The quest for quality

Consumers are choosing service provider by quality of experience, not just price
Consumers, Experience, Operators, Quality, Columns

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One of the major issues that is topping the telecoms agenda at present is the matter of quality of service. From vendors, operators and regulators, the message is out that customers are increasingly making decisions not on price, but on quality. Consumers, we are told, particularly demanding smartphone users, are swayed more by quality — they want to be able to stream videos and Tweet away without concern, and they are willing to pay for the service provider that can deliver consistency of service.

This shift would seem to be a good sign for operators, at least those that can meet the demands of customers in a cost-effective manner. Fighting competitors on quality is healthier than fighting on price, and nobody wants to be competing in a purely commodity market.

That said, quality is still clearly an ongoing issue for the industry. May saw the Lebanese Minister for Telecommunications threaten to take away the licences of the country’s two mobile operators, Alfa and Touch, if they did not improve quality of service. The minister’s rebuke seems to be more of a public shaming than a serious threat, but his words were very clear — customers pay considerable amounts for a services — they should get the service they are promised.

But while it is good to see regulators taking an active role in enforcing standards, quality should be the responsibility, and the goal, of the operators. The new drive for quality goes beyond network SLAs and technical performance — customers want ‘quality’ from all aspects of the service, from network service through to customer interaction and beyond. Operators need to take a holistic approach to the quality of their customer interaction — which might be a bit of a challenge to some of the more ‘established’ operators, particularly in the Gulf region who have enjoyed scant competitive pressure in the past. As Ericsson’s Anders Lindblad says in this issue, it is not a question of technology, it is a question of changing mindset.

In terms of testing the theory that end users, particularly affluent end users, are ready to differentiate on quality of service, the introduction of mobile number portability to the UAE could provide an interesting test case. With only two mobile operators to choose from, the UAE market has been fairly uncompetitive, but MNP, introduced at the very end of last year, should have removed an important barrier to customers voting with their feet when they are not getting the quality of service they expect from their service provider. Judging by the size of the queues at both operators’ customer service centres and service kiosks, they both have plenty of ‘customer interactions’ in which they can demonstrate improved quality.

Within the first two months of MNP however, only 61,000 subscribers had lodged requests to shift service provider, from a subscriber base of 16.4 million active subscriptions in the country. Only 23,000 of these requests were successfully completed, mainly due to incomplete documentation, which suggests that shifting networks was not a great customer ‘experience’.

Of course, the drive to better quality and better customer experience is more complicated than just face-to-face interaction, going into close segmentation of customers and deep analysis of customer behaviour and requirements, and vendors all have their own solutions which they are promoting to address these issues. Customer experience is genuine concern however, and when barriers to choice like lack of MNP do come down, operators are going to have to give proper consideration to how they deliver on that experience.

Also this month, I would like to welcome Maria Gonzalez as the new editor of CommsMEA, and to wish her every success in the role. I am sure she will soon be connecting with all of you in the industry, and building on the excellent work done by Roger Field for the past eight years – and I would also like to extend my thanks to Roger for all his efforts in leading the magazine.

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