Industry Voices—Mohr-McClune: Consumers may get the SLA that business customers have enjoyed for years

Happy bride and groom on a yacht
Service-level agreements would bind carriers to customers. (maximkabb/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images)

I’ve been saying this for a while, but if carriers truly love their customers, they should put a ring on it. No, wait. That was Beyoncé. But surely the point about commitment is the same.

I attend a lot of carrier strategy relaunches, and it seems all carriers are beating the same drum. Customer Experience: our number one strategic prerogative. The customer is at the heart of everything we do. We love our customers, yada yada. There’s no doubt that the customer experience has emerged as the single most important strategic preoccupation for carriers seeking to retain their existing highest-spend customers, and attract new ones. But here’s the rub: It is one thing to say the customer is at the heart of a revised carrier go-to-market strategy. It’s quite another to go to market with an actual commitment; a 24-carat, solid-gold guarantee. The ultimate symbol of pledged allegiance. In good times and bad, for better or worse; I’ve got your back, babe.  

Because I’m sure as any married person reading this column will confirm, the test of a true partnership doesn’t get exercised during the better times but the worst.

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Such simple souls; we all take each other for granted. We all just assume our home broadband connection will deliver consistently on the speed it was sold on, especially during peak time—because, let’s face it, that’s when we need it. The fact that other folks might need that bandwidth at peak time too is a nonstarter of a counterargument. Who are these "other folks," anyway? The same goes for trouble tickets. The only trouble ticket we really care about is our own. We just assume our carrier will drop everything to come to our homes to configure a new, troublesome router—for free, of course. We also assume the rep will turn up on time and won’t leave until the thing’s properly up and running again. And if the wireless network ever goes down on us, well, we’ll expect a decent apology at the very least, if not recompense for the trouble the outage has caused us. In other words, the customer expects actions, not words. A simple assurance that the carrier has recently put CExp at the heart of its new strategic road map just isn’t going to cut it.

To be fair, carriers do indeed understand all that, and we’re starting to see that best-effort commitment guarantee emerge as a B2C service point of differentiation, particularly among converged service providers with more to lose from their highest-spend household segment. Because I have arguably the best job in the world, it’s my privilege to review and assess the most innovative and digitally progressive consumer service launches as they go to market, and then monitor their success or otherwise over the course of their first 18 months of commercial availability. On average, I’d say we look at around 200 different services each week, flagged to us in various ways: carrier blogs, websites, press releases, tweets and vendors themselves. Which means we’re in a pretty good position to catch the first whiff of a new trend—and there’s no doubt that we have a "consumer SLA" trend firmly in sight.

In the last few months, we’ve seen a real rash of "consumer experience guarantees" come to market. In Greece, Vodafone recently launched a program entitled "Ask Once"; in effect a compensation-backed guarantee of the quality and effectiveness of a customer inquiry response, as well as a new process to allow opt-in customers a dedicated support agent to take trouble tickets to a satisfactory resolution. In the U.K., BT’s Keep Connected Promise guarantees a GBP 20 credit if a customer’s broadband connection speed from the BT network to the home’s Ultrafast Smart Hub falls below a minimum. In Sweden, Telenor markets a "Surf Guarantee," positioned as an automatic VAS benefit for customers taking both fixed broadband and mobile subscriptions from the operator, and providing 100 GB of bonus mobile data valid for 30 days for up to three members of a household suffering a home internet outage. In France, Orange and Bouygues both offer something similar, with a commitment to ship a 4G dongle to a household if the outage lasts a certain period of time. In other words, consumers are at long last getting the same kind of guaranteed trouble-ticket response that business customers have enjoyed for years.

The consumer SLA looks set to be a new innovation trend in the months ahead, and with it, significant opportunities for customer experience and engagement differentiation. I’d now like to get us to start thinking about how that could fruitfully contribute to one of the thorniest problems of our day: B2C 5G GTM.

I believe in a bot world, it might be a good idea for carriers to consider monetizing "beyond best effort." The customer guarantee or commitment, with that extra human touch, could become the next lever in a carrier "more for more" strategy. The customer pays more, they get "more" bundled in their plan: content, roaming, zero-rated access to popular applications. The concept is surely familiar enough to us all. I can well imagine that as B2C 5G rolls out, carriers will be less likely to attempt to position the "more" in terms of augmented reality or self-driving cars. Yes, I know that’s what 5G is really capable of. I understand the network slicing ramifications, but what if what the consumer really wants instead is a sign of commitment? The network can be sliced to that requirement, surely. How about some "real reality" instead: a guaranteed, quality customer experience, with SLAs in line with spend commitment, moving the customer experience beyond best effort?

There’s some evidence that some carriers are already going in that direction, but as we move toward commercial 5G, I believe there are some low-hanging customer experience fruits carriers may be missing.

With over 20 years’ experience as an industry analyst, Emma Mohr-McClune leads the Consumer Services, Platforms and Devices team within GlobalData’s Technology practice. Her team’s research focus spans everything from the evolution of B2C carrier and OTT strategy to go-to-market excellence, competitive response, digital transformation lessons learned and evolving best practice, advising some of the largest, most innovative and dynamic carriers and service providers worldwide.

"Industry Voices" are opinion columns written by outside contributors—often industry experts or analysts—who are invited to the conversation by FierceWireless staff. They do not represent the opinions of FierceWireless.