The latest KPMG study of the telecommunications mobile market reveals the growing importance of the end-to-end customer experience to win and retain mobile customers. The study also suggests that providers who differentiate in this area will keep customers for the long term.
Titled In Search of a Better Customer Experience, the report shares findings from a mystery shopping study on the US$770 billion prepaid mobile market, which serves as a proxy to understand how mobile carriers are performing in terms of customer experience.
"The popularity of the prepaid mobile market and the increasing competitiveness within this segment make it ideal to study in terms of how telcos are applying best practices to differentiate the customer experience," said Mr Juvanus Tjandra, Partner, Management Consulting, KPMG in Singapore. "It is becoming universally acknowledged that creating a great customer experience can make the difference in winning and keeping loyal customers."
The study involved sampling, comparing and testing firsthand customer experiences across 106 providers of prepaid mobile services in 25 countries – including Singapore. Findings were grouped into five customer experience areas: retail, contact centre, online channels, product offering and the top-up experience.
The retail experience: consistency in service a must
Unsurprisingly, customers do not like to wait to be served. The average wait time is five minutes with the longest wait times seen in the United Arab Emirates and New Zealand. Extremely low wait times were recorded in Canada, Indonesia and Nigeria.
Sixty percent of carriers observed used queuing systems to set expectations about wait times. Best practices were seen where staff at a retail outlet used a concierge service using tablet devices to manage customers.
With prepaid mobile use having the highest penetration in many Asia Pacific countries, it is not surprising that China, Indonesia and Singapore rank first, second and third, respectively, in the overall retail customer experience, which looked at the pre-sale, sale and post-sale processes. All (100 percent) of the stores surveyed in these countries had a concierge service.
Noted Mr Tjandra: "Singapore topped the pre-sale customer experience category and was ranked fifth for the sale category. However, it did not perform well in closing the sale, in terms of being more proactive in offering assistance with SIM activation, and in providing additional information such as top-up options available. The country came in at number 24, just above Brazil in the closing category.
"While Singapore was ranked third overall for retail customer experience, mobile service providers can do more to enhance the closing experience for its customers."
Product offerings: complex array of choices
In an effort to offer variety and hence flexibility, many service providers offer rigid plans that fall short of meeting customer needs, the report said.
Said Mr Tjandra: "For Singapore, local mobile operators can consider doing more to cater to different groups of consumers. Loyalty programmes, reward systems for students and more are ideas which can be explored in greater depth."
He noted that there is still much room for growth in Singapore’s pre-paid mobile market.
"Globally, prepaid has been the preferred choice for users wanting greater control over their spending, for those who are unable to qualify for postpaid and for those unwilling to commit to a contract. In recent years however, the global financial crisis and cheaper smartphones have contributed to greater demand in the prepaid market.
"Currently, prepaid accounts for about 47 percent of the mobile market in Singapore. While the post-paid market in Singapore is already very developed, there is still a lot of untapped potential in the prepaid sector,” he said. “For the growing foreign population of skilled workers, prepaid is often their first encounter with an operator in Singapore upon arrival. This initial experience may then greatly influence their decision for their preferred provider of choice as they establish themselves in Singapore and look to migrate to post-paid services."
The online customer and contact centre experience: managing expectations with alternatives
Ironically, even with the explosion of smartphones, many service providers are not taking full advantage of selling products and services online.
Only 45 percent of telcos surveyed sell prepaid SIMs online, and 22 percent provided the ability to track the delivery of a SIM ordered online.
The customer experience expectations for contact centres is similar to the retail scene: namely a dislike for long wait times coupled with the need to wade through a seemingly endless series of voice prompts to request to speak with a live agent. Globally, the average time on hold after a customer finished the necessary interactive voice response prompts was two minutes.
Indonesia, Brunei and Portugal performed best, with wait times of less than 10 seconds. Singapore, Poland and France fared reasonably well, and were among the list with an average wait time of between 10 and 59 seconds.
However, the study cited instances of wait times approaching 30 minutes. Twenty-five percent of service providers surveyed offered a call-back option and provided information on wait times to help provide for an improved wait time experience. The online channel is also becoming an important alternate option as operators have begun to offer real-time online chat options via their website to provide for customer support and address queries.
Topping up: developing and emerging markets have the edge
The variety of methods – bank applications for smartphones, ATMs, PayPal, micro payment systems and social media - for topping up a prepaid plan is growing and gaining popularity, with the most plentiful options seen in Europe and Africa such as Kenya and Portugal. By contrast, the United States and Australia, for example, with prepaid only occupying 23 percent of the total mobile communications market, did not offer these more advanced options.
"While this study benchmarked the prepaid market, the lessons are just as valid for all the other services offered by telcos. In an increasingly competitive industry, it is vital for operators to provide a best-in-class customer experience to add and retain customers," concluded Mr Tjandra. "If a telco is not performing a task, its competitor will."