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Merger Mania

What does merger mania have to do with customer satisfaction? Everything! History has shown that during and after significant M&As, companies focus inwardly to merge disparate operations and corporate cultures.


Has your brand forgotten about the customers?

The telecommunications industry is in the midst of merger and acquisition (M&A) mania. We have not seen this much activity since the mid-2000s when Cingular acquired AT&T Wireless, Verizon acquired Rural Cellular, SBC acquired BellSouth and Cingular became AT&T Mobility. As you can see below, it seems that almost everyone is getting in on the buying and selling bandwagon. Various factors are driving these moves: the desire to grow a customer base; to gain spectrum and network capacity to expand reach and product offerings, and even to simply stay alive and remain competitive.

Those of us close to the industry know that telecommunications carriers are not known for superior customer satisfaction. In fact, the latest American Consumer Satisfaction Index shows that subscription TV and internet service providers rank rock bottom, with wireless operators only a few points higher. Some telecom providers have taken this knowledge to heart and are working hard to improve their customers’ experience, with varying degrees of success. Despite these efforts, the industry still lags behind most others.

What does merger mania have to do with customer satisfaction? Everything! History has shown that during and after significant M&As, companies focus inwardly to merge disparate operations and corporate cultures. Typically, this inward focus comes at the expense of attention to customers. Remember the Sprint-Nextel merger, and the deterioration of customer satisfaction and retention that followed its poorly executed integration?

Customer Confusion Abounds

When there is excessive M&A activity in an industry, it is easy for the customer to get confused— not only about the industry player and their changing brands, offerings and differentiators—but sometimes about what company is the customer’s current provider. Case in point: anyone who conducts telecom brand research can attest that there are plenty of customers who still believe Cingular is their wireless provider, despite the dissolution of the Cingular brand seven years ago.

This confusion is heightened by the structural changes endemic to the fast-moving, hyper-competitive telecom industry. It was once pretty straightforward to purchase a cell phone; the customer would go to the carrier’s store, choose from a limited number of available devices, decide how many minutes are needed and go home with a two-year contract. Easy peasy, right?

Today, the customer must first decide if she wants a smartphone. Assuming she does, she must choose an operating system (Apple, Android, Windows, BlackBerry), a manufacturer, features, storage capacity as well as data, SMS and voice limits. Then she faces additional questions:
 

  • Should she be on a shared, individual or FramilySM data plan?
  • Should she sign a contract and get a subsidy or pay over time?
  • Does pre-paid or post-paid make the most sense?
  • What about insurance and accessories?
  • Oh, and where should she buy the phone anyway? Directly from the carrier? From a reseller like BestBuy, Amazon or Costco? Online? In person?


Countless internet speed tiers, varying technologies and over-the-top video delivery have made purchasing decisions equally complex in other parts of the telecommunications industry like high-speed internet and subscription TV. The bottom line: customers are confused and overwhelmed, and the industry is adding chaos by swapping customers and infrastructure back and forth with endless M&As.

Eye on the Customer

If your customers do not know who you are or what differentiates your products and services, how can you expect them to be loyal to your brand? What will prevent your customers from jumping ship as soon as a seemingly more attractive offer presents itself? Telecom providers should be doubling down on activities that measure and improve upon the customer experience. A deep understanding of your customers’ needs, as well as tailored solutions and messages that meet those needs, is more critical now than ever if you want to keep your customers aware, informed and loyal to your brand during M&A chaos.

Thoughtful market research that plugs brands in to the voice of the customer and focuses corporate attention on satisfaction is the key to managing change successfully. Now is not the time to risk leaving your research to the latest fads or to providers that don’t know how to drive insights and impacts from data. You need a market research partner that has deep domain expertise and proven quality processes. Don’t settle for a firm that only provides solid data collection—work with trusted partners who know how to turn data into meaningful insights that allow you to make confident business decisions.

Six Questions to Find Out if You’re Prepared

As you consider whether your customers will stick with you through the chaos, ask yourself six fundamental questions:

  1. Are you just doing research or are you using research to transform your business?

  2. Are the data you are collecting from inexpensive methods like SMS and web intercept surveys really driving meaningful action across your company?

  3. Do your current market research providers have deep expertise in telecom, enabling them to transform data into actionable insight?

  4. Are your customer service centers operating at optimal performance?

  5. Are you confident that your brand messaging is addressing customer needs?

  6. Are you using a holistic research methodology that integrates qualitative, quantitative and marketing and data sciences to truly understand your customer?

If you answered yes to all of these questions, then you are well on your way to surviving this era of merger mania. If you did not, then now is the time to revisit your research plan and get your organization back on track. The longer you wait, the more confused and dissatisfied your customers will become. Email me or call me at (678) 601-9561 so we can start talking about what you are trying to accomplish and how Market Strategies can help.

About Greg Mishkin
Greg Mishkin is a vice president of research and consulting at Market Strategies International, working across all divisions and serving as the company’s primary subject matter expert for the wireless communications industry. His responsibilities include managing and growing key client relationships within the Communications division while maintaining a special focus on the integration of large-scale behavioral data with Market Strategies’ traditional market research solutions. Greg is known for turning extremely complex data into actionable insights and providing competitive advantages for his clients. He earned a master’s degree in business administration from Kennesaw State University in Kennesaw, GA; a master’s degree in clinical psychology from University of Hartford in Hartford, CT and a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Union College in Schenectady, NY.


This content was originally published by Market Strategies International . Visit their website at www.marketstrategies.com.

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