Customer Service as Differentiator

I had a great holiday in Thailand but I lost my mobile phone there .  I lost my mobile phone on the second day of the holiday so I was desperate to get a replacement SIM but could not get another SIM till I came back home and went to an outlet of the service provider. I believe that in the process, I had a painful time but the service provider and its roaming partners also suffered revenue loss.

Mobile companies are in many ways operationally similar to credit/debit card companies. Like credit card companies, mobile companies provide credit in the form of talk time to be used anywhere in the world but at the same time monitor fraud and bad debts. A large number of employees in a mobile service provider are from the credit card industry and the industry looks up to the credit card industry for best practices. However, unlike the credit card companies, the mobile companies are not customer friendly. A Platinum card member of American Express gets a very different treatment from the silver member of CitiBank. However, there is very little differentiation amongst the operators and the service they provide. The players compete on tariffs rather than on customer service. The churn in the countries that allow Mobile Number Portability (MNP) is not very different from non-MNP environment as consumers realize that there is very little to choose from amongst the operators apart from the tariffs.

Most of the credit card companies promise a replacement card on loss of the card anywhere in the world. I expect the mobile operators to provide similar service. I know the operators do not have presence across all the countries and hence it is difficult for them to offer a replacement guarantee but there is a simple solution to this problem. The mobile operators can give a spare SIM to all its customers who have roaming activated on their phones. This SIM could be a blank deactivated SIM which can only be activated in the event of loss of primary SIM. The user can report the loss of SIM by email or phone and then the spare SIM can be activated. I tried to google for the best practices in case of lost SIM but to my surprise I did not get any relevant results.

Just like there are a lot of takers for business class seats in the airline industry, I am sure there would be enough people who would be ready to pay a premium for the differentiated service. I have a value proposition for carriers in a crowded competition landscape like in the US or in India: Let the carrier charge a flat fee which is four times that of the average APRU in the country and provide the following benefits in return:

  1. Exclusive Number Series – The service provider can provide the numbers in a way that it gives a feeling of exclusivity to the consumer. The number on the business card should indicate that the user is using the exclusive high end service provider. If this is not possible due to regulatory issues, then the ringback tone could be a different one so that the callers come to know that the person being called belongs to the exclusive club.
  2. Unlimited Usage – Since the user is already paying the monthly fee which is four times the average ARPU, there is service provider can allow unlimited local and national calls & unlimited data usage. There is a high probability that the high end users have a higher proportion of business travel which would result in a disproportionate share in roaming revenues
  3. Exclusive Relationship Manager – There should be a designated relationship manager who should provide resolution to all issues and problems. In the event of needs during off-office hours, the access to call center should be easy. The call centers should not have irritating IVRs (Interactive Voice Recognition) and the call should be answered within 10 seconds.
  4. Seamless congestion free network – There should be perfect indoor coverage at most of the business districts and homes of the users. In case of network complaint, it should be resolved on priority
  5. No Spam – The user would not get unnecessary calls or sms and the carrier should ensure that it has effective means of controlling SPAM
  6. On-site support – In many cases when a handset is replaced, the user is unable to configure all the services on the new handset especially in an open market environment. The carrier should provide the support at the user’s premises in such cases
  7. Unlimited Credit – Most of the carriers assign a credit limit to the users when a new connection is given out and it has been observed that the credit limit is so low that many users exhaust the limit within a few days of usage. For the users of this exclusive plan, there should be no credit limit
  8. Global SIM Replacement
  9. Invitations to exclusive events/ Club memberships/Access to airport lounges

Will you not pick up the above plan? Is service not a differentiator? I am confident that with this kind of approach to customer service, any operator can churn-in the high value users of other networks especially in the MNP (Mobile Number Portability) environment.

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