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The rise of the always-on mobile user and implications for customer service and retention 

The way we use our mobile phones and the level of service we expect have drastically changed. With mobile connectivity fundamental to businesses, problems are magnified for users and customer service teams alike

From Zoom meetings to high-definition (HD) video streaming and everything in between, consumers today depend on their mobile phones more than ever before.

To understand how mobile usage has evolved and the impact of customer satisfaction and retention, Ookla recently conducted a survey of 2,000 mobile phone users in the UK. It focused on the dramatic increase in the number of “always-on” mobile users over the past three years, while also exploring which factors beyond performance lead to a good customer experience. 

Explosion in always-on users

Always-on users are a highly influential and economically important subset of users, many of whom rely on mobile connectivity for their livelihoods. The expectations and demands of this growing segment have made top-tier mobile performance vital for operators, lest they risk losing customers. 

Always-on users are those who expect constant connectivity, either for work or lifestyle reasons, and this group is growing quickly. In 2019, for instance, 30% of those surveyed described themselves as always-on. However, as connectivity has gained importance, so too has the number of always-on users, which more than doubled to 70% in 2022.

Economically, always-on users rely on their phones for at least 10% of their income and are a rapidly growing proportion of users in today’s era of the gig economy and remote working. In 2022, a whopping 86% of always-on users in the UK said connectivity issues meant they either couldn’t do their job or were significantly less productive as a result. And when connectivity problems do arise, users are far more likely to switch mobile operators than others. 

Customer satisfaction vital

Given the huge growth in always-on users over the past three years – particularly those whose livelihoods depend on connectivity – it’s no surprise that always-on users not only have high expectations for reliable connectivity, but are also quick to express dissatisfaction when their ability to work is impeded by any disruption in service. 

Mobile network operators must go beyond just helping their customers – issues must be resolved with care through clear communication, empathy and in a timely manner

While customer satisfaction is critical for any enterprise, the Ookla survey shows that nearly 40% of users in the UK have contacted customer services over the past 18 months, leaving significant room for improvement.

But simply solving customer issues isn’t enough. For example, 57% of survey respondents overall report problems connecting to mobile internet (4G or 5G), but only 47% say they were happy with how the issue had been dealt with. Further, nearly one in five consumers who are thinking of switching operators point to a desire for better customer service experience as a primary reason. 

In short, operators must go beyond just helping their customers – issues must be resolved with care through clear communication, empathy and in a timely manner.

Users who contact customer service are more likely to churn

While solving customer service issues – and doing so carefully – will always be critical, the Ookla research shows that customer service touchpoints are a big factor in operators’ ability to not only keep customers satisfied, but also to keep them from switching to a new operator. 

In fact, users who’ve contacted customer service in the past 18 months are 27% more likely to switch operators when their current contract expires compared with those who haven’t had to contact customer service at all. With major mobile operators providing critical connectivity solutions to millions of people and enterprises, losing customers to the competition is a costly endeavour – but one that can often be avoided.

While preventing the need to contact customer service must remain a top priority for mobile network operators, two key areas they must also address to retain customers are billing and connectivity issues. Nearly 50% of users in the UK who contacted customer service for billing issues are likely to switch operators, while slightly over 50% of users with connectivity problems such as slow mobile internet speeds are also likely to seek a new operator. 

The bottom line is that mobile operators must take steps to stop customer service issues before they start, while also ensuring that when customer service is contacted, those interactions are as minimal as possible to stop people from moving to competitors.

Is it time for a change to the customer service model?

All of the above suggest that the time could be ripe to re-evaluate the importance of customer service and how mobile operators communicate with customers when network issues arise. As connectivity and demand for always-on performance have evolved, so too has the need for operators to develop new and more integrated ways to speak to customers. Doing so isn’t just good for customers, it’s good business.

Ookla’s network experience solution team, for instance, has shown through its Spatialbuzz product how crowdsourced data can help operators not just identify potential network issues, but become the foundation for more transparency and velocity in communications that assure customers feel both heard and valued. It’s a new business use case for how crowdsourced data can create a unified approach across an operator’s network engineering, service centre and digital teams.

As connectivity and demand for always-on performance have evolved, so too has the need for operators to develop new and more integrated ways to speak to customers. Doing so isn’t just good for customers, it’s good business

By integrating crowdsourced data collection into the very communications platform an operator uses, customers have a pathway for reporting issues more easily and directly, network teams can more quickly identify areas where widespread problems are occurring, and customer service teams can proactively communicate to other users who might be affected by the issue and inform them about what is being done to resolve it. 

Incorporating crowdsourced data as a key component of a new communications platform is a way to help customers feel more heard, and even help turn a network problem into a customer service win. In summary, crowdsourced data plus the increasing importance of customer service are helping operators develop ways to reduce churn by creating new and better connectivity experiences for their customers. 

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