"WE LIVE IN AN AGE OF DIGITAL PROXIMITY"

A conversation with Antje Hundhausen

Antje_Hundhausen_Telekom

Antje Hundhausen | Source: Telekom

2020 really turned global retail upside down. However, current developments also offer many unexpected opportunities and much potential for brands and businesses. We met up with Antje Hundhausen, Vice President Brand Experience at Deutsche Telekom, and talked to her about communications companies’ new role, the merging of the analog and digital worlds, and the new Frankfurt flagship store which LIGANOVA is currently creating with Telekom.

Antje, how has 2020 changed the retail experience landscape?

Covid-19 has hit retailers hard worldwide and it has also shown us at Telekom that we need to make even more changes in this regard. We had already begun our own retail transformation before the pandemic. What counts is the experience in-store. Direct engagement is more important than ever, particularly when it comes to our products and services, that are not tangible. Together with LIGANOVA we are rethinking the flagship store in Frankfurt and — wherever possible given the current situation — want to establish unique touchpoints. To this end we have created various experience spaces where, for instance, we offer our partners a platform, or show our latest technical features such as 5G. The store also has a co-working area with hospitality encouraging visitors to stay a while. For a local touch in the shop design, the store picks up on a typical feature of the city of Frankfurt — a special interior feature that we will also be introducing in other stores. In general, we believe that hybrid models which have been developed on the basis of co-creation will work best, and we have been testing them for some months with the help of external partners. Our aim is to create a platform that enables more experiences than was the case before the pandemic. There will no longer be one single analog salesroom but rather lots of new, hybrid sales spaces.

How did Telekom manage to continue operating successfully during the pandemic?

Lots of employees switched to working from home. What mattered here was to consciously create spaces that enabled virtual dialogue. Since we are at home in the digital service world, we found good approaches for a new customer care concept very quickly. This meant that our in-store staff were able to seamlessly handle lots of key service actions. In future, the mix of physical and digital presence will be even more important. We live in an age of digital closeness. In order to create a new type of interaction, old patterns of behavior must finally be given a shake-up.

What technologies are going to be trailblazers when it comes to linking the analog and digital worlds?

There are already lots of good solutions in the market. Nonetheless, there is no single provider who covers the entire spectrum. For me personally, the videoconferencing provider Zoom has truly proved itself in recent months as a way of creating a certain closeness despite spatial distance. Overarching that, we are currently working closely with some external partners whose concepts already look very promising. Joining forces, we are in a very exciting test phase at the moment, trying to take existing services to the next level. One great discovery during our search for suitable partners was the start-up rooom from Jena. It originated from Telekom’s internal start-up program, TechBoost, and it enables private individuals and business customers to create their own three-dimensional worlds easily and without any special technology. For our Digital X initiative — a platform for medium-sized businesses that revolves around digitalization — we are working with the Cologne-based start-up Meetyoo, which specializes in staging digital events. At the moment, it’s a case of “learning by doing” for a lot of our activities.

With the “new normal”, communications businesses will have to take on a key role: What are the biggest opportunities and challenges there?

These days, one important motto for us is “reset the mindset”. At the moment we are making use of lots of new concepts that have shown us in recent months that much has quickly become outdated. Our greatest opportunity is digitalization itself. We see ourselves here in the role of a trustworthy companion who uses software programs to support the whole of society — private individuals, educational institutions and, of course, our business customers from major corporation to medium-sized enterprises to small businesses. Ultimately, the biggest challenge here will be to include everybody and take them all on this journey with us. What will be important here is that tools are easy to use, and that we have healthy openness and dialogue across generations so that we can offer each other mutual inspiration and remove inhibitions about digital media. With regard to digitalization, we cannot afford to fall back into a class society. To prevent that, one thing we are doing is supporting social projects that ensure that people with lower means are provided with software.

Increasingly, brands are identifying themselves via an individual brand purpose. What role do social and ecological responsibility play here?

One of the biggest milestones is the #Dabei movement that started in 2019 with #Dabei — Road to IFA and the subsequent IFA 2019 #Dabei Festival with talks, live podcasts and concerts, and is now being continued. With these events we are aiming to offer effortless and entertaining access to digitalization, and enable sustainable digital education for all — whether it’s Generation Z, Mid Agers or members of the Silver Society. With the Telekom Foundation we are currently setting up lots of special programs involved with education. One key area we are focusing on is the integration of refugees into professional life. This is made possible with our pilot project “Praktikum PLUS Direkteinstieg” (Internship PLUS Direct Start) that we have set up in partnership with the Deutsche Post DHL Group, Henkel and the Federal Employment Agency. As a leading European communications provider, we also want to be a pioneer with regard to sustainability. That’s why we set up our Corporate Responsibility Program, We Care, a long time ago. It starts with the everyday lives of our employees and extends to our sustainable smartphone recycling system.

“We won’t stop until everyone is connected.”

We have committed to acting responsibility along our entire value chain. We are also partnering with our suppliers to help them operate more sustainably. This subject will also be more strongly reflected in physical retail in future. For our new flagship store in Frankfurt we are using a lot of sustainable materials that have a certain longevity. Over the long term, we want to engage even more closely with people via our We Care program and show them how much we have to offer, apart from our products.

Digitalization, networking & virtuality — what is the most creative way that brands can merge these components to produce unique experiences?

I am a big fan of creative networking of different industries and areas because it shows what is possible beyond what already exists. One good example of that is our Fashion Fusion initiative that revolves around the subjects of smart fashion and technologies, and impressively reveals what can happen when creatives get together with powerful partners and experts from technology and the fashion industry. The Heatable Capsule Collection — along with Schoeller and Red Bull’s standalone fashion label AlphaTauri — proves that technology is becoming increasingly invisible, so it is being very subtly integrated into our lives. What is special about the collection is that the wearer can easily control the temperature of the jacket or vest themselves with an app — because with traditional fashion, you are either dressed too warmly or not dressed warmly enough.

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