How to retain a mobile subscriber in 5 easy steps

Vodafone hit the headlines in the UK for all the wrong reasons in recent weeks. The operator, which has faced a rising tide of customer complaints, blamed the situation on changes to its customer care systems -- which in itself is somewhat ironic.

The operator told BBC News it made 350 changes to its IT systems in a bid to correct problems. In future, the company will also no doubt be hoping to make waves of a more positive nature with its virtualisation strategy codenamed Ocean -- more about which to come soon in a forthcoming special report.

For now, the pressure is on at operators big and small to direct the focus of the media et al towards what they are doing right rather than on back-office snafus. Making headlines as the most complained about operator is not the best way forward, for certain.

Indeed, Nokia recently provided a handy checklist for operators still uncertain about how best to keep hold of their subscribers, revealing key factors other than price that make users churn. It's no surprise that customer care featured among the five factors that have changed notably in terms of how customers perceive them over the last two years.

Respondents to Nokia's Acquisition and Retention Study said customer care has 60 per cent more impact on their loyalty than it did in 2014. "This is the biggest change in our study," the vendor noted. "Customer care is now basically on par with network quality as a deciding factor to stay with a mobile provider."

The other four factors are greater transparency about contract terms, with calling plans and rate structures 14 per cent more important to respondents than they were in 2014; network quality; mobile security; and -- perhaps surprisingly -- customer expectations about the Internet of Things (IoT).

But as generously pointed out by Bhaskar Gorti, applications and analytics president at Nokia, while we can see the marketing battles to acquire mobile subscribers are fierce, "what we don't see as well is the work operators do every day to retain customers. Our study shows how important that work is -- and also how challenging it is as customers, attached to their phones, demand higher levels of service."

The complexity of the challenges is not to be underestimated, for sure, but try telling that to a customer who has been charged too much, can't get their money back, has been a victim of fraud -- or who simply cannot get hold of a real person to talk to on those automated customer service help lines, which seem designed not to help but to frustrate users even more.

Nokia's study found that 14 per cent of consumers are likely to churn in the next 12 months. Better customer acquisition and retention programmes are required, but some operators still clearly need to get their house in order. --Anne