Modernising Grameenphone With Yasir Azman, Deputy CEO and CMO, Grameenphone

Modernising Grameenphone With Yasir Azman, Deputy CEO and CMO, Grameenphone

Future Startup’s Ruhul Kader sits down with Grameenphone Deputy CEO and CMO Yasir Azman to demystify Grameenphone’s path to the future

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Yasir Azman is the Deputy Chief Executive Officer and Chief Marketing Officer of Grameenphone. Prior to joining Grameenphone, he worked at ANZ Grindlays Bank, British American Tobacco and has an impeccable track record, as a result-oriented transformational leader. Mr. Azman is considered as one of the finest business leaders in the country.

In 2017 I wrote in Grameenphone’s digital strategy, “there are not many companies like Grameenphone in Bangladesh. The company is a master of execution and very good at thinking ahead of the competition. If you look closely at how GP operates, you will find that it operates with a sort of conviction and commitment that is hard to come by. At the same time, the company is agile, more so for a company of GP’s size, and do things that almost no other companies would do in the market.” It is true that Grameenphone has been going through some challenges of late, regulatory to consumer experience; but despite that, it continues to outperform the market and competition both in terms of performance and innovation.

Over the past few years, GP has invested in a long list of digital initiatives including but not limited to OneGP, its internal communication tool to MyGP, its ultimate platform to leverage its large user base to video and music streaming to ecommerce.

In this wonderful interview with Future Startup’s Ruhul Kader, inimitable Yasir Azman, Deputy Chief Executive Officer and Chief Marketing Officer of Grameenphone, gives us an insight into Grameenphone’s digital initiatives and its digital ambition, changes at the company in the past one year, goes into the future of telecom industry in Bangladesh and competitive landscape, explains what makes great brands and offers a window into the inner workings of one of the most important companies in Bangladesh and much more.

This was a much longer interview. So we had to break it down into two parts and this is part one. Please come back later this month for the second installment of the interview.

Future Startup

In June 2017 when we interviewed you for the first time, Grameenphone was going through a lot of changes; it has been a long time since then, what are some major changes at GP? What have you been up to?

Yasir Azman

2016 was a year of major transformation for GP and hence the industry, we were rolling out 10000 BTS with 3G coverage, which is today, of course, the whole Bangladesh, so 2017 was the year of fastest growth of data subscribers; when we brought the whole country under 3G coverage, that was an important investment for Grameenphone. In 2018, GP started rolling out 4G to bring the benefit of high-speed internet to the citizens of Bangladesh, this remains our focus in 2019. GP plays an important role in the digital Bangladesh ecosystem, high-speed internet is prerequisite to engage youth and bring innovation to tackle issues in the societal and economic development of our country.

Secondly, we have done a massive amount of things to become even more intimate to our customers. We have taken initiatives to become a supremely customer oriented company. There are ways to get even closer to our customers. We have made an investment in initiatives to improve the experience of our customers. We have simplified our product portfolio, killed the root causes that create troubles for our users. Consequently, the rate of complaints we used to get through our call center has fallen significantly. This journey continues to be a truly customer-centric organization.

In a recent report published by BTRC, we find that even though we have the largest customer base we are not the number one in numbers of customer complaints that BTRC received directly. We take a lot of pride that we are providing the best customer experience in the country but on the other side, we acknowledge that there are complaints. We take responsibility and keep ourselves committed to solve the challenges in customer experience. Our core objective is to provide the best in network experience and we shall remain committed, both by solving the short term challenges while rolling out 4G, upgrading technology and by making long term investment. Giving every customer the best possible experience in our network, in billing, in own and partner services are of our top most priorities. We take the call to ensure that even if we lose revenue without any question.

Third, we have brought changes in our distribution – the way we reach out and serve our customers. We believe that mobile penetration still has a huge opportunity in our country. Access to mobile empowers people. It changes lives. Mobile penetration makes the economic activities more agile and faster that is why we felt that our distribution needs to be expanded and thus we expanded it massively. However, we see there is a possibility to modernize our physical distribution world to bring better efficiency so we can pass the benefit to the customers. Digitalizing our core and customer journeys are in focus. At the same time building digital channels for the future of both our own and through partnerships.

