From Time Warner and Comcast to AT&T and DirecTV, corporate mergers appear to be the latest tactic in winning the battle for market share and driving innovation. From a business perspective, the strategic advantages of such mergers may be clear — but what do these changes look like from the consumer’s viewpoint? To understand consumer reaction to the latest series of merger announcements, Forrester leveraged its Technographics360 approach of linking multiple data sources to give a holistic view of consumers. Specifically, we tuned into online chatter with our social listening platform and engaged our ConsumerVoices market research online community for this analysis.
According to the data, consumers associate mergers with increased costs, fewer opportunities for choice, and decreased product and service quality. While a few individuals appreciate the potential for innovation that mergers might afford, the prevailing sentiment is uncertainty:
The fact that individuals are wary of these corporate mergers partially stems from the timeless truism that “people are afraid of change.” To mainstream consumers, a large merger suggests a loss of customer control and greater uncertainty; according to the Harvard Business Review, these are the top two qualities that underpin a fear of change.
“The future is already here — it’s just not evenly distributed.” This popular quote hit home at the Global Mobile Internet Conference panel on meeting the challenge of global connectivity that I moderated this week. Internet.org is a global partnership between technology leaders, nonprofits, local communities, and experts who are working together to bring the Internet to the two-thirds of the world’s population that don’t have it. Founding partners include Facebook, Ericsson, Qualcomm, Nokia (now Microsoft Mobile), and Opera.
What it means
The age of the customer is everywhere. This point was cemented at the conference. Device makers, network infrastructure providers, and app developers have to work with telecom providers to leverage existing 2G/3G assets to tap unconnected subscribers or miss out on business opportunities. Governments also need to help by, for example, providing consistent electricity to homes. Improving the customer experience can help businesses grow.
It’s that great time of year when I finally get to talk publicly about Forrester's Forum For Customer Experience Professionals in New York at the end of June. If you’ve ever been to one of our events, you know that we always have a theme, and this year that theme is “Why Good Is Not Good Enough.”
We picked our theme because of the good news/bad news story told by our Customer Experience Index (CXi) results this year. First, here’s the good news: The number of brands in the “very poor” category of the CXi is down to one out of 175 brands we studied. What’s more, only a handful of brands — 10% — are in the “poor” category. Together, those findings show that as customer experience improvement efforts got traction over the past year, the number of truly awful experiences dropped like a rock.
Now for the bad news: Just 11% of brands in the CXi made it into the “excellent” category.
Taken together, those two pieces of news mean that most brands are bunched up in the middle of the curve — not awful in the eyes of their customers but not differentiated either. I think of this situation as “okay is the new poor” or, in my darker moments, “the year of ‘meh.’” Regardless, it adds up to the same thing: A merely good customer experience is no longer good enough if you want incremental sales, positive word of mouth, and better customer retention.
The central theme of Mobile World Congress 2014 for me was clearly Connected Living. I’ve been attending Mobile World Congress for quite some time — 2006 was my first, the year that it moved to Barcelona from Cannes. And, this year felt different. No longer did the event feel dominated by handset manufacturers and equipment providers. Mobile World Congress is no longer a telecom event; it is clearly a mobile event. Mobility has penetrated every industry and every aspect of life, and that diversity is now clearly felt at the show. The large presence of car manufacturers and the buzz around Facebook indicate a definitive changing of the guard. That shift is ongoing. The proliferation of connected devices, the explosion of over-the-top services and the rise of the data economy will continue to shape the industry. But for me, this year I felt excitement around our new connected lives.
I was in Singapore two weeks ago and had the chance to meet Malcolm Rodrigues and Greg Mittman from an emerging broadband service provider called MyRepublic. MyRepublic is a new service-based operator (SBO) licensed in Singapore in 2011, purpose-built for Singapore’s national broadband network (NBN). Since the launch of the NBN service in Singapore, it has created new opportunities for SBOs to lease the network from OpenNet, the company that operates the NBN in Singapore and sell high-speed fiber broadband services to consumers and businesses in the island country. And MyRepublic is one of the most interesting companies I have seen, with an innovative business/go-to-market model that:
Has an operational model based on light assets. Leveraging the NBN network and a neutral operation company, MyRepublic is able to get access to the nationwide fiber broadband network at the same price as other established telecom operators in Singapore, including the incumbent SingTel. It only needs to put its own gateways and other limited network assets at OpenNet for service provisioning, network monitoring, billing, etc.
Carrier IQ software, which consists of embedded software on mobile devices and server-side analytics applications, enables mobile operators and device OEMs to understand in detail a wide range of performance and usage characteristics of mobile services and devices. These include both network-facing services such as core voice and data offerings, as well as non-network-facing capabilities such as music players, cameras and other side loaded media, in order to assist with product and service development and roll-out [emphasis added].
Customer Intelligence is not a spying operation. The promise of CI is not reductively commercial. Instead, proper CI practices help businesses – with their customers' consent – to understand the preferences and needs of their customers. Firms also use CI processes and technologies to determine and enforce an optimal and respectful relationship with customers.
What lessons does the Carrier IQ incident highlight?
CI pros have an ethical responsibility to customers.CI pros are customer advocates after all. They cannot truly represent customers unless they also help their employers understand appropriate boundaries for data capture. Helping customers also helps businesses, protecting firms from the risk of public outrage and litigation. CI pros: Help your employers understand when data capture goes too far.
Mature market telecom operators can learn from many of their fellow service providers in emerging markets. Recognizing that contexts differ – and they certainly do – there is still a sharp contrast in approaches to their markets. Ellen Daley and I just returned from India where we met with Indian telecom operators and services firms, and conducted an interactive session with telecom product and service providers – Forrester TelecomNext 2010. Both were an opportunity for us to listen and learn as well as share our observations on the industry.
With well over 500 million subscribers and a growth rate of more than 11% a quarter in 2009, the Indian mobile market is certainly attractive. But, Indian telecom operators face a tough competitive environment with some “circles” having upwards of a half dozen or more service providers (there are 23 telecom regions in India, known as “circles”), and the overall market packed with thirteen competitors. ARPUs are low and shrinking, with an average of about $2/month in March 2010. And, the price tag for 3G licenses in India added additional pain, with some vendors paying almost $3 billion in the spectrum auction. High costs and low revenues do not make for an easy road ahead.