Stopping the Switch

There's no doubt that every wireless phone-service provider has been thinking of little else besides the potentially astronomical churn rates the industry may see once the Wireless Number Portability (WNP) Act takes effect in November. The Act allows wireless customers to take their numbers with them if they change carriers. Today Convergys, a business process outsourcer, has announced a new program to help keep operations running smoothly during the initial phases after WNP takes effect. Intended primarily for Tier I and Tier II carriers serving the top-100 U.S. metropolitan service areas, the Convergys program consists of Basic Care, Technical Care, and Smart Care components. Specific Convergys services range from answering questions about WNP to delivering number porting--related technical support and providing knowledge management services. The program also enables carriers to identify target customer groups and manage sophisticated marketing campaigns to win their business. "What we're doing with the Smart Care component is helping carriers identify their highest value subscribers and offer them point retention programs," says Rick Findlay, director of wireless industry solutions at Convergys. "But when carriers make these offers they must watch their approach and be sure not to mention WNP or expiring contracts, or else a customer will probably leave." Findlay notes that since call centers will be inundated with customer calls, Convergys is helping to filter calls by directing them to speech recognition--enabled FAQ areas, or towards a Web self-service FAQ page. "Even if a customer flips back into a call queue from a FAQ area, you have still shortened the length of the call if some of their questions are already answered," he says. Another important consideration for carriers is treating customer calls as opportunities to retain that customer before they finalize their decision to switch, according to Findlay. In addition to Convergys outsourcers like CSG and ClientLogic have been working with their wireless provider clients to better prepare their infrastructure for the changes caused by WNP. To support carriers in dealing with WNP from a billing perspective, Convergys has provided upgrades to its wireless solutions that support number portability. These solutions include both WNP compliance and integrated retention capabilities for minimizing churn from existing customers. When coupled with Convergys's real-time product bundling and discounting capabilities, which can be used to attract new customers, carriers using these Convergys billing solutions will be better positioned for the effects of WNP, according to the company. The program may be substantially beneficial, considering some of the statistics Convergys found. The company's research shows that one third of U.S. cell phone users are likely to switch carriers once they can take their phone numbers with them. Also, within the first four months of number portability, carriers can expect an additional 100 million calls to their contact centers from customers requesting information. Seventy percent of customers who identified themselves as likely to change providers will do so within these first four months. Of the estimated 145 million Americans who have a cell phone, Convergys found that those most likely to switch are high-value, spending an average of $71 a month versus the $59 industry average. "Not only do the findings yield essential market insight, but the data allows Convergys to develop pragmatic strategies providers can implement to address near-term customer concerns and re-focus their business for the long haul," Roger Entner, wireless/mobile services program manager for the Yankee Group, said in a Convergys statement. "With 50 million customers potentially up for grabs and the billions of dollars cost- and revenue-challenged providers must spend to support portability, there simply is no time or money for providers to risk a false start."
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