Industry Voices — Greenblatt: Customer care ante being raised for MVNOs

Industry Voices - Greenblatt

When a company doesn't own or control the underlying infrastructure of a service, it can differentiate itself through customer service. That is why we have seen most mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) do such a good job of keeping pace with the networks they ride on, in terms of delivering improved levels of customer service for the past several years. To MVNOs, the adage “never miss an opportunity to delight your customer” is foundational to their continued success.

Be that as it may, there are a couple of key trends that are about to make this obsessive focus on customer care even more critical: 

  • The first revolves around the consolidation of wireless networks, as illustrated by the impending merger of T-Mobile and Sprint. MVNOs will play a key role in ensuring that consumers have viable alternatives to what will soon be The Big Three full-service providers. 
  • The second is the convergence of services that are now being driven through the airwaves. Even as the infrastructure layer consolidates, expect to see a significant rise in the variety of new broadband-intensive services (such as video and gaming) to be pumped through the wireless spectrum. This is especially true as the 5G picture matures and comes into sharper focus. The ability to quickly and competently address consumer confusion as these dynamics evolve will be of paramount importance.

These two trends will change the range of services that are available to consumers while also raising expectations. It is for this reason that many of the most successful MVNOs have already launched initiatives to understand how these dynamics are likely to affect their target markets. 

For those that have targeted specific segments (for example, Consumer Cellular’s focus on the 55+ demographic), the implications are clear: their customer service representatives (CSRs) will have to be ready to field calls about issues that are confounding their customers. For MVNOs that are focused on price, consumers will have to understand -- and be comfortable with -- how their economic choices determine the services they are able to receive.

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Either way, this period of turbulence will require MVNOs to reasonably set customer expectations, and clearly communicate their value proposition throughout these big market shifts. That is on the outbound side of the equation. 

Tightening Call Center Operations

From an inbound perspective, the battle for consumer hearts and minds will be won or lost in the call center. These front-line brand-ambassadors are central to high customer satisfaction since “it’s never too late to ruin a first impression.”  

The MVNO landscape features a broad mix of call center configurations that include fully in-sourced, fully out-sourced and hybrid offerings. As we prepare for a new level of dynamism in the market, this moment provides a good time to make strategic decisions about how to move forward. Regardless of how call center strategies are structured, however, MVNOs will be well advised to ensure that the key pillars of call-center performance are reinforced to meet the rising expectations of consumers over the next few years. Among the top considerations:

  • Hang on to CSR talent. For most MVNOs, these front-line brand ambassadors do most of the heavy lifting when it comes to both customer acquisition and retention. Making effective investments in high performers is extremely valuable -- and not at all easy. Nevertheless, the math is simple: the longer strong talent stays, the higher customer satisfaction scores rise. 
  • Get it right the first time. The importance of first call resolution (FCR) cannot be overstated. When customers need to make a second call about the same problem, MVNOs face a customer satisfaction cliff -- further illustrating the importance of having a well-trained and experienced staff on the phones and chat lines. 
  • Escalate effectively. If an issue cannot be effectively addressed by the first-line CSR, all is not lost, provided the transfer is handled with grace and empathy. Warm transfers that nurture callers to the next tier of service by passing along the intelligence gathered during the existing call session offer a level of service that cultivates trust and satisfaction to the consumer. Fostering camaraderie between caller and operator is fundamental in a satisfying care experience. 

The above is a cursory list of considerations in how to deliver stellar care. It is, however, an important place to start the evaluation. The role played by MVNOs in meeting the demands of extremely important segments of the market will only grow in importance over the next few years. Market consolidation and demands from consumers to access and benefit from a new generation of wireless services will require MVNOs to double down on their customer care game to find profitable gaps that differentiate them from their competitors.

Ian Greenblatt leads J.D. Power’s Technology, Media and Telecommunications Intelligence, including a new IoT sub-practice, and drives market strategy across the rapidly converging landscape, which encompasses the entire communication sector. You can reach him by email at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @GreenblattTMT.

Industry Voices are opinion columns written by outside contributors—often industry experts or analysts—who are invited to the conversation by FierceWireless staff. They do not represent the opinions of FierceWireless.