Cell Phone Carriers: How Not to Run a Service-based Business
Despite New York Times columnist David Pogue’s crusade to “Take Back the Beep,” most cell phone carriers have refused to remove the compulsory voicemail instructions that are standard for all carriers. Proponents of “Take Back the Beep” are exasperated by being forced to listen to unnecessary instructions from a robot. There are some important customer feedback lessons here for VARs and service providers. Take a look.
It’s 2010—no one needs to be told to how to leave a message, and nobody ever uses any of the other absurd options listed in the instructions for that matter. “Send a numeric page?” Good grief—who in the world still has a pager? Not only are these messages a waste of time, we’re paying for the pleasure of it.
Those 10-15 seconds really add up—to the tune of $620 million for Verizon per year according to some estimates. So far, the ill will this sneak attack breeds does not (yet) outweigh the hand-over-fist profits it generates for carriers.
However, consumers have been making enough noise during the last few months to convince at least one carrier to back down (a bit). Apple insisted that AT&T remove the instructions for iPhone users and has since reduced the length of its instructional message for the rest of its customers. Sprint has allowed customers to disable instructions before this campaign, but doesn’t go out of its way to make the process easy or convenient.
Are You Listening To Your Customers?
The larger issue at stake is how this lack of regard for customer feedback reflects on these companies. Their business models are based on the quality of the service that they provide. One would think that improving their service would be a critical business goal. Blatantly ignoring a very sensitive pain point in order to nickel-and-dime people to death is not the kind of policy makes customers feel warm and fuzzy.
A service-based business is dependent upon the satisfaction of its customers—continuing to irritate them in the face of overwhelming frustration with a specific policy does not seem like a sound business strategy to me. Especially when that policy has been exposed as an underhanded, greed-motivated tactic.
Responding to customer feedback and placing the customer experience is critical to building a successful service model that inspires loyalty. Though these carriers have millions of customers, in today’s financial landscape, there’s no such thing as “too big to fail” anymore.
Our Own Approach
For example, at Intronis, we’re acutely aware of our partners’ experience with our software. All of our releases and our product roadmap is based on feedback and beta testing by our partners as well as information gleaned from focus groups and surveys. Because we actively seek out and then act upon the recommendations of our customers, we’ve been able to build up a following of more than 2,000 partners.
Because all cell phone carriers practice this robo-messaging to varying extents, there’s protection in numbers. As long as all of them continue to tether consumers to a draconian policy, all of them can get away with it without losing a statistically relevant number of customers.
However, the first carrier that takes the leap and completely removes this impediment will engender not only customer loyalty, but can use the new policy as a key marketing differentiator to scoop up unhappy customers from other carriers.
Who is it going to be?
Sam Gutmann is president and CEO of Intronis. Find Intronis partner program information here. Guest blog entries such as this one are contributed on a monthly basis as part of The VAR Guy’s 2010 Platinum sponsorship.