Understanding Mobile
Data Usage
in Manila


A leading Philippines telecommunication company requested our team to investigate and determine why previously loyal mobile data customers were abandoning their brand for competitors.


PLDT is the leading telecommunications and digital services provider in the Philippines.

PLDT logo


  • Determine why customers are leaving for competitor data providers
  • Outline how customer perceive prepaid data, brands, and company 
  • Propose ways to improve the mobile prepaid experience


  • Stakeholder Interviews (30+ total)
  • Competitive Analysis
  • Contextual Inquires (20 total)
  • Affinity Diagram
  • Final Presentation

My Role

I served as the UX Designer for the team. I assisted with research activities by helping with the audio and video equipment, guided the creation of presentation materials, and was responsible for the archival of insights and project assets.

My team consisted of two researchers and a program manager. All team members had been hired recently presenting me the opportunity to provide guidance around our unique research methodology.

Multiple notebooks spread out on a wooden table with various notes and drawings of the telecom customer user journey
Sample of notes taken during the discovery phase
Young women seated at a table on a patio with a man arranging audio equipment to record the upcoming interview
Preparing audio and video equipment for customer interview
A young college student waits in line in a busy conveinence store. The store clerk processes his transaction for prepaid data. A young man stand near the camera recording the interaction.
Documenting the top-up journey inside a local convenience store

Defining the Problem

We were tasked with executing an extended research engagement complete with stakeholder interviews, contextual inquires, competitive analysis and feature prioritization workshops. All would inform us and help reveal a new marketplace where customer's expectations of cellular data and brand perception had been damaged by previously poor experiences.

Stakeholder Interviews

Stakeholder were distributed across several departments of the organization including executives, marketing, engineering and product management.

Key Concerns
  • Do customers understand and appreciate our brand and products?
  • How do we remain relevant in a market with aggressive competitors?
  • What do prepaid customers want?
  • How do we gain their loyalty and increase their engagement?
  • How do the next generation of younger consumers perceive our brand, and what are their expectations for the future?
Collaborating with a local recruitment firm, we targeted students and young professionals within Metro Manila as our key market segment.

Contextual Inquiries

The team performed careful observation of 20 student and young adult customers to see how each one consumed and "topped-up” his/her data. We were able to observe individuals at home, school, convenience stores, and sari saris.

Participant requirements
  • 20 participants, age 19-30
  • Active Telecom Customer in the last 30 days
  • Uses prepaid services
  • Currently engages with online video, music, gaming or other activities that require consuming data on a mobile device
A grid of 20 portraits of filipino college students and young professionals
We closely followed and documented 20 unique journeys to “top-up" prepaid data with customer interviews and field observations
A young man smiling with a backdrop of tropical plants and city buildings. An out of focus camera records the interview in the foreground.
Contextual inquiries
A yound women wearing a green shirt. reaches into her wallet at the counter of a conveinence store. The counter has power bars, bananas and an assortment of fried food.
In-store observation
Three individuals, a young woman, a middle aged man wearing slacks and a white shirt, and another man standing in a circle smiling and talking to one another. The group is in the middle of a Manila neighborood at night in fron of a Sari Sari.
Customer immersion

Our journey to discover the motivations of local telecom customers sent us to all corners of the city. During our visit, we observed customers in their natural environment from neighborhood Sari Saris to the grand shopping centers inside the Bonifacio Global City district. All journeys provided us with unique perspectives of the challenges customers face when managing their daily data allowances.

A busy street near the university
A busy street near the university
Young woman in a polka dot dress walking away from the camera in Bonifacio Global City DistrictE
Bonifacio Global City District
Backlit individual standing in front of a Sari Sari with bars on the store front. A man and a woman interact with the clerk at the stand.
Local sari sari


Affinity Diagraming

After returning from the Philippines, the team spent several days synthesizing hundreds of collected data points to help create comprehensive personas complete with themes and rich customer insights.

Two men collaborating to organize the collected data points. The wall behing them is covered in individual post-it notes
Collaborating with my teammates to organize the collected data points

Key Insights

Students and young professionals are ready to be impressed by a telco that demonstrates an ability to solve common problems while providing affordable, reliable access to a digital world.

