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Democratizing digital: how a customer focus brought mobiles to the masses

Published 14 September 2021 in Technology • 4 min read

Issa Guevarra-Cabreira’s relentless focus on customer service helped transform Globe from its narrow affluent base to a leading mass-market brand

The early to mid-2000s was a period of transformation in the telecoms space in the Philippines. With the launch of the country’s first iPhone on the horizon, the promise of smartphone-driven innovation was within touching distance. Issa Cabreira had, until then, been working in the consumer goods space for a decade – a common career trajectory for those forging a career in business at the time.

But it was the telecoms market that caught her deep interest. Until then, mobile access had been the preserve of the privileged and affluent in the country, but she could see that this was a pivotal moment in which smartphone and internet technology would provide an opportunity for millions of underserved Filipinos to not only access traditional connectivity, but a whole host of exciting new applications.

In 2008, she made the switch from Kraft Foods to Globe Telecom, a brand primarily concerned with servicing an affluent and business-oriented customer base.

She joined the postpaid side of the business but could see that the underserved prepaid part of the business had massive potential, and wanted to be a part of it. Just a few months later, she was sitting in an office in California, negotiating the introduction of the iPhone to the Philippines market. “Being able to introduce that to the market was an amazing experience. I already had a feeling that it would change the telco world completely,” she says.

Some years on, she became Vice-President of the prepaid business, transforming Globe’s mass market subsidiary, TM, from fifth to first place in terms of its subscriber base. What was the secret to success? From a practical perspective, she credits an approach driven by the needs of the consumer as paramount – manifested through access to mobile data and a strong pricing model for both mobile packages and devices. That’s especially important for a young market such as the Philippines, where consumer savviness is high, and the biggest obstacle to take-up is financial. Appealing to both the younger demographic and a mass market segment also required a shift in brand perception to something warmer and more accessible.

The transformation of the prepaid portfolio and taking leadership in that dominant market segment earmarked her as a rising star at the company, and she became the first woman to be its Chief Commercial Officer in April of this year. She says she remains committed to expanding mobile access in the Philippines and understands that an increasingly digitally savvy customer base means that Globe must constantly think beyond the boundaries of mere connectivity, bringing to bear innovation across a variety of disciplines to develop a new relationship with its customers. “Being customer-centred and obsessing about them is crucial, making the most of data, analytics, research and marketing,” she says.

The emergence of the pandemic has underscored the urgency of that premise, placing emphasis on the incubation of emerging technologies such as fintech, healthtech and adtech. Front of center with every technological development is her desire to ensure that Globe builds a lifelong relationship with its consumers, preventing them from making sideways choices to other technology companies that serve needs beyond pure connectivity. Implicit in that narrative is a belief that the likes of Globe therefore also have a role to play in uplifting the lives of ordinary Filipinos, addressing broader societal challenges such as financial inclusion and healthcare coverage.

But setting up and running Globe’s incubator arm, as she did for a year and a half prior to the pandemic with a newly launched Globe subsidiary, is no easy feat. The switch from the expansive corporate machinery of a major telecoms operator to the more nuts-and-bolts operations at a start-up can be jarring. Unpredictable revenue prospects, elevated risk and the overall uncertainty of the project are the most noticeable differences, but equally, she recognizes the latent potential for innovation and creativity that comes with an incubator that is relatively free from burdensome revenue expectations. “You’re not necessarily going to be delivering revenue at an incubator; it may come some time after launch. There’s also a lot of uncertainty; it’s a bit like being kicked out of your mother’s home and then fending for yourself,” she adds.

Issa identifies the tremendous amount of change the Globe incubator saw during the pandemic, which in a 12-month period forced a pace of change that under normal circumstances would take five years to unravel.

That has undoubtedly presented some challenges in terms of business continuity, but she sees changes arising because of the pandemic, and the associated acceleration of digital transformation as further opportunities for getting closer to the customer. Operators can use all manner of different tools to democratize and personalize their digital offers at scale, from data analytics to research and marketing, although she understands that a more detailed knowledge of the customer base should be accompanied by robust privacy protocols to preserve trust.

“It’s crucial to have a good grasp of the customer at any given time and always keep them front and center,” she says. “We know so much about them that it would be such a disservice if we didn’t do a good job by them.”


Issa Guevarra-Cabreira

Issa Guevarra-Cabreira

Chief Commercial Officer at Globe Telecom

Experienced Head Of Mobile with a demonstrated history of working in the telecommunications industry. Strong support professional skilled in Business Development, Strategy, Product Management, Market Research, and Brand Management.


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