Applying the membership approach to telco customer experience

Written by on June 13, 2017 in Opinion with 2 Comments

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The goal of achieving an emotional bond with customers in the telecoms industry is one step closer. According to a new paper from Openet, the key is building a community and attracting and engaging members of that community.

While the membership approach may be rare in the telecoms world, and while it may not be right for every business model, it is becoming a focus for those companies who fully understand that they will live or die through the customer experience.

Possibly the most successful example of a membership based organisation in the telco arena is giffgaff in the UK. Its success is directly related to the strong feeling of membership that its community enjoys.

As Helen Mannion, Head of Business Intelligence at giffgaff says, “we want to listen, we want to collaborate, and we want to create mutual benefits using data. We are rooted in community and mutuality”.

This approach is not just ‘marketing speak’ either. Customers stay because of the feeling of belonging. The paper quotes two giffgaff customers, one of whom says, “for me it was down to the members who I got to know. But in the early days, I was ready to leave until @trudy81 sent me a PM telling me to please stick around. I am so pleased I did I have met so many good people on here who I now class as extended family and friends. ” – A giffgaff customer

Even our own Jonathan Jensen is a fan of the company. As he says, ‘one reason I like being a giffgaff customer is that I know I will never have to talk to someone in a mobile operator call centre!’ If you have a problem, you ask other members.

For a telco ‘implementing’ a membership model for customer experience is not easy. The good news, according to customer experience expert Janne Ohtonen, who has recently joined Openet after consulting for such companies as Apple, Avios, British Airways, British Telecom, and Satmetrix, is that there are examples out there.

A membership approach stimulates the highest level of emotional engagement. ‘Members feel that they are part of something bigger than themselves. They are more likely to be brand advocates and to drive business to the company. In a membership based model, things are done collectively between the members and the company. Initiatives work by adding value to both parties’. It is also a highly effective way of getting the best kind of customer feedback, which then feeds into product development, which feeds customer engagement. It is a virtuous circle.

Other companies that have implemented a membership approach include O2, with O2 Priority, which is similar in design to 3Plus in Ireland.

Care is needed, though. As Ohtonen says in the paper, ‘any service provider could build or lease arenas and start offering exclusive events. But what they have in common is that they create the idea of ‘belonging’ in the minds of their members’.

The good news is that membership schemes are not ‘all or nothing’ strategies. You can definitely mix and match. In fact, to create the strongest emotional bond among members, it will sometimes make sense to take a tiered approach. While there may be elements of community within the tiers, keeping that exclusive feeling to the members of the core group is a good approach.

There are several practical questions you can ask before taking the idea further.

First, are your customers actually the kind of customers who would value a sense of belonging to something bigger than themselves?

The second is the business model. If your plan is to be a simple low-cost service provider – and there is nothing wrong with that – then a membership model is probably not appropriate. But if you want to be a market leader for customer value, then this is something to evaluate fully.

Implementing a membership model of some kind is not without risks, and Ohtonen highly recommends putting proper risk management in place. That said, examining what others are doing – and possibly copying elements – is a good way to get started. 3Plus in Ireland looks a lot like O2 Priority.

One common mistake is ‘not adding enough differentiated value’, says Ohtonen. ‘The struggle for market attention is fierce, and it is vital to give customers a meaningful ‘bang for their buck’.

Probably the best piece of advice in the paper is to be genuine. Customers are clever and getting more so. A fake, or false, framework will be seen through quickly and the effect will be the opposite of that intended.

The paper is available, free, here, and Janne Ohtonen’s book ‘The 5 Star Customer Experience’ is available via Amazon.

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About the Author

About the Author: Alex was Founder and CEO of the Global Billing Association (GBA), a trade body focused on the communications sector. He is a sought after speaker and chairman at leading industry conferences, and is widely published in communications magazines around the world. Until it closed, he was Contributing Editor, OSS/BSS for Connected Planet. He is publisher of DisruptiveViews and previously BillingViews. .


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  1. Thanks Alex for the great article. Membership and community-based approaches should be of special interest to MVNOs. As they don’t own the network, the biggest competitive advantage they can have is through such approaches and great customer service. Traditional telcos are certainly leaving a lot of empty space to cover!

    • Alex Leslie says:

      A pleasure, and good point. It seems to me that while the telecoms industry wonders whether to become a low cost connectivity provider or value added player, they are missing the point. Great customer service will win every time. Very interesting paper!

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