Driving innovation to improve the customer experience across the Middle East from Saudi Arabia to Oman is the focus of Erik Dudman Nielsen, Founder & Group CEO of Virgin Mobile Middle East & Africa.
Virgin Mobile MEA serves three million customers in the region, with operations in Saudi Arabia and Oman, as well as providing advisory services to Emirates Integrated Telecommunications Company (EITC) in the UAE. It is the only mobile virtual network provider in the GCC with multiple live operations and millions of active customers.
The Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) now looks set to extend its coverage with the announcement it will launch in Kuwait and that it has secured a banking licence in Saudia Arabia.
The news is welcomed by Dudman Nielsen who has led the innovation since the company was founded in 2006.
“Virgin Mobile MEA is focused on driving innovation and always improving CX (customer experience),” he said. “We’re happy that we are the first to get a MVNO licence in Kuwait and look forward to opening this new digital lifestyle for our customers.
“In 2020 we were awarded the very first banking agent licence in Saudi Arabia through our partner, Saudi Investment Bank, and we will now be able to offer money remittance for customers in this region.”
Dudman Nielsen has been leading digital innovation since the beginning and launched the region's first digital proposition under the Virgin brand which is a digital MVNO where 100 per cent of customer engagement is done digitally through an app.
Driving the CX
He is driving the CX at Virgin Mobile MEA which he says is achieved by the company’s “relentless focus on listening to the customers” through focus groups, studies, and work sessions. “Our core proposition is to make mobile better,” said Dudman Nielsen speaking from the company headquarters in Dubai Internet City.
“We do so in a digital manner utilising our digital capabilities and the benefit of doing this is that you end up getting a much higher net promoter score - which is a nice expression for how well the customers are willing to recommend you to friends and family. We're happy that we, in our partnership with EITC have managed to have the highest net promoter score in the region which is testament to the continuous work we do.”
Dudman Nielsen pointed out the company operates a dual brand strategy with its Virgin Mobile brand, which has a CX focus on the young Arab youth and people who are ‘young at heart’ and use lots of apps and data, and the FRiENDi mobile brand which targets Asian expats. The apps include a move to financial services with the e-wallet in Saudi Arabia.
Flexibility, choice and cool products for the consumer is what Virgin Mobile offers as its CX and according to Dudman Nielsen always has done since Sir Richard Branson started stirring up the telco market back in the 1990s.
“The Virgin Mobile brand is targeted more for the Arab youth and tech-refined expats - who are into their digital apps - and, last but not least, the people who are young at heart - which I claim to be,” said Dudman Nielsen.
FRiENDi mobile is the brand for those with a piece of their heart abroad, offering highly affordable international prepaid mobile and Internet services in Oman and Saudi Arabia.”
According to Dudman Nielsen, FRiENDi mobile brings outstanding value for money to customers in Oman and Saudi Arabia, empowering them to stay connected to family, friends and the world around them.
“FRiENDi mobile is the brand for those with a piece of their heart abroad, offering highly affordable international prepaid mobile and Internet services in Oman and Saudi Arabia,” comments Dudman Nielsen.
FRiENDi (which combines the English word friend and Arabic Habibi for my love or friend) mobile helps its customers enjoy international and local call quality at the best rates and provides the relevant data bundles for VoIP calls.
“The mobile service is built for expats living in the GCC from Pakistani Bangladeshi, Sri Lankan and India who would like to have services in their own languages. It is presented in a simple way to understand and very much focused on blue collar expat workers - which is a completely different segment than the high-end digital Virgin mobile segment.
“Whether they’re calling a friend across the globe, sending a text or surfing the web, we’re working hard to make sure they enjoy that experience.”
Virgin Mobile MEA apps
Focusing on the smooth CX of the Virgin Mobile apps, Dudman Nielsen points out they are easy to understand and all built around the customers needs.
“For example if you want content services you can pay your Netflix account with the click of a button inside the app or if you’re in Saudi Arabia you might want free music streaming services, which you can get with a certain package. These kinds of offers are tailored around the customer's needs in a very easy to understand and very smooth experience. That's what we offer.
“We deem ourselves as payment gateway experts so we ensure your payments always succeed. We're also logistics experts in making sure that your home delivery succeeds. Those are the kinds of things that you make sure the app aid works and it's built around what you want as a customer in a modern day life,” he said.
Commenting on Virgin Mobile MEA’s competitive edge, Dudman Nielsen points out this is due to three important elements:
- Customer focus
- Digital platform capabilities
- Great partnerships
“Those three components allow us to deliver astounding results,” he said.
Virgin Mobile MEA move into FinTech
E-wallets will enable the 170 million smartphones in use across the region to access banking services and this is the focus of Virgin Mobile MEA as they move into mobile financial services following the banking licence issued in Saudia Arabia.
“We have close to 70 per cent of the population in the MENA region being unbanked,” points out Dudman Nielsen. “If you combine this with the 170 million smartphones then you sense that e-wallets are the way for people to become banked.
“Finally if you combine that within Saudi Arabia, and particularly in the GCC, all salary payments going forward will be electronic. Today, people are receiving salaries on ATM cash cards - so you have the recipe for success of e-wallets.”
