Don’t get mauled


In a classic Saturday Night Live skit back in the 70s, Dan Aykroyd portrays a man promoting his book about being mauled by a bear. Aykroyd says, “I want to emphasize – Never feed a marshmallow to a grizzly bear like this” He places a marshmallow partly in his mouth and leans forward.

Some wireless operators are acting just like this, and then they act surprised and indignant when they get mauled by regulators, bloggers, and the mainstream press. I’m talking about the issue of Bill Shock.

Most people I know in the industry think that telecommunications is over-regulated. Telecom executives spend a lot of time and energy fighting against new regulations, and we all know that many regulations are outdated, misguided, or just plain silly. But some communication service providers (CSPs) are all but daring the regulators to adopt new rules to prevent bill shock. A recent spate of news stories make some CSPs look greedy, such as the one about a young woman who was traveling in Haiti when the earthquake happened. She was unable to complete a voice call, but could send and receive text messages. Back home in the United States a few weeks later she gets a bill for $30,000. Faced with stories like this, the Federal Communications Commission really has no choice but to do something. Legislation is also pending in the US Senate. The FCC conducted research showing that 17 percent of American consumers – 30 million people – have experienced the problem. For its part, the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA) is mocking the FCC’s data which seems counter-productive. Would it make you feel better if only 20 million people had the problem?

A better strategy for CSPs is to be the "good guy" operator. Instead of using a customer’s sudden change in behavior as a chance to grab a fast buck, seize the opportunity to reach out the customer. It’s not like you can get away with the "we didn’t know how to get in touch with you" excuse. Think about how many customers you lose or never acquire if your brand is being trashed because of outrageous bills.

SAS can help operators better manage the customer experience to prevent bill shock and the negative publicity that surrounds it. We have experience working with communications companies to:

  • Get customers on the right plan to begin with.
  • Provide alerts when behavior changes and the customer is at risk.
  • Alert a customer when usage is about to exceed pre-defined limits.
  • Understand the linkage between a bad experience and customer churn.
  • Measure the influence that customers have over their social networks.
  • Monitor social media to understand your brand perception.

I think most CSPs would prefer to take preventive action than deal with the negative consequences of bill shock. Sometimes a common sense approach is so much better. At the end of that Saturday Night Live skit Mr. Aykroyd’s character is asked if he’s planning on writing another book. He replies; “Gosh, I hope not.”


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Ken King

1 Comment

  1. Followed a link you made to this article in a comment on another site. Your article puts the point across very nicely! I agree with your point on the negative publicity- while looking for a new service provider, I came across so many dissatisfied customers from most carriers, and a number of people who perceive the resistance to the proposed rules, as a sign that the carriers are preying on the small fish for a fast or easy buck. I will be honest, I walked away having little faith in any of them, to the effect that I eventually decided to go prepaid, as Tracfone's Straight Talk offered me unlimited everything-more than what I could find elsewhere, for nearly half of what I was paying, and leaving me to be the one controlling both my costs as well as my usage. This is a true case of loosing customers over a reluctance to make their lives just a little simpler and their decisions better informed.

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