Operators are now heavily focused on customer retention, with the market having reached saturation point and the days of mass acquisition of new customers long gone.
As a result, it’s more important than ever to differentiate customer service from the competition, and it is an increasingly important part of operators’ strategies to stop subscribers moving to a competitor’s network.
However, there are still huge differences in the way operators approach customer service and the way consumers feel the networks are treating them.
Orange, which was once famed for its customer service, has now finished bottom of a highly regarded customer satisfaction survey in which it used to rank highest for many years.
The operator was ranked bottom by both contract and prepay customers in the 11th annual JD Power and Associates Mobile Customer Satisfaction Study, the findings of which were made available to Mobile. The study asked customers from all the major networks to fill in an online survey and give a score out of 10 for call quality, cost, customer service, offerings and promotions, billing, handset and image.
Orange has previously dominated the study, ranking highest in seven of the first eight years for contracts and highest in the first four years for prepay.
However, pay-as-you-go customers rate Orange significantly worse than the industry average in all areas except for handsets. On contract, the situation is less dire with the operator rated average or just below in all areas.
Orange is also below the industry average in customer service. One of the big customer service issues in any service industry, mobile included, is the trend of call centres moving abroad.
Customer satisfaction can be quickly swayed by how easy it is to understand a customer service representative.
Orange prepay customers, who are directed to a call centre abroad, rated their satisfaction lower than contract customers that are served by UK call centres.
The perception of Orange has tumbled in the eyes of consumers and the industry during the past year.
Rob Barnes of Moneysupermarket.com says: ‘The general consensus with Orange is that they seem to have lost their way over the last couple of years.
‘They used to be very focused on the customer. But I do not think people get Orange at the moment. The other networks have made big strides.’
A spokeswoman for Orange says: ‘We are certainly disappointed by these initial findings. We do encourage feedback from our customers to help us continually improve their experience.
‘Our focus is on delivering even better value, efficiency and service to our customers and we will continue to put significant investment behind this.’
Meanwhile, O2 prides itself for having UK-only call centres, which could be one factor as to why the operator ranked so high in the customer satisfaction survey, finishing second for both contract and prepay.
Cheryl Black, customer services director at O2, said: ‘We believe the best way to provide good service to our customers is from the UK.
‘We outsource some of our customer services, but only in the UK. We believe that our customers get the best support this way, because it ensures the right culture and philosophy.’
The operator has been pumping large sums of money into customer services in the past couple of years. It recently opened a new call centre in Glasgow, and has a total of 1,600 staff working in customer services.
O2 also conducts its own research to find out how satisfied its customers are. The feedback from the surveys has shown that customers want more ways of communicating with the operator and this has become a key focus for
‘Customers are increasingly asking for more choice in how they communicate with us,’ Black says. ‘The challenge for the networks’ customer service departments in the next 12 months will be to increase the channels through which customers can contact us.’
She also places a lot of emphasis on making sure call centre staff are equipped to give subscribers the correct advice. ‘The increasing complexity of the products and services we offer means that we need to focus on giving our customer service staff the right training,’ she says.
Although O2 seems to have managed a good return on investment in customer services, it’s not a model the other networks can easily replicate.
JD Power’s director of service industries research, Caspar Tearle, said: ‘It is much easier to copy something from a competitor. The only thing you cannot copy quickly is customer service.’
MVNOs take the lead
Another trend to emerge from the JD Power study is that the two largest MVNOs, Tesco and Virgin, score higher in customer satisfaction than the networks.
Barnes says: ‘The MVNOs being out in front is interesting to see because they are essentially offering the same product as the operator that supplies them. But they are clearly making the most of the one thing they can control – customer service.
‘But the MVNOs are perhaps slightly benefited by having smaller numbers of customers to take care of.
‘Tesco has shown with these results that you do not need to have a long tradition of mobile phone experience to keep your customers happy. They have brought their expertise from the grocery channel into the mobile high street.’
Although Virgin ranked third highest in terms of overall satisfaction, it has slightly declined in terms of customer services; however, despite the decline, it still scores significantly above the industry average in terms of customer services.
David Frost, director of customer services at Virgin, said: ‘Winning the highest rank in contract customer satisfaction reflects the fantastic value we offer, further developed with our recent Liberty SIM launch. We are pleased to see that our famous customer service continues to be recognised by our customers.
‘With regards to pay-as-you-go, we’re pleased to come out significantly better than the industry average, and with the recent launch of our new Daily Bonus tariff, we’re confident that we’re offering even greater value to our customers. We would expect to move back up the rankings next year,’ he added.
Mobile better than other industries
The mobile industry as a whole scored highly compared with the other service industries which JD Power surveys - internet service providers (ISP), gas, electricity and banking.
JD Power’s studies measure customer satisfaction with an index score between one and 1,000, with the industry average for prepay being 671 and contract 681 compared with 645 for ISP, 627 for gas, 615 for electricity and 651 for banking.
Tearle said: ‘If you look at the average scores they are probably on the edge of being significantly better for the mobile industry compared with the other industries JD Power surveys.
‘Part of this could be explained by the fact the mobile industry is the only one of those where you get to walk away with a tangible product that you can hold in your hand.
‘That may naturally make people more happy than the other industries where the service itself is the product.’
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