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Virgin Mobile Middle East and Africa, the GCC’s only mobile provider with multiple live operations and millions of active customers, has a proven track-record of delivering outstanding mobile experiences to customers across the region. The company operates in the region under two brands: Virgin Mobile and FREiNDi Mobile. Telecom Review sat down with Erik Dudman Nielsen, founder and CEO of Virgin Mobile MEA, to talk about the company’s success in some of the region’s most mature markets and to gain greater insight into what makes their services truly outstanding to their customers.

Virgin Mobile has been successful in targeting a huge mobile market in the Middle East, especially the youth. What do you credit this to?

Virgin Mobile Middle East and Africa has experienced exponential growth since entering the region in 2006, serving more than 3 million customers across three main markets, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Oman.

Being an MVNO operating in multiple countries, we are experts in systems integration and have the agility to move quickly to address consumer trends. By connecting with existing mobile networks, we bring new innovations and features to the market much faster than traditional telcos, enabling us to complement operator offerings by developing marketing strategies and service offerings that target sub-segments of the telecom market. Reaching out to a wide scale of different customer segments, we are proud to be able to showcase our market advantage and business growth across the region.

Our dual brand strategy with FRiENDi mobile and Virgin Mobile allows Virgin Mobile Middle East & Africa to deliver a bespoke experience targeted at different customer groups, thereby meeting the specific needs of those audiences to create high customer satisfaction.

Our FRiENDi mobile brand was created for the region to provide an affordable mobile service targeted people with a piece of their heart out the country, primarily key Asian and sub-continent ethnic groups. It was designed specifically to target their basic international communications needs, with a focus on price leadership on ‘home country’ destinations and flexible basic data packages. This dedicated mobile service is designed to meet not only their needs, but also to provide a customer service journey dedicated to delivering a superior experience to this often under-served segment.

Our Virgin Mobile brand on the other hand, is designed to attract more data-centric consumers who are catered to with exciting offers, new value-added services, data packs, and excellent customer service. It appeals more to western and Arab expats and locals and is becoming more and more focused on digital disruption to deliver a service that fits seamlessly into the lives of the digitally savvy population.

Virgin Mobile has enhanced customer experience with its app-based and digitized services. What are the key factors driving adoption of digital initiatives in the MEA region?

The GCC region has some of the top countries in the world for digital adoption, with more than 100 percent smartphone penetration and more than 70 per cent social media adoption—even higher than the United States – so there is a definite demand for more digital propositions in the region. Exciting digital experiences, and consumers’ desire for always on, on-demand services have instigated telecommunications operators to become digitally agile and responsive.

At Virgin Mobile, we are constantly looking to challenge the status quo and putting control into the hands of our customers. We are being purposefully different to other telcos because we aspire to redefine a new normal in the industry and take a leading role in the digital transformation of the industry. The future of the telecommunications industry is about being current to the needs of consumers. Our ethos is to provide a service that is built around the customer, and we ensue we are constantly listening to our customers to meet their needs.

What are some of the main challenges faced by telecom operators in the current climate?

The pandemic that we are facing right now has shown an unprecedented ripple effect across different industries including telco. In light of the recent global outbreak, Virgin Mobile MEA is committed to mitigating the spread of the virus while maximising our digital proposition as a telco operator. With our fully digital Virgin Mobile brand, everything a consumer wants to do is at a tap of a finger through our award-winning app. This reinforces the call to practice social distancing, making mobile apps more relevant and beneficial than ever.

In the UAE, we are proud to be one of the first brands to operate with a remote customer care team. We have deployed all our customer care agents following ‘work from home’ set-up, and it is all efficient due to our innovative chat model and agile digital infrastructure. Likewise is happening in KSA where our customer care staff is even handling voice calls by our agents working from home. Our home delivery system is also in place to adopt to the changing lifestyle of our customers, offering longer hours of SIM delivery as part of our seamless customer journey.

We are also actively playing a part with the government to bring about initiatives that help contain the outbreak. In KSA, Virgin Mobile has sent more than 15 million SMS to customers on behalf of KSA’s public institutions including the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Education. Both in KSA and UAE, Virgin Mobile has also provided free access to online learning platforms and educational websites for parents and their kids to make the best out of home learning.  

In the digitalization front, tech companies such as Facebook and Google are already posing a threat to the traditional mobile business model and providing customers with simple app-based user experiences at a much lower operating cost. However, this same digitalization also opens doors for telco operators to innovate their strategy and develop offerings that can improve customer experience to overcome these challenges.

Customer expectations are changing rapidly, with consumers benchmarking the service standards and customer interactions that they have with leading brands against their mobile operator. The challenge for operators is to start with the customer first and drive that mentality through their businesses. This is a bigger challenge for larger businesses that have complex processes, complicated propositions and technical legacy infrastructure. It’s not impossible, but brand experience needs to be embraced at the heart of the business, with customer insight used to drive business decisions in order for sustainable businesses to get it right for the future

How is Virgin Mobile keeping up with increasing customer demand for data?

As people are consuming more data every year particularly as the popularity of video and music streaming increases, Virgin Mobile is at the forefront in making sure our mobile community gets the most flexible data plans and packages as part of our mobile offerings, allowing our customers to choose their own data packages to suit their different mobile lifestyles and needs.

We also see government initiatives instrumental in the implementation of our strategy to match the demand of data in the market. For example, new regulations in KSA have allowed us to provide high data packages which allows us to better serve the data-hungry Saudi national audience. In Oman, the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) approved the Access and Interconnection (A&I) Regulation which aims to help new players to enter in order to promote competition. This paved our way for delivering unique products including extremely affordable mobile data services among customers, especially the labor force.

Can you tell us about your upcoming projects this year?

As our industry continues to thrive for innovation, we are excited to expand our business further in the region, as we are focus building own MVNO’s in the high valuable GCC and expect to expand here in this year and secondly we are considering making B-brand arrangements for the North African region.

We have plans to widen the scope of our mobile services in 2020 to include insurance and financial services in the current operating units, as well as expanding with many new digital partnerships as well as extending current partnership such as with Netflix in UAE into the other market.

We are also focused on our sustainability initiatives which are in line with Sir Richard Branson’s strategy to address climate change. VMMEA has decided to go green in the production of our SIM cards and recharge card to avoid the use of any single use plastic. We have already removed 98% all our single use plastic from all our operations and we are in process of removing the last 2% this year. In total we proud to say that we have eliminated 50 tons of yearly single use plastic usage.

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