• November 25, 2003
  • By David Myron, Editorial Director, CRM and Speech Technology magazines and SmartCustomerService.com

BPO: News & Insight: Prepping For Cell Switchers

No longer will cell phone customers be tethered to their wireless carrier. If all goes according to plan, on November 24 the FCC's wireless number--portability (WNP) legislation will go into effect, enabling customers in the top-100 metropolitan areas to keep their cell phone numbers when they switch wireless carriers. Industry experts advise, though, that enabling cell phone portability will spur high customer attrition rates and send customer service call volumes into the stratosphere. Prior to the WNP deadline, wireless carriers have used their tight grip on cell phone numbers as a competitive tactic to discourage switching. This has largely worked, as the costs of switching and risks to relationships have been significant deterrents to switching, especially for large organizations with multiuser cell phone contracts. The freedom to port cell phone numbers, however, poses more problems for an industry already plagued with a 25 percent annual customer attrition rate. Roger Entner, wireless/mobile services program manager at Yankee Group, says that out of the 145 million cell-phone customers in the Unites States he expects to see an additional 10 million to 12 million customers switch as a result of the WNP legislation, bringing the attrition rate to approximately 50 million, or 35 percent. Of the additional 10 million to 12 million who will switch, Entner expects as many as 70 percent of those will switch within the first four months following the November deadline, prompting a huge influx of customer service calls in a short, four-month window. According to a recent survey of 3,000 U.S. households conducted by call center outsourcer Convergys, 51 percent of respondents said they would do anything to keep their cell phone number. "That indicates there is suppressed churn out there," says Mike Cholak, vice president of knowledge management services at Convergys. To make matters worse, the legislation, according to Entner, is requiring wireless carriers to successfully switch customers within one day. At best it takes two days to do this, he warns. When phone numbers are not activated in a timely manner, customers will flood contact centers for the status of line activations, pushing call center volumes to new heights. According to the survey, carriers can expect an additional 100 million calls to their contact centers from customers requesting WNP information within the first four months after the November deadline. Call center outsourcing companies are already gearing up for the anticipated call volumes. Convergys, for example, has developed a multitiered care program to address pending service, retention, and acquisition challenges resulting from wireless number portability. The program aims to convince customers not to switch providers, but if they do it aims to ensure the change goes smoothly. 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 marketing campaigns to win their business. 3 Tips To Prepare For WNP
  • Direct basic customer queries to the Web and/or the IVR system.
  • Train CSRs on how to retain and quickly switch customers.
  • Speak with your consultant about forecasting call volumes and staffing issues.
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