Teresa Cottam relates the boring, uninspirational and frankly patronising experience of mobile contract renewal in the UK.
My contract period is up. The two years since I received my shiny new handset have flown by. Usually this is the point in the cycle where I have to talk to my service provider, even though I don’t particularly want to, and make choices I don’t particularly want to have to make. And commit myself to years more of service provision without much chance to change or amend. All of a sudden they’re eager to speak to me, after two whole years of sending me bills but nothing else.
What they don’t realise is they’ve already lost me as a customer. For twenty-four months they did nothing. I didn’t particularly want to talk to them and they didn’t particularly want to talk to me. But what that means is I have absolutely no relationship with them and the barrier to churning was purely the tether of the contract.
This contrasts with my previous phone provider who had pretty excellent customer service and always made me feel like I was important to them. As an analyst I know this just means they have well-trained CSRs, good IT and a great process; but as a customer I did feel sort of warm and fuzzy about them. When I was worried because they overbilled me, they turned my annoyance into a loyalty exercise. They fixed the problem there and then, apologised sincerely, gave me a little something for my trouble… They also contacted me proactively to tell me about things that would interest me – not to sell me things but, for example, to help me get the best out of their service.
I think I’m a fairly common type of customer. I value a good quality signal and coverage: here in the country coverage and QoS can be patchy. I don’t define myself through my handset – I just need it to work. I don’t use my mobile as much as I did a few years ago, so I’m looking to reduce the cost of using it. And neither have I jumped aboard the mobile data train, as I’m not really that mobile.
There’s a lot of choice in the UK of handsets, tariffs and service providers – too much choice I’d say. And yet despite the bewildering number of options, none of them really grab me. None of the offers I see advertised really fulfil *my* needs. And I know that when I speak to the CSR they will ask me which handset I’m interested in. My reply: “I don’t know and I don’t really care” will result most probably in their confusion. Customers today are expected to be motivated by “handset desire” so how can we not desire a new one? “What does it do for me?” will be translated by the CSR into a list of features, not benefits, and certainly not benefits that are meaningful to me. I’m more or less expected to come to them with a list of what I want, but most mobile customers don’t really know what they want and don’t want to spend precious time meticulously researching it. A key difference between me and my 14 year old son is that he has time to spend researching handsets, but not the money to buy them; I have the money but no time. I want true customer service where the CSP understands how I live and suggests what’s right for me.
For inspiration I watch the expensive TV adverts – it’s low key research – but frankly they alienate me. “This is our type of customer” they say. “Well I’m not like that,” I think.
I read through the web and the advice is mainly about the features of individual handsets (which doesn’t interest or inspire me). Like millions of customers I feel jaded by the whole experience and am searching for a bit more “mobile meaning” in my life. Is mobile for high spending, connected, low maintenance customers like me? Or just for young techie urbanites and businesspeople engaged in a handset arms race?
The people I do identify with are the customers who told us in a recent survey that CSPs are only ever interested in them at the point of contract renewal or acquisition. My message to CSPs is that it’s no good complaining that you’re losing customers or your revenues are flattening or dropping if you’re not really selling yourself to vast swathes of your potential customer base. And, sadly, I think that many people – men as well as women, but especially women – feel exactly like me.
I’m a buyer and no-one is enabling me to buy – now how sad is that in a recession?
PS the way to acquire a woman as a customer is not to immediately try and offload a pink handset on them – jeeze. And being a woman doesn’t mean the only thing I’m interested in is “parental” applications!