Finally, we must think how in this connected digital world one behaves; certainly, we behave, consume and live differently. Disruption is there already; see the change in the transport industry, media, education and what not. So for us, it’s important to develop capabilities to understand our customers need, being able to identify relevant services for different customer segments and to be able to reach them and distribute service to them digitally and contextually. We are going through this massive change in customer interaction, building relevant capabilities to build the right ecosystem for individuals and enterprises are our ongoing priority.

In a nutshell, we have indexed resources on four prime areas- network, distribution, customer experience and digitalization of our customer journeys. We have become a lot more agile as an organization, altogether modernizing Grameenphone. We have brought a lot of changes to our organization so that we can respond effectively to the changing world through the 4th industrial revolution.

Future Startup

Could you please break it down in terms of what kind of changes you brought into the organization?

Yasir Azman

We have made some very profound changes and improvements within the organization. One particular thing in line with our customer-centric approach is to take organization closer to the customers, end market. As far as customer management decisions concerned, Grameenphone used to be a centralized organization since 2015, other than sales & network operations. With the growing customer confidence, we realized that our customers in Sylhet are different from those of Chittagong. Our market share is different in these two divisions. The need of the customers in Rajshahi is very different from the needs of users in Chittagong. Hence we needed to localize our communication and the way we serve them. We decentralized our operations to get closer to the customers, to understand them better, solve their problems better, and serve them where they are. We have five empowered Circle Business Heads leading five circles as we have defined within the country.

In GPHouse, we have transformed to drive innovation and simplification. Work has been initiated to modernize Grameenphone. We have become more agile as an organization. We are co-creating with our customers where the customers become part of the product development process. So any product we are bringing in passes through the experiences and immersions of the customers in order to develop the product. These are the approaches the organization brought in. As a result, we continue winning the trust of our customer base. At present, we have more than 74 million customers. A decentralized operation, digitized customer journey and as a whole our modernization drive through the entire organization helped us to deliver greater value to our customers, that consequently led our growth and financial performance.

Future Startup

You have been working on a good number of stand-alone digital products such as Bioscope, GP Music, Wowbox and so on, how does your organizational structure work? How do these digital product teams operate?

Yasir Azman

We have organized the commercial team into three different divisions – firstly, Operations that take care of all our operations, the circle organization and distribution. Circle Business Heads, one of the most critical roles in the GP report to Head of Operations.

Secondly, a Digital division where our head of digital takes care of Digital channels, Business Innovation, Digital services, Accelerator program, and Whiteboard.

Then we have a Marketing division. Here the product pricing, business intelligence, market plans, and financial services are operated. However, it is important to understand that an organization evolves based on the need or objectives to deliver. It is our customer-centric approach that defines organizational development initiatives. Likewise today we are building new capabilities those are required in the 4th industrial change & development and hence you see a new division such as Digital emerges. At the same time, the growing confidence of customers pushes us towards decentralizing operations to be granular. In an organizational structure it is important to define the purpose, how do we make sure the interdependency, how do we practice agile way of work, how to drive greater organization engagement, empowering culture, facilitating leadership, focus in building critical capabilities, collaboration, how can we flatten the organization with less hierarchy to allow faster decision making, more empowerment than the current structure. And organizational structure needs to hold the behavioral aspects we want to drive in the organization.

Future Startup

When we spoke last time in 2017, you had a host of digital products and ahead of almost all of your peers in terms of digital innovation. Could you please tell us where are you now today? How much progress have you made in terms of being the digital-first telecom operator?

Yasir Azman

Digital disruption is everywhere, it’s not only at our individual customers’ or enterprises’ end; Grameenphone as an organization also needed to be disrupted by itself and transform, that is what I mentioned modernizing Grameenphone. We have now several digital solutions for our performance management across the value chain. We have an internal app called OneGP app through which everyone at GP can connect and collaborate with each other.

OneGP app connects all GP people with each other and helps you get things done on the go. It allows you to carry your office with you. I can give approval to anything that needs my approval sitting anywhere in the world. I believe it has changed how we operate as a company in regards to employee engagement.

Our customer-facing app MyGP has become one of the key digital channels for our customers to interact with us. More than 5 million people are using the app to interact with us and use our services on a monthly basis. We have developed bots on Facebook and social channels to serve our customers digitally. We have a web chat system through which our customers can communicate with customer care representatives instantaneously.

