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Good call

Interview - March 22, 2012
Roberto Peón, CEO of Telecommunications Services of Trinidad and Tobago (TSTT), discusses the company’s diversification strategy, its customer-centric approach and its innovative tactics to corner the market

“Running a telecommunications company is like flying a plane.” How are you flying this plane?

I am running TSTT very precisely because flying is an art, a very precise art. It’s all about precision. If you are going too fast it is likely you will not be able to land it. And if you are too slow, there is a chance you’re going to crash. The telecommunications industry is always changing and everyone is trying to get to the customer and provide him with new services. You don’t have a tower control to guide you through!

You have just mentioned one of the most important issues in the telecommunications industry: getting to the customer and providing new services. What’s more important to you: differentiating your services or reaching a massive amount of new clients?

It’s all of the above. If you don’t get to the customer first, there is a chance that you have lost him forever. On the other hand, if you don’t provide your customers with the right prices and services, you will not keep them. I like to make this square: at the top of it I put “Why should a customer buy from you? And how does a customer relate to you? You need the right products, the right distribution and the right personal approach.
My personal approach to telecommunications is reducing what I call the “hassle factor”. If you give the product and the service without any hassle, then you can say that the customer becomes the most important factor in your decisions.
The question is to get there early to find some leads as to what the customer really wants, and as I mentioned, get there with the right price, the right place, and in Trinidad the right formation.

TSTT offers a variety of services: blink, b-mobile, Internet and phone services, etc. Could you elaborate on your diversification strategy?

We moved to offer the whole range of telecommunications services but we also moved into the sectors in which we identified opportunities, such as security. We moved from having our own security services in place to prevent people from stealing the copper of our cables to become the largest provider in the market in just six months. We even put in place in record time the security cameras for the Summit of the Americas with President Obama.

Dr. Cris Seecharan, Executive Director of the Telecommunications Authority, mentioned in our interview that Trinidad & Tobago is one of the five biggest countries in terms of mobile communication penetration. How are you going to differentiate yourself so that people will choose TSTT over your competitors?

We have more services to offer than anyone else at this point. We have a lot of packages that are quite attractive, WiMAX and a 4G network already in place.

In the event that a third operator joined the market, prices would drop for a while, but I don’t know if a third carrier would be successful. That was the case in Jamaica; they are now back to monopoly, because they tried to put too many carriers in a small market.

TSTT will be able to differentiate and strive. One of the reasons why they brought me here is that they wanted an attacker running a defender. We have maintained our revenues so if they bring in competition, we will compete. We will reduce the hassle factor and work on our analytics so we can identify our customers’ needs very effectively.

Is that the reason why you always get to the customers first?

Sometimes you put out a product and some of them are going to stick and some others are going to fail. Telecommunications companies tend to be managed by engineers; they don’t like to fail, they like to make it work. They are fabulous at making sure that the product is really excellent. But when you come to the creative side, you need to have risk takers to put in the market that product that can make the difference.

What are you doing to increase efficiency in TSTT?

We are currently working on a system called NGOSS, integrating all the systems; because computers don’t like to talk to each other very well. With new devices and new ways of interaction for your customers, you will need to generate more efficiency.

How are you implementing innovation in Trinidad and Tobago?

The biggest issue of a telecom company is the back office: the billing system, customer service and all these systems to reduce the hassle to the customer. We are in a transition, in accepting new systems within and adding value to what we are doing.

As you mentioned, telecommunications is the most changing and dynamic sector in the world. Nowadays people have access to smart phones, IPads, Internet, instant communication… With this revolution in the communication field taking place, what is the future of TSTT and what areas are you focusing on?

With the fourth generation network already implemented, video is where the world is going right now and we are positioning TSTT to try to get there first. You will have video on your phone and at your home, and total interconnectivity with your device.

Television is about to make a comeback. You will be able to watch it from your own device anywhere; the content that you want at anytime, and also interact with it. For example, you will be able to link your phone to your TV back home. You will just need bandwidth to operate. It’s exciting what’s going to happen.

So how do you position a company when all these revolutions are taking place? You have to go back to basics. We are very good at providing bandwidth, billing, integration and no hassle but what customers really want is to be able to see other people instantly. We are investing a lot of money in telepresence, something unique in the Caribbean. When we finally establish our telepresence center in Tobago, the need to go to the island for business or education will be reduced and business training will be conducted exceptionally fast.

The concept is not just to get fast returns; it is about fulfilling your niche need.

You are bringing the future into Trinidad. How many years ahead of the present moment are you thinking to run TSTT?

About four or five years. If you don’t position yourself you are going to be dead in the long run. A lot of telephone companies are going to be hurt big time if they just sit still in the same point.

You’ve mentioned that you were bought as an attacker in this company. What change of mentality have you implemented in a company that used to be a monopoly?

When you are in a monopoly and then you go into competition, a shock is produced. There are two kind of companies: the ones that fail and the ones that keep on going. You won’t survive unless you do things differently.

In TSTT’s case, our people took the challenge as a motive for national pride. They have done a fabulous job at it. We have also changed the mentality of “wait to see what happens”. We are going to be ahead of what happens: you need to be willing to take chances and know that you can fail but that you will keep moving forward.

What changes would you like to see implemented once your mandate is over?

We have been successful in maintaining revenue market share and now we need to become more efficient. When I leave, I hope that better efficiency and focus on the customer will be a true priority.

Companies need to become socially responsible in order to succeed. TSTT Foundation is taking a big step forward in the field of education, sport and culture.

TSTT is focused on the future of this nation: education and our children, because it is an area for both sustainability and growth. TSTT is regarded as one of the biggest players in social support as we take social responsibility very seriously. We are present in almost every field on a national level: culture, sports, education, etc.