Are you hemorrhaging subscribers? Lower your prices. Need new subscribers? Lower your prices. Key to the universe? Lower your prices.
This oversimplified, three-word refrain is so troublesome for the same reason that it is so easy to fall back on: it removes the burden of improvement. It dulls the drive to create a better, nimbler, more customer-friendly product because, sure, the service has not actually improved, but people are paying less and that should keep them happy.
This is reflected in the price wars that continue to rage on among broadband service providers across the globe. A provider drops prices to gain or retain subscribers and the other providers must respond. Every provider is going after the same customers and their telecom/broadband/entertainment dollar – when the subscriber is flooded with options, customer retention becomes the name of the game.
The days of the physical network determining success in an environment of increased competition are past. Traditional DSL lines, cable modems on the fiber coax hybrid network, fiber all the way – it’s no longer the broadband pipe you use to reach consumers, but the services riding on it. A simple phone call is all it takes for a subscriber to leave one provider for that greener pasture on the other side of the hill – and the pastures are more and greener than ever.
The only tie that binds subscribers to their broadband provider is the value they receive in the form of service choices and customer care. It’s that simple.
Of course this does not mean speed no longer matters – it does increasingly so. According to Gartner, a typical family home could have more than 500 smart devices by 2022! Between the increase in connected devices and the continued proliferation of big bandwidth eater apps and over-the-top services, network strain will certainly grow. Beyond the question of whether the network has the capability to support this use, however, subscribers want more: ease of use, seamless transition from device to device, and access to a variety of contents.
While consumers will always look for an economical broadband option, providers must realize that they are not just considering the price that is offered, but the value that they actually receive. Anyone can offer the ability to get online, stream video, interact on social media, etc., but can they access those services wherever they are, whenever they want and on any device they choose? These are the basic requirements in today’s data-demanding world if you want to get your foot in the door – access in the office, at home and on-the-go.
To truly compete, though, providers need to offer even more. Value-added services like content and home management apps are more substantial differentiators than a simple pricing decrease. Parental controls, time blocking, content access rights and access sharing all help parents better monitor and manage how and when their children are accessing the internet, creating a safer online environment to learn and develop without being exposed to inappropriate content.
Meanwhile, home management goes beyond controlling internet access to, quite nearly, the customer’s entire household. This service that can include remote monitoring and control of home applications that control security systems and HVAC is a prime example of what customers are looking for in the search for “more value” vs. just “lower price.”
Operators can’t rely on just these new value-added services, however, to create customer loyalty. As more service providers realize and deliver the value of these new service options, another key differentiator – one for which broadband doesn’t have the most sterling reputation – comes to the forefront: customer care.
According to the American Consumer Satisfaction Indexes, consumers regularly rank broadband service providers among the lowest in the nation. That should be seen as an opportunity. What better way to differentiate yourself from the competition than by having not just a wide array of new service options, but incredible customer care to support it?
We already know that consumers are connecting more devices than ever and that it’s not going to stop anytime soon. They’re using more apps and streaming more video, as well. That combination has the potential to negatively impact customer experience, but that can be eschewed by having help ready to go. Whether it’s troubleshooting a device, communicating with customers about an event affecting network services, or the ability to sign up for a marketing promotion, strong customer care creates a myriad of opportunities to create a stellar subscriber quality of experience (QoE).
What might this improvement to subscriber QoE look like in practice?
To start with, it’s essential that customer service representatives (CSRs) can resolve customer problems at first point of contact. This translates to a need for CSR and administrator visibility into network performance status, so as to start isolate issues to the customer premises network. This helps to shorten support phone call lengths, and reduce the need for repeated calls and inconvenient (and expensive) truck rolls.
Ideally, this visibility should also allow you to actually offer proactive improvements to a subscriber’s QoE. For instance, send messages about network events that might impact service, or better yet, identify and fix issues before the customer is even affected.
Visibility into the customer network could offer significant customer loyalty improvements as well as revenue potential — for instance, offer ongoing WiFi spectrum analysis and optimization services where you can identify subscribers in high interference areas with old access points that only support 2.4 GHz signals. These subscribers risk poor WiFi due to interference from neighboring access points or nearby cell towers, so you could use this insight to upgrade them to more modern access points or sell an auto-optimization service.
This focus on customer care is more essential than ever before, as competition heats in the broadband service provider marketplace, with existing players as well as new entrants with innovative approaches laser focused on customer experience. The recent Incognito Consumer Broadband QoE Survey showed that the majority of subscribers would not recommend their communication service provider, and that one third would like to see faster service speeds, while 28% expect better WiFi reliability.
The so-called price wars will continue. The competition is healthy and gives consumers many great options to choose from. But, for most, the best price is not simply the lowest one, it’s the one that provides the best value. That value to be found in a fast connection, services and apps that create a customizable experience, and someone ready to help troubleshoot any issues or tell us about a new deal. There’s plenty of opportunity to create more value – and the best price doesn’t hurt either.
William L. Yan is chief revenue officer at Incognito Software Systems.