Drivers & Motivations
  • A telco that builds trust by fulfilling promises and delivering consistent customer service
  • Embrace the prepaid model in mobile app and web solutions
  • Unlimited access to the digital world regardless of carrier, location, or data plan. Customers want to use the network to its full potential
Man in black pants and black shirt presenting with his arm 4 posterboards with multi-colored post-it notes
My teammate Ron Piell presenting our finalized affinity boards

Personas and Journey Maps

After collating the data points, two distinct personas emerged, both with distinct challenges and habits when topping up mobile data.

Customer Persona - Complacent Undergrad
Customer Persona - Complacent Undergrad
Journey  Map - Complacent Undergrad
Journey Map - Complacent Undergrad
Contextual inquiries enabled us to uncover stories and customer habits that translated into rich personas and journey maps.
Customer Persona - Earnest Professional
Customer Persona - Earnest Professional
Journey Map - Earnest Professional
Journey Map - Earnest Professional

Data Visualization

In order to compare participant's journeys, After recording the research sessions, I timestamped the footage to roughly calculate the time it took to complete the “top-up” journey. This included everything from searching for a nearby location, walking, interacting with kiosks, transacting with store clerks and manually activating prepaid cards.

The most alarming statistic came from comparing the traditional “top up” methods, such as purchasing a card or reloading through a kiosk, with the available mobile “top up” solutions. A mobile solution had the potential to save an imense amount of time.

The visualized results created a metric of success for future design solutions that could be tested during validation.

By eliminating the need to travel to a convenience store or Sari Sari, there is the potential to reduce each "top-up" time by an average of 81.5% or 380 seconds. (5.5 hours/year)
Data visualization of the duration of telecom customers topping up their mobile data
Comparison of participant "top-up" durations


Based on customer feedback, we were able to prescribe solutions that helped the company's business model evolve while stabilizing a deteriorating public and customer brand image.

A roadmap for shifting away from the prepaid model, while retaining customer trust and elevating the user experience served as a foundation for future engagement.

What success means
  • Short term: Align internally and re-establish the company as the unanimous leader in the data space
  • Long Term: Increase market share and shift the prepaid model to a digital solution

Phase 1

The first phase aimed at repairing the public image while removing customer barriers To begin improving customer satisfaction and retention.

Stair step diagram of a product strategy
Product strategy phases
Action items
  • Open Network - Allow for cross-network calls and texts without penalties
  • Simplify Product Offerings - Reduce the number of data packages, focusing more on fair deals with reliable network connectivity
  • Gain Greater Context - Because we only spoke with a small segment of an aspiration customer base, the need for greater research across a broader geographic area was necessary
  • Assess Digital Touchpoints - Conduct heuristic evaluations of mobile top up solutions, to ensure usability and UX was meeting or exceeding customer’s expectations
  • Gain Trust - Redefine brand and messaging  enable users to top up through their mobile device
  • Reward Loyalty - Reward current users and encouraging new users to switch to PLDT/Smart 
  • Customize Experience  -pivot into new areas of business depending on need and previous engagement

Phase 2-4

The readout out had several other stages all seeking to help PLDT evolve their prepaid model to a subscription model while rewarding customers for their loyalty along the way.

Product strategy roadmap
Long term product strategy roadmap
Various slides from research presentation
Final research presentation

Final Thoughts

The project was the first time I traveled outside the United States. To say I experienced culture shock was an understatement.

I found myself in an even more challenging environment than my typical on-site client engagement. I strongly believe attempting to understand cultural and customer motivations for any product is something that must be done in person. Scratching the surface of potential knowledge and opportunities in a foreign country was both humbling and exhilarating.

The project was not without its challenges. A newly developed client relationship developed across the Pacific ocean, coordinated between multiple offices and timezones, generated significant scheduling and communication challenges.

After returning home, our team helped forge revisions to our travel policies, outlining best practices for future international client engagement protocol.

Young man with tatoos sitting at a coffee shop leaning on a water bottle smiling
Myself enjoying a customer session at a local coffee shop