Operators can spend tons on marketing, but even satisfied customers can still leave

Operator advertising campaigns I have seen over the years in the UK and France have varied wildly, and include Vodafone UK's former Yoda campaign that made use of the well-known Star Wars character, 3's dancing pony, which probably left more than a few viewers scratching their heads, and O2's exhortation to "be more dog." Orange's "the future's bright, the future's Orange" campaign was fantastically successful in the sense that the phrase is now an Orange cliché, applied in both a positive and negative way to the operator depending on its fortunes.

The message that many of the campaigns try to get across is that the operator is your friend. It is there to help you manage your life by ensuring you have the best smartphone and price plan on the market; it wants to make sure you can back up your contacts, track your phones when they get stolen, increase your data allowance when you want and upgrade your smartphone every six months. Now operators are even offering more content and freebies to attract and keep users; in this fight for customers, the gloves came off a long time ago.

The sad thing, of course, is that operators know in their hearts that both existing and potential subscribers probably hate them, because customers invariably find something to grumble about when it comes to any kind of supplier. Mobile phone users watch the cuddly and heart-warming campaigns with a cynical sneer and remain convinced that the operator is just out to get them--or at least a sizeable part of their wallet.

Indeed, a report this from customer care specialist WDS highlighted how little loyalty many users really feel towards their operators. A study of 4,000 users in the UK, U.S., South Africa, and Australia found that fear and apathy combined to make most users stay put. It also appears that despite the money that operators spend on loyalty programmes these also have little effect on customer retention.

A more worrying finding is that even satisfied customers would move, which makes customer satisfaction an unreliable basis for assuming subscribers would stay. The WDS survey also found that 18 per cent of highly satisfied customer would switch, dubbing such subscribers "mercenaries" because they would happily churn if they found a better offer. Their next move is often almost impossible to predict.

It's certainly a conundrum for operators. What should they spend their marketing budget on to at least eensure they don't lose the customers they already have? Investing in loyalty is clearly more of a science than some might think, but at the same time there are basic issues the operator can iron out to remove some of the potential reasons for leaving.

The list of failures that users would tolerate least include privacy breaches, prices increases of more than 10 per cent and taking too long to solve problems. Better network coverage, data speeds and bigger data allowances are cited as some of the reasons that would convince a user to churn to another operator.

As is always the case in this industry, it really is a matter of getting down to basics. All the Yodas and dancing ponies in the world won't make up for that.--Anne