As far as the services, Bioscope remains a priority to fill the gap in Bangla content for our customers at digital platforms, it has progressed a lot during these last few years. Wowbox continued as one of the major digital distribution channels with youthful content available for its target segment. Skitto is growing fast as a digital telecom brand, priority for this brand is to cater to the need for a digital-centric youth customer base with various deals available for its customers. Our strategic local developments are MyGP, Bioscope, Skitto as a digital telco brand and also Shoparu our online sales and distribution platform. All these products are in the growth phase, we need to continue investing in these for sustainable growth.

Yasir Azman with team

Yasir Azman with team

Future Startup

Could you tell us a little bit more about MyGP? Your users will be using the app to buy your services, buy minutes and different packages and all that. Do you have any other plan there?

Yasir Azman

MyGP is a dream. It is a dream to digitalize customer journeys for our Telco services. In this platform, we shall able to offer contextualized offers at real-time basis based on our customer profile and need. While we use this platform as our digital distribution channel we shall also create opportunities for selected startups in regular intervals to reach to greater customer base than they could do standalone. However, partner services shall get integrated based on customers need only. In the overall digital ecosystem of a customer’s life, MyGP shall play the role of the digital distribution platform.

Future Startup

That’s brilliant because this is such a wonderful opportunity to aggregate other digital products and services and building a great bundle for your users, which should allow you to earn more from your users as well as create a strong moat. You remember we discussed this thing in our first interview building an ecosystem around GP number – your GP number is the foundation of an ecosystem where you build other services around your GP number and hence building an ecosystem of services and products. Do you plan to integrate Bioscope and other digital services into MyGP?

Yasir Azman

MYGP can be used as a distribution channel for Bioscope in the sense that we can help Bioscope to reach out to MyGP users when Bioscope brings new content. I can hyperlink the particular movie in MyGP. So MyGP can work as a distribution platform. In fact other apps, for example, uber, chaldal, Shebaxyz can use MyGP as a distribution channel because there is limited such platform to distribute digital products to such a large user base like MyGP holds.

Future Startup

So you may integrate any service there like what you just said about Sheba? Do you have any timeline in mind about this integration that aggregating more digital products and services into the app?

Yasir Azman

You see our prime objective is to develop it as a Telco service delivery platform. At the same time, we are working to provide access to startups to promote their services and reach out to a greater customer base. Today’s product development approach has entirely changed. In many cases, we actually don’t know the end of an ultimate product hence the timeline. It is rather small steps with a clear hypothesis to test and based on customer feedback and response we approach the next step.

Future Startup 

You mentioned you have 5 million users in MyGP, what percentage of them uses it daily?

Yasir Azman

A significant percentage of them use it on a daily basis.

Future Startup

How do you plan to push it as in how do you get more users and make the existing ones use it more often?

Yasir Azman

You can grow your numbers through aggressive marketing but we believe that if users find our app useful then they will automatically use it in higher frequency. If we add value to the lives of our customers, they should be encouraged to use it. That is how we are growing. Our growth has been predominantly organic so far. Yes, at first we have done promotions but now we are growing organically.

Future Startup 

You have mentioned that you have grown in terms of revenue and customers. The market is tight. The competition is fierce and everybody is pushing from every side. How do manage to grow? How do you differentiate in a hyper-competitive market?

Yasir Azman

We are basically true to our customers in everything we do. We are known for providing the best network experience in the country, bringing in cutting edge technology and a strong brand that is attached emotionally with its customers. We are transparent in all transactions and we try to bring constant innovation in the market. We constantly focus on modernizing our organization to bring efficiency and to create value for the customers. Our product development and network investments are based on our customers’ demand & feedback. This is how we differentiate ourselves and keep us competitive in the market. Being a customer-centric operation is the biggest differentiating factor. However, we are going through a transition from voice era to the digital era, for us now to build an unbeatable data network, resilient one that helps every individual every enterprise to unleash their true potential in its connected life. During this transformation, we see service disruption in some pocket markets or cities, but these are short term. We shall always keep our promise to our customers and that’s how we shall continue strengthening the trust of our customers.

