Reconnecting with customers

Rob van den Dam and Nick Gurney
09 Jun 2014

Communications service providers (CSPs) around the world provide us with the essential infrastructure to communicate. Despite consumers using these networks every day, the last decade has seen a steady decline in customers' perception of the value of their offering. We see more value in our handset and Facebook, and often the CSP becomes the necessary evil that we see problems with and seldom any delight.

As result our relationship with our telecom provider has become increasingly distant, in particular as they do not seem to know how to effectively use social media to get closer to us.
To find out how disconnected CSPs really are and to what extent consumers are seizing control, IBM surveyed almost 22,000 consumers in 35 countries. Two words capture the key findings: Social disruption.

The survey results show that the rapid spread of social conversation channels from giants such as Facebook and Google are not only offering alternative communication options for an increasing number of digitally-aware consumers, these channels are also giving consumers a way to seize control of telecom companies' reputations and even some business decisions. It gives consumers unprecedented power to build or demolish brand strength as they blog, text and comment via social media.

The web, social media and word-of-mouth now dominate traditional channels for sharing and researching information about telecom providers, and their products and services. While globally the most preferred source of information is internet search (71%), next is recommendations from family and friends (59%) and social media (56%). Remarkably, only 41% of the consumers visit a telecom provider's website.
Consumers now exert an incredible amount of influence over their peers. It seems that consumers increasingly trust consumers like themselves - and even strangers - more than providers. The survey reveals that globally 40% of consumers will always or often share negative experiences with others. Moreover, 29% will discourage others to use their provider while 20% of consumers will post a negative comment online or complain on social media. This peer influence is damaging as 39% said a key reason not to buy from or subscribe to a provider is discouragement from others.

Telecom providers need to recognize that consumers are in control and are conducting conversations in which they may not be included. Just 38% of consumers do not even contact their provider when they have negative experiences, but they share those bad experiences with friends, family and peers. So how is it possible for CSPs to understand consumer frustrations when these consumers don't call about it?

Therefore, it's key for CSPs to get in tune with today's digital consumers, becoming part of the digital dialogue to better understand their customers' wants, needs and frustrations, then responding with appropriate actions and compelling user experiences.

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