By Kevin Meltzer, co-founder of Consology
Visionary companies in the mobile telecommunications space are beginning to look at how they can set themselves apart by managing and optimising their customer service to retain and expand their subscriber base. 2013 is likely to be the year of customer experience in South Africa’s fiercely competitive mobile telecommunications market. Here are some trends to watch for in the year ahead:
1. Simpler, more transparent billing
Competition and economies of scale have eroded tariffs in the mobile telecommunications sector over the past two years, and prices are still coming down. The gap for price competition is becoming narrower and operators will need to look at other elements of their customer experience to compete.
For that reason, networks must start looking at simplifying their notoriously complex package offerings and convoluted pricing structures to make it easier for customers to understand what they are paying for and the services they are receiving in return. Cell C started the price battle with reduced rates for international calls and data bundles and customers have responded well to these simplified tariffs.
As LTE and 4G grows, transparency and simplicity of data pricing will become especially important to consumers trying to maximise their data usage and minimise their costs on high-speed connections that make it easy to quickly burn through their data bundles.
This marks a major mindset change for operators, away from structuring services and tariffs in a way that makes sense to them in the context of their organisational structures and product topologies towards putting together offerings that make sense to the customer.
2. Segmented SLAs
Network congestion is becoming a major issue for mobile networks around Africa as mobile data usage explodes, especially with video traffic starting to grow. Pricing is one of the best ways that the operators have to control congestion and the user experience – how it could work is similar to the standard shaped and premium unshaped ADSL services consumers already understand. For example, corporate customers using LTE or 4G could pay a premium for video streaming or voice over IP calls to be prioritised, while customers who don’t regard these services as mission-critical could pay less for a service with no quality of service guarantees.
3. Everything to the cloud
Increasingly, it’s not the device that matters, but the access the smartphone or tablet gives the user to a range of data, applications and services on the network. Most network operators already offer some basic cloud services, but expect to see them add more to their cloud portfolio over the next year. From email to data backup to productivity tools, business apps and consumer content, mobile operators will take the fight to Apple and the software vendors in the cloud in the next year.
4. Get smart
Around 25% of South African mobile subscribers already have smartphones – in August 2012 World Wide Worx estimated that around 10 million smartphones haven been sold in the country. Don’t be surprised if that number leaps to 40% or 50% by the end of this year. With penetration of smartphones rising so fast, expect to see mobile operators start treating them more seriously as a service channel.
HTML5 and native apps will be hotter than ever. They can be used to provide customer self-care around issues such as billing, service management and activation, as well as provide marketing and promotions to customers eager to try out new offerings that smartphones make simple and engaging to use.
But operators will also continue to offer and enhance their .mobi sites, IVR services and USSD offerings to ensure that they address a wide range of customer service needs and the full range of handsets in the market with their mobile self-care options.
5. Real-time customer care
Customer care doesn’t just happen on the phone or by email any more – it also takes place on social networks and through corporate Web sites. The game changer here is the expectation for faster issue resolution among customers – in minutes rather than days or even hours – as well as the transparent and public nature of many customer service interactions.
Expect to see more investment among operators in Web chat facilities and social networking platforms – both public and closed – as they strive to address customer demands for online service. In the background, they will invest in sophisticated workflow and analytics systems ensuring that customer queries and complaints are managed in near real-time to make sure that small problems don’t blow up into major issues as customers find their voice through social networks.