Sunday 18 March 2018

Data is king for Three Ireland in today's cut-throat mobile market

Elaine Carey, CCO of Three Ireland, tells John McGee why customer loyalty is a key factor

Elaine Carey, chief commercial officer of Three Ireland, who has also just joined the firm’s board. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Elaine Carey, chief commercial officer of Three Ireland, who has also just joined the firm’s board. Photo: Steve Humphreys

John McGee

With a 35pc share of the overall mobile market in Ireland and 33.8pc by revenue share, Three Ireland has gone from being a peripheral challenger brand to the second-biggest operator in the market following its acquisition of O2 in 2014.

Owned by the Hong Kong-headquarterd conglomerate, CK Hutchinson, it has over two million customers, 1,400 staff and a 2015 turnover of €694m.

One of the key driving forces behind the growth of the company over the last nine years is Elaine Carey, the Limerick native who is its chief commercial officer (CCO) and spearheads all of its consumer commercial activities, managing its 67 retail outlets in addition to the marketing, brand and sponsorship activities. With extensive sales and marketing experience from stints at Digicel in its formative year as well as eir, she has also just been appointed to the board of Three Ireland.

What specific marketing challenges does Three Ireland face on a day-to-day basis?

"Firstly, we are investing €300m in integrating and upgrading our network to a state-of-the-art 4G network. Secondly, we are investing €65m in a digital transformation that will transform our IT systems and deliver cutting-edge customer experience.

"These two pieces of work will deliver an unparalleled network experience and customer service and, while we are on a journey to get there, we are very focused on ensuring that our customers are kept up to date and aware of the benefits that this will bring them."

What is driving growth in the overall market?

"In 2016 we saw a 77pc increase in data use among our customers and it continues to grow at pace. Every hour on average, an incredible 10 terabytes of data passes through our network - that's the equivalent of 520m WhatsApp messages or 22,000 episodes of Game of Thrones."

"At present, video streaming represents more than half of the data that goes through our network. This illustrates how people are now using their smartphones. It's gone way beyond just making a call. People are using mobile technology in many aspects of their life; it gives them flexibility and, in many ways, makes their life easier. Because of this dramatic shift in usage, we are seeing telecommunications companies evolve into data companies.

"As data becomes more and more integral to our customers' lives, we need to continue to provide them with access to a strong performing network, which will improve further with our upgrade, and propositions that are built around their needs. Our ability to meet our customer's growing data needs and give them a better connected life is what will drive business growth in to the future."

Your competitors are operating in the triple/quad play space: is this something the company might consider in the future?

"The notion that telecommunications companies need to offer triple or quad play to stay competitive remains to be proven. In fact, if you look at the Irish market, in the last year, our mobile market share has grown, while the main operators that offer triple and quad play have lost market share.

"We already offer phone and mobile broadband services. The only quad-play service that we don't provide is TV, and for good reason. Cord-cutting, where consumers move away from multichannel TV subscriptions in favour of Video on Demand is becoming more and more prevalent. People value the flexibility of being able to watch TV when and where they want. This is an area that we see huge growth in the future and is a key focus for our business."

Customer retention and churning is a big issue for all mobile operators: how do you manage this?

"Retaining customers is a huge focus for us. We do this in a number of ways. Firstly, we work hard to provide a good service and level of care. Secondly, we look at what the customer wants in terms of propositions, and we provide this to them as competitively as we can.

"Finally, we reward customers' loyalty, such as with our 3Plus app which has proved to be really successful and something we will be expanding in 2017.

"These three areas provide the cornerstone in retaining our customers, but in recent years we have taken it a step further. The consumer mind-set has evolved and customers don't just want a service provider that will give them a good service for a good price. They want to know what you stand for as a corporate citizen; that you take your responsibilities seriously and give back to your community.

"Marketing also plays a key role in communicating our values as a business, but for it to resonate with people, it needs to be done in a genuine way. Our Christmas Girl and the Cloud campaign that we ran in association with Barnardos, for example, was a great success. It raised money and awareness for a very deserving charity while illustrating to our customers that fundamentally, we care."

Now that you are on the board of the company, how important is it for people with sales and marketing experience to sit in the boardrooms of corporate Ireland?

"The more varied experience and perspectives you can have around a board table, the better. Traditionally, board members came from very similar disciplines and shared very similar beliefs but that doesn't work for the organisations of today or tomorrow. Diversity is key."

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