A few weeks ago celebrity couple Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin announced their plans to consciously uncouple (in plain language: separate). While I personally found this an odd way to describe the demise of a marriage, it did seem to made perfect sense to describe the state of Telecommunications.

Isn’t cord-cutting really conscious uncoupling? I am in a relationship with my broadband and entertainment provider, but I have decided that I am no longer happy. As such, I consciously uncouple my entertainment, while maintaining my broadband relationship. 

Broadband seems to be the key to this relationship – and operators need to make a concerted effort to make sure this relationship remains strong and as Benoît Felten stated in a previous blog post – this needs to be an intimate relationship.

So how do operators achieve this loyalty?

Customer Loyalty

In this “what have you done for me lately” world we live in – rewarding customer loyalty can have a significant impact on retention and how a customer feels about their provider. People like to feel special – whether it is being recognized for being a regular patron at a restaurant and having your favorite drink brought to you when you arrive; or the baker who throws in a few “extras” to thank you for your business.

Many years ago, I regularly ordered take out from this little Chinese restaurant a few miles from my house. On one occasion, part of my order was inedible – highly unusual since I had never had a bad experience. Not sure what had happened, I stopped going there for a few months. After about six months, I revisited the restaurant – the owner/chef immediately came up to me and asked me about the dish that was inedible, apologized profusely and said someone had put salt in the sugar container and gave me my entire order on the house. What is the takeaway (pun intended)? He remembered me and the particular dish I had ordered – six months after the fact. I remain a loyal customer of this restaurant.

The first step to customer retention is recognizing customer loyalty. Employers recognize years of service – why can’t operators recognize years of doing business with its customers?

With higher levels of competition for customer revenue, it is more important than ever to recognize the value of the customer. While new customer acquisition is certainly important, maintaining the existing customer base is equally, if not more important.

The advantage for network operators is two-fold: (1) customers really don’t like to switch providers of their network connection and (2) in most cases, the option isn’t even available.

But things are changing – as we see more alternative broadband providers – offering better (and cheaper) connectivity.

While an increasing number of customers are consciously uncoupling their services (voice and video) – the last thing operators want is for customers to also uncouple their broadband.

So how does an operator keep this from happening? By building trust.

Building Trust

The foundations of trust are: integrity; reliability; confidence; consistency and predictability.

Building, earning and retaining customer trust should always be a priority of any business and this includes our network operators and service providers.

Some examples of trust as it relates to the context of this blog are 1) the security of my personal information; 2) accurate billing (my bill represents the services provided and/or used); and 3) the services that I receive are what was expected when I contracted for those services (e.g. are my broadband speeds as advertised).

Clearly U.S. consumers don’t have a lot of trust for their telecommunications operators given their ranking in the Reputation Institutes’ annual (2013) survey of the 150 most reputable U.S. companies.

Verizon was the highest ranked at #99, followed by AT&T at #131 and CenturyLink at #133. According to the survey, direct experience (using its services, working for it, dealing with it) has the most impact on how consumers view them. Maybe that is why Amazon is ranked #3.

The quickest way to reduce (or eliminate) trust is to keep changing the rules. Unlimited plans are no longer “unlimited”; lifetime guarantees do not actually mean your lifetime, but some pre-determined (and undisclosed) lifetime of the product/service; and advertised speeds are possible occasionally – if the right conditions exist. Not to mention frequent price increases. Additionally, locking customers into long-term contracts, when better, lower cost products are being offered to new customers does not result in trust. It results in very high customer dissatisfaction.

For broadband – provide the best quality service available at a reasonable price and actually deliver the speeds you advertise. Maybe optimize your broadband for different services – such as streaming video or gaming.

Reward Me

One way operators are building loyalty is through reward programs. And a few operators are getting it. U.S. Cellular and Rogers Communications offer reward programs that give its customers points each month that can be redeemed for free ringtones, faster phone upgrades, phone discounts, free on-demand movies; international minutes, increased data, etc.

If I can eat in a restaurant 10 times and get a free dessert – why can’t Cox give me a free movie on demand after I have paid for five? Or simply offer a “loyal-customer” discount?  I think nearly 20 years of business should be worth something?

I don’t hear our telecommunications CEO’s talking about earning trust – I hear them talk about customer retention and increasing ARPU. And this is why more people will continue to “consciously uncouple” their services from their connectivity.

My loyalty to my broadband provider is not due to the fact that I am happy with my service – it is because I have no other option. On the other hand, if given a choice – that company would need to earn my trust before I am willing to switch.

As the saying goes “better the devil you know than the devil you don't”.  So for now, I will just consciously uncouple the services that I no longer need or can get somewhere else at a better price.