Are CSPs fostering apathy among their customers?

Written by on February 15, 2016 in Billing & Payments, Guest Blog with 1 Comment

The author is Alan Coleman, CEO of Brite:Bill

Apathy channelI love my phone, I look at it 70-80 times a day, according to a survey I read recently. But when it comes to my network? The best emotion I can muster is indifference.

I lost my phone recently and I lost my ability to know the time, my diary and any form of communication. If I have a problem with my network it impacts the thing I love, my phone, and then I really do not like my communications service provider (CSP).

And yet is that fair? Why do I have such a sense of entitlement? Shouldn’t I be thankful and appreciative that 99% of the time I have no such problems? Shouldn’t I appreciate the ever-increasing speeds my data can fly around the world? The fact that I am connected to my family in every country I travel to? Shouldn’t at least some of the credit given to Samsung, Apple, HTC and other be also given to our CSPs?

CSPs have a brand problem. They do wonderful things and are the basis for the revolution in communication I have seen in my lifetime and yet they are seen increasingly as a utility. Someone who repeatedly wants money from me for a service that enables the device I love but I don’t give them credit, I just expect them to do their job and let me enjoy my phone.

Apathy and indifference

The problem with this situation is that apathy is not the emotional basis you want your customers to have while you are trying to sell them more services; yet that is exactly what CSPs are trying to do.

The most frequent point of communication between CSPs and their customers is the monthly bill. On average customers spend 14.7 minutes a month looking at bills. This should be a monthly opportunity to communicate properly, build a relationship, continue to point out the value each customer is getting. CSPs are not really helping themselves. They should view every interaction as an opportunity to sell themselves, sell the value of their service and seek the emotional buy in of their customer. If I can paraphrase an old adage: Sell them the value, give them the value and then tell them the value you have given them. I have not seen many CSPs doing a great job of this.

Instead we see many CSPs who offer nothing more than confusing, generic invoices that confuse customers and result in frustration. CSPs frequently cite their billing relationship as their most strategic asset. This billing relationship is the basis for their growth strategy. Where CSPs can sell more services to their existing customers.

In a recent survey by Ernst & Young, customers were asked what the most attractive attribute of any new digital service offered by their service provider might be. The answer was that it should be ‘free of charge’. On one level that may be unsurprising but when the respondents were pushed further on why ‘free’ was so important it became apparent that the reason was to do with a lack of trust and transparency in relation to the existing tariffs and charges. Customers are so confused and mistrusting of their existing billing relationship that they would only consider new services with their provider if the service was free. This points to the imperative to develop communications that build trust with your existing customers. Only when you have established this foundation will those customers be receptive to new services and new fees.

My observation would be that the emphasis currently is on billing, not on the relationship. A relationship is something you nurture with coordinated, personalised communication. Think of your own relationships. You choose the frequency of your interactions. You have goals for each relationship such as friendship, gain, love or action. You choose your words, your tone, what to say and when to say it. This is the standard of communication required to foster and maintain a relationship and unfortunately CSPs do not do a very good job. To build two-way conversations with customers, you need to understand them, that involves listening to customers, knowing what is interesting to them and understanding their wants and needs.

Redefining customer communications

It is not only bills that are unclear; there is evidence of an uncoordinated communication strategy in many cases. Each letter, bill, email, SMS is sent by a different system and have little or no regard for each other. There is no joined up thinking or evidence that they know who you are as a customer. OTT players have no such inhibitors and as a result, their communications are thoughtful, engaging and personal. Every communication builds on the relationship.

CSPs have the desire to improve their customer communications. However, many have been held back by an IT infrastructure that was never designed to achieve these levels of personalisation. Today’s digital customers have come to expect it and CSPs need to invest in technology that enables personalised customer communications with meaning and memory. If we go back to the comparison with your own relationships: no-one likes a conversation where the other person forgets what you’ve already told them and asks you the same questions that you’ve already answered. This applies to conversations with your customers. CSPs need to remember what they’ve said, what the answer was and what the next logical thing to say to this person would be. This is how meaningful conversations happen and how the relationship is nurtured and maintained. Otherwise you will cause frustration or worse, apathy.

CSPs need to move away from talking at their customers, saying the wrong thing at the wrong time and instead look to strategies to engage their customers on a one-to-one basis with timely, relevant, meaningful communications. They need to choose clear language, say what they mean and be concise. For example, if they make a mistake on the bill, acknowledge that mistake and give a genuine apology, like you would do in your every day life and relationships. This level of transparency enables them to earn the respect and trust and, ultimately, more share of wallet.

This article was first published in VanillaPlus and is reproduced with kind permission.

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About the Author

About the Author: Founder, Publisher and Editorial Director with Prestige Media Jeremy is the founder of Prestige Media Ltd (PML) and co-founder of WeKnow Media Ltd (WKM), the parent companies of VanillaPlus and M2M Now, respectively. Launched in 1999, the VanillaPlus portfolio includes VanillaPlus Magazine, VanillaPlus Directory (both available in print and online), and VanillaPlus Bites, a free monthly email news service, as well as which features Digital Editions, Video Interviews, Latest News, Features, Special Reports and Webinar Podcasts. From 1993-99, Jeremy was managing editor of the communications division at Nexus Communications with editorial and business development responsibility for 12 communications publications including Mobile Europe, Mobile Asia Pacific, Mobile & Cellular (UK), Mobile Middle East & Africa, Mobile Latino America, Communications News, Cabling World, and Network Europe. .


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  1. Bob says:

    CSPs are increasingly seen as a utility because increasingly, that is what they are. For most people, and for the rising generation of consumers, they provide the connectivity that makes their phones work, but that’s about it. I occasionally corner my 21-year old daughter and ask her about this kind of stuff. She’s an iPhone user and as far as she’s concerned all her services come from Apple. She didn’t even know who her service provider was, even though the customer experience when she got the phone (from Three) was very good, quick, helpful, even, you might say, personal. So she’s not apathetic or even antipathetic towards Three but she’s about as likely to think about them as to think about the great job the electricity company does when she plugs her phone in to charge . By the bye, I also ask her about new services that the operator might offer her that would be interesting – she has absolutely no idea what I’m talking about. If it’s any comfort, I don’t detect that she has any great love for the digital service providers that she uses either, nothwithstanding their much-vaunted customer sensitivity. My impression is that she wants the content or app to be cheap or free, easy to use, and then she’d like the provider to keep out of her face, thank you. The relationships that she values are with other users of the app, not with the provider – a very different thing.

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