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Safeguarding consumer interests: a new opportunity?

Businesses like to claim the customer is king. But in the telecommunications sector, at least, there is a widespread perception that customers don’t get treated as royally as they should. And this is leading to something of a backlash for the sector, with increasing calls for greater consumer protection. As a telecommunications sector business-to-business (B2B) marketer, can you turn this to your advantage?

Before we answer that question, let’s look at how the UK telecommunications industry is faring in terms of customer satisfaction. According to the January 2019 UK Consumer Satisfaction Index (UKCSI), customer satisfaction scores for telecommunications and media companies have been rising consistently over recent years.

In 2019, the sector scored 74.4 out of 100, compared to a score of 72.6 just three years before. That sounds like good news, until you compare it with customer satisfaction scores in other industries. The average UKCSI for all industries is 77.7, well above the telecommunications and media score. Only two industries, utilities and transport, score lower.

Challenging negative sentiment

Consumer trust is hard to achieve in telecommunications because the services it provides tend to be automated and impersonal. Perhaps tellingly, the sectors with the highest UKCSIs are retail and banking, both industries that offer in-person high street interactions.

More recently, negative sentiment towards telecommunications may have been further fuelled by the activities of over-the-top players such as Facebook and Google. These companies have faced numerous accusations of abuse of consumer data, from Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal to Google’s alleged role in the rise of surveillance capitalism.

While neither company is a telecommunications provider per se, their activities hardly serve to reinforce trust in other players in the technology and communications arenas. On the contrary: recent years have seen growing moves to protect consumer rights linked to electronic communications.

An increase in regulation

One obvious example was the introduction of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) of 2016, which gave consumers much greater control over company-owned personal data. GDPR was followed last year by ePrivacy Regulation, which built on the original European Union laws.

In the UK, meanwhile, the government’s ‘Statement of Strategic Priorities for telecommunications, the management of radio spectrum, and postal services’ last year contained a whole section on consumer interests. The main thrust of the strategic priorities proposal was to protect consumer access to telecommunications services and address harmful business practices such as loyalty penalties.

“Consumers rely more than ever on fixed and mobile connectivity in their everyday lives,” said the document. “However, the consumer experience in the telecoms sector is lagging behind that of other essential services.”

Opportunities for B2B marketing

How does all this translate into an opportunity for B2B telecommunications sales? The most obvious source of potential is simply to stand out compared to the competition in terms of customer service. Prove that your business is rising above the average by opening up multiple communications channels with your customers. Give them the chance to talk to you by email, social media, the phone and the web.

Also, look to sell products and services that can help your B2B customers meet current consumer concerns over online privacy and security. IT security equipment and services are a perennial source of B2B telecommunications revenues and in the current climate the importance of securing customer data is higher than ever.

For this reason, make sure you deliver at least a couple of strong security marketing campaigns this year. Review your product and services portfolio for possible opportunities around firewalls, intrusion testing, antivirus packages and so on.

Easing the regulatory burden

Another area of opportunity is in helping your customers to meet growing regulatory demands around online privacy. Can you offer GDPR compliance checks or secure cloud storage services, for example? One big challenge for companies trying to keep up with regulatory change is the sheer amount of administrative work it generates.

This provides an opening to deliver outsourcing services and automation capabilities that will take the burden off your customers’ hands. Finally, it is worth bearing in mind that recent regulatory trends are increasingly emphasising ease of migration from one provider to another.

This is a key point within the government’s strategic priorities paper, for example. It explicitly aspires to “remove barriers that consumers face to switching products and services, and ensure that all consumers get better outcomes, even if they are not actively searching for the best deal all of the time.”

Helping telecommunications customers

For many telecommunications providers, not just on the business-to-consumer front but also in B2B, these moves to encourage churn could be seen as a threat. They also represent an opportunity, though. If your business is a supplier to other telecommunication service providers, then you might want to think about how you can support their customer experience improvements.

Are you able to help them offer improved network reliability, for example? Or enhanced application delivery? And what about the customer interface? Can you support better contact centre operations, for instance? All of these areas, and more, could provide the basis for targeted campaigns in the coming months.

And if you have customers that are already achieving high satisfaction scores, then why not help them to attract new business? We can work with you this, developing ready-to-roll online campaign templates that you can offer to your customers and channel partners.

A benefit to society

Naturally, all these activities can help improve your bottom line, but there’s also a societal benefit to take into account. The government’s strategic priorities make it clear that telecommunications services are increasingly a basic right, albeit that customer service in the sector is not what it could be.

By helping your B2B customers to improve the quality and security of their services, and then promoting these improvements to end users, you are essentially helping the government achieve its strategic priority aims. A safer, more reliable and more transparent telecommunications industry is one in which everyone wins. And it all starts with some thinking about how your next marketing campaign can make a difference.

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