The telecommunications industry is a tough place to do business right now, especially for those companies chasing after the business end-user.
Prices are dropping, contracts lock up customers for years, and business owners know more than ever about capabilities and technology, raising their expectations from their provider.
Customer satisfaction and loyalty depend more than ever on the telecommunications providers ability to understand and fulfill the expectations of its business customers.
A recent study of the business customer by Deloitte Consulting reveals the following trends:
- Though price still appears to be driving initial purchase decisions, and is therefore a key criterion for getting into the game, customer retention and loyalty hinge on service issues, not price.
- Year-over-year survey findings show that operational responsiveness and customer service continue to be the high priority areas for improvement among respondents of all sizes. This is true even with an extended survey base that includes more small- and medium-sized businesses.
Providers which invest in, and differentiate themselves on, increased operational responsiveness will set the standard for the industry and increase the proportion of their customers who are likely to remain loyal in the face of competitive threats.
- By an overwhelming margin, respondents indicate a strong desire to be served by account teams not alternative support channels such as call centers or e-business channels. However, the significant dissatisfaction with account teams represents a dramatic vulnerability for providers, and an opportunity for their competitors.
- We have moved into an environment in which business end-users no longer fear the daunting task of switching vendors. At the same time, the boundaries that have sharply defined the competitive landscape in the recent past are blurring in a market being redefined by mergers, acquisitions and joint ventures. Telecommunications competitors are now judged on their own merits, not by the traditional brand identity with which each type of carrier was previously associated.
- Although true competition (equal reliability, availability, service and price) has only recently begun to emerge in previously protected markets such as local service, customers are sending a clear signal to providers: Improve service or be prepared to lose my business.
- Given the increasingly competitive marketplace, managing customer expectations and perceptions is nearly as difficult a job as actually provisioning and supporting reliable service.
Todd Shryock (email@example.com) is SBNs special reports editor.