Why wireless carriers still need a retail presence: Industry Voices — Lepper

Carl Lepper

If the term “wireless store” conjures an image of a dimly lit electronics retailer, the latest flip phone attached to a wire, you’re probably not alone. To some, the wireless store is nothing more than a walk down memory lane that lost its cultural relevance long ago.

After all, many customers know what smartphone they want before it even goes on sale. The last two decades have seen device makers craft and hone their marketing efforts to create a perfect hype machine for the latest models that begins to churn months before their early fall releases. But it turns out, the wireless store has in fact evolved with time and retained some vital functionality. And it is still a core component of the carrier business model that carriers simply cannot afford to ignore.

According to the latest J.D. Power data, wireless customers are more satisfied with their experiences at a retail store than any other channel for care interaction, and — except for cost — retail store interaction is one of the biggest factors influencing wireless customers’ overall levels of satisfaction with their carriers.

The brick-and-mortar difference maker

That’s not to say the role the wireless retail store plays in the typical customer journey hasn’t evolved quite a bit.  For starters, fewer wireless customers overall are using them. Most wireless customers now say they prefer mobile and digital channels for routine problem resolution, paying a bill, getting account information, new purchases and account help, according to J.D. Power’s U.S. Wireless Customer Care Study. 

However, those customers that do visit a store say they are significantly more satisfied than customers who interact with their carrier via digital channels. The gap in overall satisfaction between in-store and digital experience is widest when the interaction involves a problem or outage. 

In fact, when customers are experiencing problems, those problems are less likely to be solved on the first interaction via digital- and phone-based channels than they are in person. Accordingly, the average customer satisfaction score from this past July to December for an in-store interaction was 861 (on a 1,000-point scale), while the average satisfaction score for digital interactions was 843 and mobile was 839, according to J.D. Power’s U.S. Wireless Retail Experience Study.

Online purchasing power

While customers say they’re more satisfied with their in-store experiences for problem resolutions than other channels, it seems a carrier’s retail presence is more about customer interaction than it is about actual sales. In fact, customer satisfaction for purchasing a new phone is the lowest in-store.

That may seem counter intuitive at first, but the logic checks out when one considers how seamless device carriers have made it to upgrade to the newest models on digital channels. A customer can shatter a phone screen and still navigate through the cracks of glass to a newer model within minutes.

But it’s not just about convenience. When purchasing new devices in-store, customers are less likely to say that their carrier representative explained the latest network technology, the bill contents, provided literature or reviewed the latest offers and promotions than customers making other in-store purchase transactions. This lack of information during the device purchase is contributing to lower satisfaction with this purchase type in-store. When these factors are explained by an in-store rep, customer satisfaction scores jump more than 100 points for each category.

Refining the modern store message

While wireless retailers probably won’t ever regain the stranglehold they had in the mid-aughts on device sales, they will continue to be an integral component to competing in a highly crowded space. Customers of major carriers want the ability to walk into a store and understand their device’s features, fix a network problem or make changes to their plans instead of fighting through a web of voice prompts on their phone or customer service bots on a website.

Carriers that understand the modern wireless store customer and can use their spaces to meet these needs can make the most of their interactions and maximize customer satisfaction.

Carl Lepper is the senior director of the Technology, Media and Telecommunications Intelligence practice at J.D. Power. With in-depth industry and market research expertise, Lepper drives market strategy across the rapidly converging landscape, which encompasses the entire communication sector.

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