“We’re not necessarily a loved brand, and at a business level, there’s a desire to transform,” said Michael Smith, Chief Commercial Officer, Group Digital L!fe, SingTel, in an interview with e27. He thinks the subsidiary should be concerned about the telco’s customer relationships.

A year ago, SingTel was voted ‘Best Mobile Operator’ on Hardwarezone.com’s ‘Reader’s Choice Category’. This author thought it seemed likely, but in a more ‘least-of-all-evils’ way. After all, its long list of allegations seemed to prove evidently so. The sort of attention SingTel gives to its user (I’m a prepaid customer) is pretty dismal. People groan about the telco every time they’re made to return a Mio TV set, pay exorbitant data charges after an overseas trip, and complications in bills.


Smith sees an opportunity in getting connected with the customer. He shared how when customers use their mobile handsets, they typically do not remember the telco. SingTel cannot exist as just a utility — a provider of the pipe. For example, if customers use an Apple device, they’ll first praise Apple, followed by Steve Jobs, and the apps that they’re using. Is SingTel or any other telco for that matter ever included in the equation, despite being the ones who offer the service to go online in the first place? Not at all.

Formed two years ago, Digital L!fe Group fulfills a pertinent role which is directly linked to the telco’s success in the region. As most of the world moves toward smartphones, apps and the internet of things, the digital revolution has opened up new revenue streams for the conglomerate. Smith said, “When we first started, a lot of the thinking was to get ourselves into apps. And you saw that in the early incarnation — whether it was HungryGoWhere, Amped, Newsloop or things we don’t have anymore like Skoob. We did a bunch of different applications that we thought were ways to engage with customers in new media.”

In 2013, SingTel’s e-book service Skoob was closed, not so shortly after its elder sibling magazine app store del!te was removed in 2012.

“The journey has us focusing on few key revenue streams; we continue to pivot and change,” said Smith, adding, “You need to be clear on what your vision is, but you need to be agile and change according to the market. That’s true for us and I think it’s true for startups too.”

‘Appy now?
Last December, SingTel launched an Android mobile game app store for its customers. In addition to the social sharing component on the platform, game purchases can be made with direct carrier billing.

Smith shed some light on the app store scene. He said, “If you look at all the businesses, those guys (profitable apps) are making money on the interaction — sell me a sticker, a bit of music, I’m chatting with you and paying 10 cents for that.”

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However, the trouble with every app store lies in its destination. He pointed to LINE, a Japanese chat app popular in markets such as Taiwan and Thailand, and said, “Let’s say (the consumer is) in LINE, it’s the only thing you’re using day in day out, those environments are more likely to have a future app store. I’m sure LINE will love to charge 30 per cent (in the case of Apple and Google Play). They will probably have more appealing revenue models to help developers get on board.”

Essentially, how often do users enter the App Store to discover and scour for the next winning app? The answer is that they usually don’t — unless driven to an insane level of boredom.