One of the best stories I ever heard about the birth of what we now call the omnichannel was at a conference where a representative of BT was speaking about their entry into multichannel customer service. It all came about because a customer was unhappy about their broadband service.

In this case, the problem was that the official channels for customer service were voice calls and email. There was nothing else, but the customer was tweeting that BT was the worst possible telco and all customers should avoid them. It was an endless stream of negative comments on Twitter.

This was in the early days of Twitter, so there was no official policy of monitoring social media at the time, but the person tweeting was the famous singer Mike Skinner of The Streets. Skinner had fans in the BT customer service call centre that saw what he was saying about their company. An agent informed their manager and the manager – to their credit – gave the agent authority to try fixing the issue using this new channel.

The issue was fixed, and quickly a famous person with a significant following was tweeting about how BT offered the best and most flexible customer service in the country. It was an early case study in what everyone learned later on about how to manage customers transparently on social networks and how a satisfied customer could become an advocate who effectively advertises the brand.

But I’m mentioning this case merely to indicate that telcos are often in the vanguard of change. By default their customers are connected, usually mobile, and these days very used to accessing information and comparing services 24/7. Telcos often see the market shift before other sectors.

The past half-decade has seen a significant change in the business model for telcos, with both challenge and opportunity being created. On the downside, for most telcos, is that they are trying to work out how to make the mobile business work. Most customers today are only interested in data plans. Nobody wants to pay for voice minutes and texts when all these processes now take place across the Internet on apps such as Skype or Whatsapp.

More positively, customers have become much more interested in service bundles. The quad-play that became common in the USA a while ago has really taken off in the UK, leading to telcos offering broadband, home phone, mobile phone, and TV all with a single bill. By combining services, the telco locks in the customer and the customer feels they get better value by consolidating the services.

But the real change that is taking place now is that telcos are moving away from being about telecoms. Customers of these packages are no longer interested in broadband speed, so long as it works well enough. What the customer is looking for is great content and now the telcos are competing to try providing it.

This will usually be through exclusive partnerships, such as Vodafone working with Netflix. The recent sale of BBC show Top Gear to Amazon Prime has shown that online content producers are now able to create some of the most sought-after content in the world. The telcos are finding that they need to partner up and offer this content.

The telcos that just offer a TV service and connection to the Internet are going to struggle. Imagine telling your kids that your service provider doesn’t offer the new Top Gear – they will have to go to the house of a friend to watch it.

It may seem counterintuitive to suggest that the next big thing for telcos actually has nothing to do with the network, but this is certainly the case today and should sound some warning bells for other sectors. The omnichannel approach to business is changing the way that customers communicate and what they expect from service providers. This may well completely change what they expect from you as a business.

Creating content might have very little to do with providing a broadband service to customers, but it now has everything to do with successfully providing a broadband service to customers.

I’m interested to har if you agree that Telcos are leading the charge towards omnichannel or if there’s another industry doing better. Let me know in the comments below, or connect with me on LinkedIn.