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Who can we trust?

Do you know who is looking over your shoulder? When you are browsing the web, making a phone call how do you know you aren’t being watched? Rafael Laguna, CEO, Open-Xchange explores the question of trust in a digital world.

Do you trust your Service Provider?

It’s a tough question for both consumers and service providers to face these days. Edward Snowden’s PRISM revelations first revealed the government collusion, but the ramifications extend much further since the sense of trust among consumers toward their service providers has dipped significantly. How can we know our data or web browsing isn’t being watched when every week seems to bring more news that whatever sense of trust and security we thought we still had has been betrayed?  To many it feels like a tipping point where the Internet itself is no longer safe from Big Brother.

And even before Snowden, service providers knew they were facing a sizeable financial dip as trust in cloud and Internet services fell. The NSA revelations compounded this; severely impacting the trust between customers, partners and suppliers. Collectively, it’s a bleak situation, and Forrester Research analyst James Staten recently said he believes the ultimate damage could be a “net loss for the service provider space of about $180 billion by 2016, which would be roughly a 25 percent decline in the overall IT services market.”

Why should we stay Loyal when our Privacy is Betrayed?

It’s an open truth that service providers have loyalty problems, and UK operators in particular have been focusing much of their attention on tackling this customer churn head on. With consumer demands changing rapidly, loyalty has traditionally been driven by those who can keep pace with these requirements.

Combined TV and broadband packages have been making headway in the UK but more can be done to offer a “one provider does all” experience for consumers. According to a recent Ofcom study over half (53%) of UK adults are ‘media multi-tasking’ while watching TV on a weekly basis, using one device to find information related to what they are doing on another, such as using social media to discuss what they’re watching on TV. If customers could get their social media, email, video, Internet, gaming and mobile services from one provider’s platform – and with an interface and user experience that is intuitive and responsive – chances are they would go for it.

Customer experience and service innovation demands like these used to be service providers’ biggest churn-reduction hurdles, and were the core drivers in diversifying their multifaceted offering, which has recently begun to include various cloud services. Service providers who are changing to meet this demand may retain customers despite the trust issue. However, that’s now an uphill struggle and addressing trust, as well as the service offering, is of equal and vital importance.

The Personas of Trust in a Post-PRISM Reality

In the post-PRISM reality most consumers can now be ascribed to one of three basic “trust personas”.

At the more trusting end of the spectrum exists The Loyals. A group whose mentality is “You’re way more likely to fail as a direct result of lipstick on your collar than because of PRISM… you’ve nothing to worry about — or, rather, you’ve got much more important things to worry about.” This is, to be fair, a relatively large group, and one that service providers don’t have to worry about jumping ship to another provider over trust concerns.

At the other extreme, we have The Crypto Kings. They trust no one. They encrypt everything. They would prefer to run their own private servers to host all their applications and their data, and, if they could, would even create their own personal Internets walled off from the public domain to keep everyone else out. The Crypto Kings is a much smaller group than The Loyals, but similar to them in that service providers don’t need to worry about their loyalty – in that they were never that likely to use their services in the first place.

In between these two extremes is where things get interesting. The middle group – let’s call them The Wild Cards is comprised of a sizeable and growing number of people whose answer to the question “do you trust your service provider?” is “I’m not so sure anymore.”  They are not sticky like The Loyals and are who Ross Schulman, a member of the Computer & Communications Industry Association, is alluding to when he says “the lack of information is compounding the trust problem.”

The Wild Cards are service providers’ biggest potential risk but also their biggest opportunity.

Winning Trust for the Wild Cards

Service providers have a crystal clear and tremendous opportunity in to win customers’ (particularly the Wild Cards’) trust once and for all by pushing back against NSA requests. Twitter has stood its ground successfully, and so should others if they want to avoid the potential fallout.

However, to secure more long term engagement with their customers, service providers internationally must act now to form coalitions and lobbying organizations in an effort to remove unnecessary laws, surveillance programs and other operations that both violate fundamental privacy rights. They must do so not only for the sake of their customers, but to protect the growth/ of their industry and the integrity of an open and valued market.

If you are a service provider looking to redefine your offerings and fix your churn problem, the answer is to take action to protect your customers… now.


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David Dungay

Editor - Comms Business Magazine
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