Minor mobile phone problems causing customer churn

By Stas Wolk

As mobile phones have become “smarter” over the past few years, they have also become essential accessories in our everyday lives. Smartphones do more than merely connect people—they stream videos and music, monitor our health, manage finances and pay bills, and offer easy access to the web.  

Greater reliance on smartphones has brought along increased public expectation for flawless operation. Consumers expect that all smartphones are easy-to-operate and immune from bugs and glitches; yet given the range of applications a user can download, coupled with the frequency with which they are used, smartphones are bound to malfunction periodically.

Apart from major issues like complete device failure, smartphones are susceptible to an array of “softer” errors, from sluggish application performance to reduced battery life.  More commonly on Android devices, these glitches may stem from malware introduced through third-party applications that cripple performance and mask problem sources. Many issues, however, are caused by benevolent, yet poorly-coded applications that conflict with other apps or keep services running even when the app is not in use.  Poor performance may even be the result of a phone’s chosen configuration settings, leaving consumers needlessly suffering and possibly blaming the hardware or the operator’s network for their dissatisfaction.

Whatever the source, a malfunction means not only frustration, but also dread over the inevitably complicated process of identifying and solving the problem.  Still, when it comes to troubleshooting, customers’ heavy dependence on these devices leads only to greater dissatisfaction. 

Recurring problems present particular challenges to both consumers and operators.  These issues happen when technical support staff can neither find a hardware fault nor pinpoint any software defects.  A common way to deal with this scenario is to wipe the phone of all downloaded applications and return the device to its factory settings.  Upon return of the phone, however, the customer will likely proceed to download the same apps and reconfigure the same settings he or she had on the previous phone.  Therefore, because the original problem was never identified, the user may unwittingly recreate the same environment that caused the initial problem.  As a result, the customer who went through the trouble to get his or her handset fixed only sees it malfunction again, in exactly the same way.

Customers want fast fixes and convenient in-store service, and many expect – and demand – that all operators or retailers will provide a certain level of support when something goes wrong.  When this is not the case, customer frustration quickly grows. Even when the issue may not be the operator’s responsibility to fix, ineffective in-store support often leaves customers frustrated with what is perceived as a lack or failure of provider care and assistance.  In some cases, such discontent leads to churn.

A 2015 Ovum study found that poor customer experience around phone problems is detrimental to loyalty, and can increase churn when customers blame phone problems or poor repair service on the operator or retailer.  According to the study, which surveyed 4,000 smartphone users across four countries, 14 percent of respondents said that they would look into purchasing their next handsets through different providers, based on their malfunction experience. This number increased to 18 percent among customers who sought help for issues with decreasing software speed.

Meanwhile, the volume of customer service complaints remains enormous – and is growing.  Nearly 70 percent of smart phone users report having experienced device issues in the past year.  Of those users who plan to switch providers following dissatisfaction with operators’ repair services, 25 percent cited customer service as a ‘top three’ reason for churn.

In fact, many customers choose to “live with” the problem and continue using underperforming phones. When asked who they first turned to for help after discovering a smartphone problem, a staggering 28 percent of consumer respondents said they turned to no one and continued to use the phone as it was. This figure jumps to 33 percent for respondents who encountered problems after the warranty on the device expired.  Customers experiencing recurring smartphone malfunctions, for example, may be less likely to continue reporting these issues to their mobile providers.  This “slow-burn” effect ultimately results in decreased customer satisfaction and increased churn.

Based on the Ovum study’s findings, the key challenges operators face are identifying the most common issues with smart phones—the roots of customer frustration—and executing a plan to satisfy customer needs through efficient service.  In the face of customer dissatisfaction, there is room for operators to differentiate themselves from competitors and regain coveted market share.

Operators must take ownership of the customer service experience within the complex ecosystem of mobile operators, smart phone vendors, and platform and app providers.  A revamped customer service experience could capture those 14 to 18 percent of customers at risk of switching to a different provider, while bolstering loyalty among the rest of an operator’s existing customer base.

According to the Ovum study, consumers prefer the convenience and immediate results of easy and effective self-serve solutions.  Of all possible repair channels, 79 percent of customer respondents said they would “definitely” or “likely” use such a solution to solve their smartphone malfunction woes.  In comparison, 68 percent responded that they would likely resort to in-store service, and 67 percent would opt for online service. 

Though self-help applications are much desired by customers, they often lack the necessary functionality and a simple user interface. Many users see the variety of current self-help applications as “too complex” and instead want easier-to-use applications that can identify issues that may be solved on the spot. Such an innovation would satisfy frustrated customers while freeing up valuable time and resources for operators.

In cases that involve more complex problems, operators could consider employing a remote technical support service.  Such an offering would free up operator resources, allowing customers who would otherwise seek in-store support to instead debug their phones elsewhere.

To expand quality of service, operators should make an enterprise-wide investment in diagnostic tools that empower customers and less-experienced staff with the capability to function as experts who can resolve a wider range of smart phone issues. These tools will enhance in-store support while reducing the number of costly external repairs that operators currently perform. Ease of use is central to these diagnostic tools, which are designed not only to be functionally intuitive, but also to minimise the amount of time they take to operate – freeing the representative to help the next customer or make the next sale.

Overall, the best practice for operators is to focus on solving customers’ problems, rather than the phones’problems. Operators that recognise the huge impact device issues have on customer satisfaction and take a proactive role to respond, diagnose, and address these issues, will be well-placed to enhance the customer experience – ultimately reducing churn and yielding direct financial benefits.

The author: Stas Wolk is Vice President of Global Strategic Alliances at Cellebrite


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