Dudman Nielsen pointed e-wallets will help a typical blue collar expat worker in Saudi Arabia who will not have to go to the ATM on a Friday (Holy day for Islam) to collect his cash to send home but can transfer his money back home with the click of a button.
“He will be able to trade on live exchange rates and trust us because he knows us as a trusted brand already. We see the huge potential of e-wallets and later move this capability into domestic national payments, but the first step for us is the international money remit.”
Pandemic drives rise in digital services
According to Dudman Nielsen the COVID-19 pandemic has driven more customers to digital especially with the constraints of lockdown and limited access to banks and shops.
“People have got used to using their credit cards to do home grocery shopping. I think we are experiencing a region where people have become much more comfortable with digital payments and online payments. We have seen this in both the Virgin mobile segment and in the FRiENDi mobile space. We believe that this is just the beginning and the more you focus and invest into the digital space, the more successful you will be because this is the future.”
eSIM - the way forward
“In terms of new technology eSIMs are the way forward,” predicts Dudman Nielsen. “More devices will come with what's called an embedded SIM so you will not have to go to a dealer although we have made it easy in the UAE as we launched with a one-hour home delivery service but that will soon be old school.
“The future is definitely with an eSIM. In Saudi Arabia, as an example, we have partnered with Absher which is a digital ID and we have launched eSIM enabling this functionality. This effectively means when you have a new iPhone through your app share ID verification we can enable your eSIM from the comfort of your sofa at home.”
Great partnerships drive CX
NetNumber is a strong partner of Virgin Mobile MEA along with Sinch and Workz.
“I always believe in strong partnerships - the business needs to have strong, reliable long-term partnerships where there's mutual trust in that relationship because that opens up and gives opportunities for making strong development,” comments Dudman Nielsen.
“If we look at NetNumber, they are our vendor for HLR and HSS, which is the backend part of our systems, and they are also helping on the front end part – so we're very happy to have these vendors behind us.”
Quick fire questions:
What would Virgin Mobile MEA like to achieve in the coming year?
“We’re looking forward to our launch in Kuwait, that's a big milestone for us. On the FinTech part it’s the launch of FRiENDi pay in Saudi Arabia where we have huge expectations for our E-wallet launch or international money remittance. And thirdly, we're looking forward to opening up our data platform to help mobile operators in the region to become digital.”
What new technology are you personally excited about and how will this revolutionise telcos in the future?
“I look at digitalisation as the way forward rather than what technology you use. The addition of mobile, financial services, insurance products, content products will make people's life easier and build a digital mobile experience which will be convenient for people going forward.”
Sir Richard Branson is one of the world’s most iconic business leaders - how has he inspired employees during the pandemic?
“I believe Sir Richard Branson is an iconic entrepreneur and business leader. He has supported businesses across the world during the pandemic. There's been quite a bit of knowledge sharing among the group which has been useful such as, what have they done to manage their way through the crisis and what have they done to help communities. It has been heartening to see the whole Virgin family pull together and truly embody the Virgin spirit that runs through all of the Virgin companies.”
What are your plans in the Middle East during the coming year - will you be extending into Qatar in time for the Football World Cup in 2022?
“With the impending launch of our Kuwait services we will be present in 4 GCC countries and we are definitely looking towards Qatar and Bahrain as this would make a lot of sense for us to have.
Whether it's for the football deadline or later we are looking in towards Qatar.”
Virgin Mobile MEA launches in Kuwait
Virgin Mobile MEA has announced it will be launching in Kuwait.
The announcement follows the successful application for a business licence via a partnership with Kuwait Telecommunications Company (stc) to enable its operations, and secure debt and equity funding for the expansion.
The company will launch its fully digital app-based proposition in the country under the Virgin Mobile brand - becoming the fourth service provider. stc Kuwait will act as a host facilities-based provider with Virgin Mobile Kuwait to provide digital services to customers in the country. All of the new operations’ IT and app technology will be based on Virgin Mobile Middle East and Africa’s digital operator platform.
“Our presence [in Kuwait], following other successful launches in the GCC, is part of our ongoing commitment to always provide more choices for consumers as well as to push the boundaries of traditional telco with our digital propositions,” commented Erik Dudman Nielsen, founder and chief executive officer of Virgin Mobile Middle East and Africa.
Funding for the expansion into Kuwait has been provided by Wafra International Investment Company, Impulse International for Telecommunications and Virgin Mobile Middle East and Africa.
“Debt funding of $13m has been provided by Wafra to allow expansion of the Virgin brand into the Kuwait market. This is the first investment of its kind, established to set up a virtual telecommunications network,” said Wafra International Investment Company CEO, Ghazi Al Hajeri.
The remainder of the funding is supplied as equity funding, with Impulse International leading the equity transaction with $7 million which is a milestone for the telecom sector in Kuwait.
“This deal will allow Virgin Mobile Kuwait to provide the best technological services in its field, transferring technology and knowledge in the telecom sector while providing a more digital platform which reflects the global trend of service providers, while also providing new job opportunities,” said Izzat Abou-Amarah, CEO at Impulse International for Telecommunications