Hard truths about wireless carriers from J.D. Power
|Richard Harris in Enterprise Wednesday, March 14, 2018|
A message to mobile carriers that mobile smartphone users want reliable coverage at an affordable cost to keep them engaged.
J.D. Power has been studying this dynamic for the last several years, and just published a trio of studies tracking customer satisfaction with wireless network quality, purchase experience, and customer care. We caught up with Peter Cunningham, the Technology, Media, & Telecommunications Practice Lead at the global market research company, for his insights on what’s driving customer experience in the wireless sector.
ADM: J.D. Power has just published three different wireless studies that describe customer service, network quality, and purchase experience. What are some of the themes that stood out across all three?
Cunningham: Network quality continues to be the primary driver of overall customer satisfaction with a customer’s wireless carrier. Simply stated, customers want their products and services to work! They want to be able to call, text, surf the internet, use apps, and stream video wherever and whenever they want. They want to know their wireless device is riding on a reliable network.
Customer service and purchase experience are also critical components of the overall wireless equation. In both categories, we are seeing digital channels become more and more important. In our customer service study, customers who engaged via social media were more satisfied than customers who engaged via any other channel. And in our purchase experience study, customers who made purchases via their smartphone were more satisfied than those purchasing via any other channel, including in-store! Wireless carriers who can optimize the digital experience and continue to drive customers to digital channels, both for customer service and sales, will be at a significant advantage.
ADM: The most recent study, on purchase experience, noted that smartphones are becoming a preferred method for people to buy new devices. Can you go into more detail on that? Why do you think that is?
Cunningham: Absolutely. Satisfaction is 857 (on a 1,000-point scale) for device purchases made via smartphone, 842 in-store, and 836 among those who used the telephone. Wireless carriers are interacting with customers via digital channels in ways many of their younger consumers and tech-savvy consumers want. Millennials, for example, are an ever-important segment with tremendous buying power and many of them grew up with a smartphone in their hands. It’s what they’ve always known, and they’re more comfortable than older generations (i.e. Boomers) with leveraging that smartphone for important purchases.
ADM: What sort of suggestions do you have for wireless carriers, or the stores selling their products and services, to keep the process running smoothly? How about for making it better for those that have room for improvement?
Cunningham: The in-store experience is still a very important one. While satisfaction is higher amongst those who made their purchase via smartphone, the largest percentage of people still make their wireless purchases in-store. Overall, the wireless carriers have done a good job in recent years of improving that experience. At the core of the store experience are three main things: knowledge, courtesy, and promptness. Store reps are trained to answer a variety of customer questions and concerns, they’re courteous, and carriers are recognizing the multi-channel importance of stores. What I mean by that is that even if a customer doesn’t make their final purchase in-store, they tend to be more satisfied with an online purchase (as an example) if they had first been educated by a rep in the store.
ADM: Have you gleaned any specific insights into development of apps by carriers or various stores offering their products and services? What specific suggestions do you have to people developing these apps?
Cunningham: People want to engage with their wireless provider in ways that are simple and easy. Too many apps, or apps that are too complex, can be a problem. Carriers should focus on one app that integrates account management with products and services, and make it simple and easy. Also, if possible, give the app interfaces a human touch. Our studies show that while people are most satisfied with alternative (or digital) channels, they also appreciate knowing (or at least believing) that they’re interacting with a live human when they’re engaging via apps, chat and social media.
ADM: Let’s shift gears and focus on unlimited data. What do your studies indicate about this on customer satisfaction, and what can carriers and those involved with them learn from this?
Cunningham: Thank goodness for unlimited data! Satisfaction in “cost of service”, a customer’s perception of the price they pay and the fairness of the price they pay, is 12 points higher among customers with unlimited data plans than among those with data limits, even though it costs more! That says something. Customers appreciate the peace of mind knowing exactly how much they’re going to pay each month, not having to worry about the complications of data caps and overage charges. We also find that people are more satisfied with the quality of the network when they have an unlimited data plan, indicating that unlimited data has positive “halo effect” on other aspects of the customer experience.
Telecommunications Practice Lead at
ADM: As everyone in our industry knows, the debate over net neutrality is an ongoing, and won’t go away any time soon. What are your thought on this?
Cunningham: The big question around Net Neutrality is whether ISPs will behave in the best interest of their consumers? If ISPs want to build consumer trust, they should focus on universal principles of customer experience:
- Reliable, low-effort products
- Fair prices, with value-based incentives
- Clear communication and flexibility
- Appreciation of the consumer at all customer touchpoints
Wireless companies have actually set an early precedent here. Over the past few years, we saw wireless companies push the limits of regulation, offering a good case study of where consumers could benefit from loosened regulations. Wireless providers introduced free subscriptions to streaming video content and “zero-rated” it against usage caps. The offers were compelling, and many customers hopped from one carrier to another in the hypercompetitive wireless space. In fact, we found that nearly one-fifth (18%) of customers who switched wireless carriers in the past year say they receive free streaming media from their new carrier.
Wireline providers should look to those wireless plans and pricing structures as a marker of what can be done to enhance customer experience and loyalty. If providers use flexibility to provide meaningful incentives that consumers truly value, the loosened regulations could be a win for all. If providers block and throttle content, or create rigid “cable-like” bundles for internet content, consumers and providers alike would lose. Fundamentals of customer experience reign supreme, and companies who embrace that will win and prosper.
About Peter Cunningham
Peter oversees the practice’s industry benchmark studies, proprietary research, consulting, and performance improvement programs focused on improving customer experiences. He has 16 years of experience in strategic planning, product development, technology innovation, operational transformation, and customer experience optimization.
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