Keeping the customer loyal – Why should the users care who supplies their mobile?

The mobile industry is going through “interesting times”, as the ancient Chinese curse puts it. With increased choice and fewer points of differentiation, says David Davies, the consumer just don’t care much who their operator actually is.
The challenges faced by those marketing mobile services have never been so extreme. Virtually everyone already owns a mobile handset and has a mobile service. Revenues from voice and text are falling with new legislative rules by the operator’s watchdog Ofcom and the rise of the MVNOs. And there is little to differentiate one operator’s proposition from another.

What does keep customers loyal is how they relate to a brand, and how well they feel it treats them. There is growing recognition of this, as operators increasingly advertise their proposition for existing consumers – a panda does not forget its cubs, indeed.
Something that impacts strongly on brand perception and another crucial cause of the rising spectre of customer churn is the inadequate experience customers have when trying to interact with their operator’s support desk. The extent to which this is a problem, however, is poorly understood.
The power of poor service
A recent YouGov poll of 2,000 people across the UK showed that consumers are jumping ship in significant numbers due to a poor experience with operator call centres. One in five mobile users has defected at some point.

Particularly startling is the fact that churn is significantly higher in the valuable youth demographic (18-29 year-olds), who are meant to be making money for operators by buying premium digital content. One in four of them has abandoned their operator at some time.
Despite the fact that operators are taking an increasingly focussed view on their customer service proposition, consumers are still being kept on the line at the call centre for much longer than they’d like. The same research shows that 31% of callers are kept on the line for 10 minutes or more while their enquiry is being dealt with. A small but significant proportion being forced to wait for an hour or more.

While churn is a matter of fact in the industry, operators cannot afford to get blasé about it. They need to understand the extent to which customer interactions at the call centre contribute to it. When brand value decreases as a result, operator efforts at expanding into additional services and sources of revenue, such as broadband access or wireless hotspot provision, will be undermined.

Although there are an increasing number of methods for telcos to interact with their customers, the call centre remains the best point for entering into a relationship with customers – and yet it is often taken for granted.

Despite being the one place where operators can actively engage with their subscriber base, it almost seems an afterthought. Rarely if ever is it an active part of their proposition.

A call centre is not the easiest thing in the world to get right. But it is certainly not something to be ignored: nor should it be assumed that implementing more CRM systems will necessarily solve all customer service issues.
The central call centre
With high staff churn, repetitive work, and a job that will probably get you shouted at by complete strangers on a daily basis, the tools given to the agents who work the customer service gateway need to work for them and not against them.

It is a reality that agents struggle with IT systems, and are forced to negotiate multiple different applications in order to field a customer query. Another recent research project conducted by Dynamic Markets  found that 66% of UK call centre agents have to use three applications or more to serve customers on a typical call, with 27% using five or more.

For example, during the course of a fairly standard call from a mobile phone user to add a new service to their account, an agent will have to interact with the billing system to pull up customer details and add the new cost: the credit check system to make sure the customer is good for it: and the provisioning system to activate the service.

This causes delay, as agents stumble across the applications re-entering the same customer details – and it aggravates the customer who just wants to upgrade his text bundle from 30 to 60 inclusive texts a month.

Operators need to see this YouGov research into customer churn as a call to action – to recognise that many of the problems for their customer service proposition start with agents struggling with this “swivel-chair integration” process, keeping 31% of consumers waiting for 10 minutes while dealing with queries.

With consumers being increasingly demanding, having more and more choice, and with the increasing commoditisation of mobile services, differentiators like a solid customer service proposition will make the crucial difference between, say, 25% and 20% churn – substantial numbers for operators with 15m customers apiece.  

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