Customers like freedom

Carriers like to bundle services. Fixed-mobile convergence and bundling has been a topic for at least 20 years. Now carriers want to bundle media content and other services to tie customers. However customers actually often prefer freedom. The latest survey in the UK showed, many people feel only SIM offers the best value. Does it make sense for carriers to take customer preferences seriously?

I need mobile service from many countries, as I travel a lot and spend also longer times in several places. I have learned to like very simple packages, I get only a SIM card, I know exactly the quota of calls and data I get and hopefully can make online top-up. Really, everything that goes beyond that is probably full of trouble, when the carrier then tries to get a longer contract, limit my choices and bundle services I don’t need or I can buy separately.

I actually hate buying any mobile service. I think I know quite a lot about the mobile and carrier business, when I’ve worked in it for years. But I’m very quickly totally confused when these sales people try to push all kinds of packages, that I really cannot understand, and I think they don’t understand either. I have also decided, I never again take a phone from a carrier, because those agreements are too complex to understand and evaluate properly.

The last time when I took a bundled phone, when I was paying, I suddenly realized that this sales guy had added a package for a bundled Wi-Fi base station. It made me really angry, and I asked why he wants to cheat me. His answer was that this is very handy. But I never asked for it and I didn’t need it, and honestly we only talked about a new phone and continuing the contract.

This all came to mind when I was reading the latest survey into how people like different mobile service providers in the UK. Basically, SIM only, no contract type service providers, like Giffgaff and supermarket brands (e.g. Tesco and Asda) SIMs do very well, when Vodafone, EE and O2 are on the bottom. Some of those MVNOs also offer packages with phones, but typically their offering offers more freedom, easy to change and no stupid discussions at the stores.

Vodafone commented that they must investigate, how to improve the service. EE almost denied the results and said their service is doing very well in some other studies. EE markets that they have the best network in the UK. I live in London and have also an EE subscription, and I have issues all the time with data connections and nowadays get their update “there is a problem in your area which is taking longer than expected to resolve.”

When I have complained about the issues, the answer has been that according to studies, they are the best network. It doesn’t help me, when my data doesn’t work. After the BT acquisition they also try to tie my mobile and broadband, but I don’t let it happen, when then I would be totally tied to their service and problems whatever happens. At the same time, Three has been really positive experience to me, when they sell simple packages, great roaming and don’t try to confuse me.

These are results from the UK, but they are very much in line with my experiences in other places too, in Asia and the US. As a customer I want to a good experience and a reliable service and with roaming very clear pricing without surprises. If I want to use Netflix or Amazon Prime, then I take another subscription for that and want to have freedom with my choices. I totally understand the carrier’s willingness to bundle things, tie customers and get higher monthly revenue. But carriers must also understand, this road can backfire for them.

People are not stupid. They can make one or two stupid decisions, but they learn from mistakes. If you oversell someone, maybe tie to him or her to a 2-year contract and get them to pay more than they thought, you can make some extra money. But do you think you can keep those people longer and is it really the way to build a longer-term successful business?

I also understand carriers hate eSIM. I really wait for a time that I have eSIM and I can choose a carrier as Wi-Fi nowadays. Then I can decide if I want to something for a day, a week or a year. I could also easily buy additional things, like a pass to watch Formula 1 for a weekend. I seriously think this would be a way to sell much more to many consumers and also increase their satisfaction. But it would be a new business model and many traditional executives are afraid of new business models. Until competition forces them to adopt the new model.

I have followed and worked with carriers over 20 years. They have missed a lot of opportunities during that time. It is often hard to realize how slow they are and how much they try to stay with old models. They have definitely seen now the opportunity with content business. But have you really met many people, who love that their mobile carrier packages everything, mobile, broadband, TV content, devices and makes this with a multi-year contract? People love freedom, liberty to choose and change and also try different things, it is the beauty of capitalism. If you try to tie people, they will want to escape, sooner or later.