Well in different markets, I am not meaning only in Bangladesh, we see some providers are competition centric than being customer-centric, but that’s what we avoid entirely. We don’t believe that copying competition or fighting with competition make differentiation in the market, neither can maintain consistency.

Future Startup 

There were many behind building the Brand GP? What did you build?

Yasir Azman

That’s fine, no discomfort here. You see, I have been appointed as CMO of Grameenphone back in 2015, at that time it was having 50 million plus customers and that was my prime job- to take care of this largest brand in the country together with entire Grameenphone team, its not only the CMO- To strengthen its position, to continue with high trust for our customers.

Today, GP has 74 million customers and we are still growing; this brand has a big responsibility to provide telecom services and help transform Bangladesh into a digital-centric nation with progress and prosperity. Keeping our customer attached to our brand both emotional and functionally is the challenge worth taking. My major challenge was to build the brand for the future, bring the customer experience with digital-centric customer journeys; and then we have a lot to do in innovation and for youth. The brand Grameenphone is meant for that. It is not necessary to build new brands by a CMO.

This brand was built over the last 18 years. I am dealing with this for the last 4 years this time. One of the priorities for us during this time is to continue the journey and at the same time, evolve the brand with the demands of the changing times. We have done some great works and we have a lot more to do.

Among others, Skitto is a new digital telco brand that we established over the last three years. We have bioscope with our partner taking a strong position as a video streaming service. MyGP a digital channel became one of the popular ones in the country and largest local app. Shoparu is in the pre-scale-up stage. Over the last few years, these brands have grown meaningfully.

Future Startup

Could you tell us more about Skitto?

Yasir Azman

The first ever fully digital telco brand, Skitto, conceived by Grameenphone to solve a very specific problem; provide solutions the demanding youth segment, millennial/ post-millennial, with a product brand that is strikingly different from GP. Almost all customer journeys are digitalized for Skitto.

It started in 2017 and came across countless challenges and 2018 was the year of scaling up and redemption. After one year of operating on a small scale with countless iterations, limited availability to ensure sales among the correct target segment & an ARPU as good as GP, Skitto managed to be in continues growth momentum, and a solid launch pad to go all out in 2019 managed by an agile team of 12 individuals each leading a core function. This is operated by a young lean team to be very efficient and to pass on benefits to its customer. The user base is majorly data users and high users of different OTT/apps. Most of the customer interaction for this brand happens through Skitto app.

Future Startup

How do you think of the competition? How do you stay ahead in a highly competitive market?

Yasir Azman

That is a secret. But let me make it an open one. For me, the weapon to be the winner in any competitive market is to create value for the customers and maintain a customer-centric approach in everything you do. Many companies spend too much time analyzing the competition. They think about competition, talk about competition and invest a lot of energy in dealing with what competitors are doing instead of focusing on customers.

You don’t deal with competition always; you basically solve your customer’s problem, not your problem created by competition. If you are once in competition centric approach you will be in a loop, better not to be. So it is important to build a clear value proposition that your brand shall offer to solve your target customers problem or cater his/her need, the more you specialize in this angle the more you be ahead of the competition.

I feel that being competition centric instead of being customer-centric is pointless.

Future Startup

Anything you would like to highlight that is needed for the industry to fulfill digital Bangladesh ambition?

Yasir Azman

I have my own meaning of digital Bangladesh. It has many facets to me. In one line, I would say digital Bangladesh will bring economic freedom to the citizens of Bangladesh, the ultimate freedom by removing inequities. Digital Bangladesh will bring transparency, hence less corruption, digital Bangladesh will open up new opportunities for individuals and enterprise without boundary. It will bring better education, it will give scale to small businesses, it will remove physical barrier or distance. It will give equal access to information. Digital Bangladesh will give the platform to youth for social innovation, access to the global market and so many other opportunities.

