COVID-19, consumer transactions and the seamless digital environment
By: Calvo Mawela, CEO of MultiChoice Group
The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated digital uptake around the globe, pushing us beyond the new normal, and supercharging our drive towards a reimagined future.
The broadcast industry, like so many others, has been disrupted by the pandemic and measures taken in response. Part of MultiChoice Group’s (MultiChoice) response was to fast track its already robust digital offering to increase customer support during a time when many countries were under lockdown.
Consumers, who were understandably reluctant to engage in unnecessary face-to-face transactions or were confined to their homes during lockdowns, drove a substantial increase in demand for digital self-service options such as managing subscriptions and making payments. MultiChoice saw roughly a 20% increase in demand for such transactions across the board as a result.
But this demand was not a revolution in consumer behaviour. The necessity of a seamless digital consumer environment, encompassing entertainment, engagement and transactional activity, has been the writing on the wall for the past several years, and MultiChoice has devoted considerable resources to prepare for it. The pandemic simply accelerated the pace of what was in any case inevitable.
MultiChoice was an early adopter of digital solutions, having offered an online content guide on its website back in 1999, when Google Search was still in its Beta phase, and Netscape Navigator and Internet Explorer were battling it out in the first Browser War.
Since then the group has consistently been at the forefront of digital innovation in Africa, having launched the dstv.com website in 2000, the SuperSport mobile app in 2010, the MyDStv app in 2018, and the MyGOtv app, WhatsApp platform and new website experiences for DStv and GOtv in 2019.
At each step the focus has been on creating a more seamless and functional experience for customers, giving them more control, more flexibility, and more visibility around managing their accounts and subscriptions. This comprehensive digital infrastructure complements the multiple petabytes per month of digital content now streamed through MultiChoice’s OTT platforms.
The group’s digital properties and apps have been designed in line with best-in-industry practices and enable a human-touch experience – responding to subscribers' wants and needs in the most human way possible, and taking into account the unique environments across the African continent. Services are deployed only after meticulous review and consultation with customers on the ground and are based on ongoing customer interactions and research. Digital acceleration has pushed convenience to a new level through the integration of widely-adopted third party platforms like WhatsApp, which allow customers to communicate in ways they are comfortable and familiar with.
The consumer response has been compelling. By 2020, MultiChoice had over 100 million active website users and 17 million App and WhatsApp users.
Building this infrastructure has not been without its challenges. Africa is a continent comprising significantly disparate markets, each with their own prevailing connectivity and payment providers, methods of access, and customer priorities. While some countries, such as Kenya, have exceptionally high cell phone penetration rates and are early adopters of new technologies, others have yet to adopt feature-phone capabilities, and use SMS or USSD platforms predominantly. All these need to be made to function seamlessly as a consistent, efficient whole, and in a way that allows sight of the entirety of customer transactions across all platforms.
It has thus been important for the Group to leverage its deep local knowledge, and to focus on continually improving backend architectures to establish efficiencies in areas that can be controlled. The near-term goal is to have created a digital journey for users that is personalised and customised in real time through bespoke journey orchestration based on a thorough understanding of their behaviour and needs.
In this respect, the effects of the pandemic were in some ways a boon. They allowed MultiChoice to reinforce their digital capability and the shift to remote working, instead of causing divisions, actually brought MultiChoice's global teams closer together.
The surge in demand for digital transactions in the first half of 2020 has allowed entertainment organisations such as MultiChoice to test, appraise and shore up their core digital platforms. As the learnings from this period are incorporated and addressed, they will be better positioned to take the next steps in digital innovation.
Africa, especially, is ripe for disruptive change. Perhaps WhatsApp, or a blockchain technology, might become the payment method that unites geographies. Perhaps USSD functionality is further expanded alongside interactions that rely on feature-phone technology. Whatever the future holds, clearly the interconnectivity of content and engagement in one seamless platform is here to stay. Building holistic, consumer-focused digital experiences was always the end goal; as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic it is a goal that has moved considerably closer.