys:
    • Telcos must take more ownership of the SME experience and end-to-end customer journeys. It is essential that they strengthen the focus on digital, building a compelling digital-first proposition where it matters, with handover to offline. To satisfy the needs of SMEs, telcos must make sure to meet expectations across all areas with simple and consistent experiences and focus on delighting the customer in a select number of key areas.
  3. Engagement: 
    • Now more than ever SMEs need support, as they face extraordinary challenges. Telcos, as a key vendor have the chance to help these businesses weather the storm, supporting to keep them connected and to transform to new ways of working. Building this engagement with customers will show that they are a trusted partner to SMEs and can support their needs going forward. 

The current crisis is a watershed moment for the industry, with SMEs under increased pressure to survive and adapt. Despite the challenging times, there is a clear opportunity for telcos to support SMEs, evolving the experience they provide to SMEs and enabling their digital transformation. Telcos need to act now to redefine their engagement with SMEs and to help them navigate this transformed future.

Delta Partners’ Customer Experience Practice has a broad range of capabilities to support CX transformation, from CX strategy, to Journey Design, to Organizational & Cultural transformation. These capabilities and know-how are helping multiple telcos in the Middle East region and beyond to rethink their approach to CX, through a better understanding of customer needs, setting the aspiration for CX and redesigning the product and journey experience. For more information on Delta Partners CX capabilities please visit our website or get in touch at

1 Source: Ovum, Delta Partners analysis
2 Source: Facebook Global State of Small Business report
3 Source: Delta Partners’ MENA SME survey
4 Source: Salesforce
5 Source: Delta Partners’ MENA SME survey

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