On an ongoing basis, industry insiders are reminded that wireless operators often follow in each other’s footsteps when it comes to new technology. Tiered pricing is the most recent example. For years, operators, vendors, analysts and industry watchers had been shown, ad nauseam, the graph of data use outstripping revenue gains. Yet it took until 2010 for a U.S carrier, in this case AT&T, to make the move to tiered pricing, although others have since followed suit. One area that has gotten a similar “wait-and-see” treatment in the wireless industry is personalization.
We know that consumers respond better to offers that speak to their personal needs, and slowly companies are responding by moving from a one-size fits all methodology to a more tailored or personalized approach to their services and offers. On-demand movie recommendations, supermarket loyalty discounts and personally customizable group couponing sites are now par for the course. As a result, those same consumers want an equal level of service from their mobile operator, yet U.S.-based carriers in particular have been slow to give it to them. While outlining the benefits is essential to showcasing personalization’s importance, so is the way the wireless industry as a whole views the technology that enables it.
Industry talk often looks to segment technology into “revolutionary” vs. “evolutionary” buckets, with most of the attention going towards the former. Yet revolution carries risk and by definition change cannot always be revolutionary. In fact, the more common mode of change is evolutionary or incremental change, which is more manageable, affordable, achievable and realistic, and often delivers more immediate benefits to service quality and performance.
Nowhere is this more pertinent than with personalization initiatives. With the wireless marketplace saturated with similar carrier options, personalization is a key element for operators to attract new customers, retain existing ones and maximize wallet share. What’s more, personalization does not have to be delivered using a “big bang,” massive multi-year transformational approach, but can be accomplished through a logical progression.
Make no mistake: the first operator to successfully deploy meaningful personalization initiatives has a tremendous amount to gain. A recent Telesperience survey found that while 75% of customers want a price plan that meets their individual needs, only 10% felt that their current service provider was actually doing so.
In this sense, personalization is an opportunity for operators to develop and deepen their relationships with customers while also developing innovative business models that, in addition to meeting their customers’ needs, move subscribers towards becoming loyal brand advocates. Teresa Cottam, Research Director of Telesperience, notes in her report that “this is where personalization can make a vital difference, because personalization is not a ‘fluffy’ CRM or marketing strategy, it’s about hard business facts – create more effective offers and you will sell more, meet customer needs and you will build loyalty, understand needs and you will waste less. Personalization helps operators differentiate themselves from competitors and it means they can build highly valuable expertise they can resell to other companies.”
Today’s software has made it easier to segment many of these applications and roll them out on an ongoing basis. This approach ensures that features work when they are deployed, and that subscribers aren’t confused and can more readily take advantage of the new capabilities – this applies to physical brand touch points as well, such as customer service representative (CSR) interactions. Operators can personalize their offerings to customers incrementally by tackling one key area and then another, whether that be location, usage or parental controls, personalized pricing options, promotions, advertising, loyalty options, or proactive call center/customer care improvements, to name a few.
So where should operators start? Telesperience research outlined a number of key areas, and operators can choose which one(s) to start with according to their own business need and priorities. According to the research firm, customers would most like their mobile operator to improve the following in order to better meet their needs:
- Networks – by improving coverage and quality of experience, and by offering a choice of speeds and Quality of Service (QoS).
- Customer service – by putting better information at the fingertips of customer service representatives to resolve queries quickly, by offering localized call centers and a choice of customer service channels, by proactively informing customers of better or more relevant offers and by keeping their promises to customers.
- Flexibility – customers want the ability to make service and price plan changes more frequently, and they want unbundled or self-bundled services so they can select exactly what they want. Many postpaid customers also do not want to be tied into long and inflexible contracts.
- Value for money – customers want to only pay for what they need and want, rolling over credits or allowances to the following month.
- Controls – the ability to easily divide up business and home usage, control spending without effort, and support content controls to protect children both from offensive content or unauthorized spending/usage – are all attractive options to customers.
- Price plans and bills – easy to understand and fair offers are seen as key. Many customers currently feel confused, slightly disenfranchised and certain they’ve been “bamboozled” into a sub-optimal deal.
- Rewards for loyalty – loyal customers want to feel valued and rewarded rather than see the best deals go to newcomers. They also want to be able to shape the service and be listened to by their wireless provider.
All of these issues are addressable today. Integration of software with pre-existing data repositories that are already in use by the operator, and a mix of centralized policy controls, charging mechanisms and subscriber data management tools enable operators to deliver against each of these key areas. Tactical business initiatives, such as personalized subscriber controls, promotional offers and even opt-in advertising are all achievable goals with minimal disruption to daily operations. The result will be a customer experience that is noticeably better, keeps customers coming back for more, and creates a unique value proposition that differentiates the operator’s brand and is attractive to both existing and new subscribers.