Two things in today’s interview I would like to highlight at least for the good of digital Bangladesh, First one, high-speed internet is a must; in Bangladesh, licenses are in silos, mobile operators are not allowed to do fixed broadband, so that’s not getting scale, govt hence needs to intervene differently. On the other hand, Mobile Broadband has progressed a lot but not enough for the near future. We have not seen yet, the real demand of data, operators shall need more bandwidth to cater to the demand and bring in 5G into the country. That needs spectrum availability and lower price. Second, over the last 11 years, the vision of Digital Bangladesh has progressed to a great extent. Industries, government, individuals all have taken it forward, but in silos in many instances. As an example convergence billing for fixed and mobile is not possible due to separate licenses, real cashless societies are not leapfrogging due to the hard-wall between financial and telecom industry, operators are not allowed to bring digital payment solutions for its customers, we need to find out the way that these different industries can collaborate with each other and bring synergic effect into the country. It is not for the license holders rather for the country and to enable leapfrogging of the economy. If you ask for the third important element, I would say building the platform to engage youth and to drive innovation.

Future Startup

What are your plans for 2019?

Yasir Azman

Our top three priorities for 2019 are all related to providing the best customer experience in the country. We are building a high-speed data network for the citizens of Bangladesh, we are doing it all over the country to provide compelling data experience. At the same time we are also seeing the way metro cities are changing, multi-storied building/ new constructions, increasing numbers of new city dwellers- all of which put us to take even faster action and to care and ensure their experience, this is one of the top priorities for the year 2019 to be ahead of the curve. Finally to bring in a new way of work, data-driven intelligent & proactive action driven network experience management.

In this year we shall work on IoT and ICT area. We shall scale in one of our high priority programs to bring value in our customers’ digital life, establish a new way of work for the organization and create greater value to the society by involving and contributing to the digital ecosystems of the country. To succeed in the 4th industrial revolution we also need to grow in critical capability areas by upskilling ourselves and bringing in experts in those areas.

Future Startup

You have launched a new number recently. How is that doing? At the same time, we’ve got number portability recently as well which I believe will give users greater freedom. What is your view? How this number portability will affect the telecommunication industry?

Yasir Azman

This is a very interesting topic. We have been facing difficulties related to the numbers but finally, we got the approval for a new number series. After bringing in 013, our customer acquisition was increased by around 30%-40% which is very encouraging

Two things are now happening in the industry. The pricing has changed. There is no longer anything like off-net and on-net pricing. This is a big change for the industry. A unified tariff structure was welcomed by Grameenphone even though it had significantly bigger on-net minutes than off-net share. Grameenphone is not built on the tariff structure rather its promise to deliver a brand that solves your problem across the country; it is the customer centricity and above all the network it has built over the last 22 years.

Number portability is a good thing for our users, it’s a freedom at the customer end. And we are with anything that is good for customers. We shall always put our best effort so that once a customer laid trust on us they continue with us. We have areas to improve on, we try to listen to our customers and try to resolve those at the earliest possible. In parallel, we continue to bring in new services and innovation in the market.

Future Startup

Do you think it brings more responsibility to operators that you have to do more for your users because now they have more power?

Yasir Azman

I think it gives us more responsibility to keep our promises. That is a very good point you raised. I think it gives us the challenge to continue with an even greater commitment to delivering on our customers need.

Future Startup

What are some lessons you have learned in the last two years?

Yasir Azman

  1. Customer first – business shall follow
  2. People make difference – we need to keep up-skilling ourselves to cope with the change in the industry
  3. Digital disruption is everywhere – take it as a blessings
  4. On the personal ground, I felt we should do a lot more for our society, to our roots, for me my village Gochia in Derai Thana, Sunamganj.
  5. Keeping your curiosity alive is living an ever energized life!

Future Startup

You are the longest serving CMO for Grameenphone, this is the fifth financial year as we understand for you in GP as CMO, What keeps you motivated to keep running?

Yasir Azman

It’s the impact we create in our customers’ life that keeps me motivated.

Every connected life is an opportunity, opportunity for the individual, opportunity for the society for all good. My job empowers me to deliver. While a whole nation has trusted a brand and its service to progress that inspires a lot to commit and to keep going. There are endless opportunities. I didn’t feel that I am serving as the longest-serving CMO in GP as every day we have a huge number of challenges and opportunities to take care of at the same time and we have an immense number of reasons to look forward to the NEXT.

Future Startup

Books you enjoyed reading of late?

Yasir Azman

  • Factfulness by Hans Rosling. That’s a wonderful read.
  • The State of Affairs by Esther Perel.

These days I am more into psychology!:-)

 

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