Building Mobile Sevice Loyalty

Customer retention is a priority for mobile service providers, who face intense competition. Global customer turnover reached a record high of 44 percent last year, according to a recent Strategy Analytics report. Not only are subscribers short on loyalty for their current carriers, but they also don't have a problem jumping ship more than once.

An Oracle white paper released in 2011 reported that consumers don't hesitate to shop around when it comes to mobile services. Younger consumers are particularly disloyal: 30 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds in the United States bought mobile services from two or more providers in the past five years, compared to 22 percent of consumers aged 35 to 54 who did the same.

Providing competitive pricing, quality coverage, and a high standard of customer care used to be enough to keep subscribers on board. However, today's demanding consumers are regarding these services as the bare minimum, and are looking for new and better reasons to stay with their operator.

With the proliferation of smartphones and tablets, mobile providers have many opportunities to open the lines of communication to create a more intimate and trusting relationship with subscribers.

Customer Self-Service

Providing customers with secure access to their personal accounts, transactions, payments, and support from their mobile devices—thus enabling greater convenience and control—is a strategic way to improve the customer relationship.

Subscribers prefer having account information readily available, without having to access a specific mobile portal or download an application. In addition, they appreciate the ability to engage on various devices, including smartphones, tablets, and laptops, via mobile hot spot connectivity.

Users like to be alerted before their plan is exhausted and provided with options to upgrade. Having real-time information on how much of their data package remains prevents bill shock and provides opportunities for recharging and upgrading to more relevant data service packages. Also, when roaming, users want the option of upgrading their data plans or buying specific roaming packages to avoid any unpleasant surprises on their monthly bill.

Self-service capabilities also give operators more opportunities to provide subscribers with proactive care and rewards for being loyal customers. Subscribers who receive incentives or bonuses are more likely to be loyal customers. The mobile telecom industry has already initiated incentives of this sort, but arguably there is much more that can be achieved.

Moving forward, tools for self-service and customer incentives will start to grow together into something more seamless and much more powerful.

Carriers as Mobile Marketers

The wide acceptance of self-service as a two-way channel for account management helps build a relationship between subscriber and carrier that goes beyond the bill and ultimately builds trust. The aim will be to create a platform that can leverage that trust, making users more willing to respond to recommendations for content and other services.

For example, very few users have the time and initiative to browse through hundreds of thousands of apps to find one that meets their needs. In that context, a level of curation is valuable, so a relevant content offering from a carrier that addresses an individual's needs at the right moment would add real value. The opportunity is there, but can telecom firms become the preferred source for commercial offers?

By knowing where people browse, what they buy, and where they are situated, carriers have one of the best positions to achieve real one-on-one marketing. Furthermore, with mobile phones becoming commonplace as a method for making payments for goods and services, there is an entire retail ecosystem waiting to be exploited.

Operators can use the profile data they have to recommend the latest running shoes to marathon runners, or two-for-one theater tickets for couples that like to go out on the town.

Beyond targeting, the creative element of mobile promotions is also critical. In addition to appreciating offers that are targeted based on their profiles, users expect a certain amount of engagement with mobile promotions, such as rich media, even games to keep them engaged with the brand.

No One Size Fits All

One-on-one marketing for the mobile customer means just that.There is always a need to customize promotions to reflect local tastes, and to update them regularly.

No one solution works for everyone. The demand for music and entertainment continuously evolves. There is a need to continuously evaluate "what's hot" and "what's not" to keep in touch with changing trends.

This means that operators may need to roll up their sleeves to understand the differences between Android users and iPhone subscribers, silver surfers and tweens, to get the targeting down so users are grateful for the suggestions and express their gratitude by remaining loyal.

Now is the time to partner with online magazines and newspapers that can be offered to just the right demographic, and offer sales at shopping malls for the products just as the customer arrives. The new mantra should be, "How can I help you?"

Beginning with customer self-care could give operators the trust they need to become better mobile marketers. Will operators become the ultimate one-on-one marketers? With all the competition out there, they may not have a choice.

Merav Bahat is vice president of marketing and business development at Flash Networks, which she joined in 2008. Previously, she worked at Comverse, where she held the positions of associate vice president of strategic marketing for value-added services and director of marketing for the voice and video applications business unit.

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