July 10, 2009

Marketers in the $4 trillion global communications industry are facing unprecedented challenges in building loyalty and retaining customers as cut-throat competition and new service models undercut pricing, prey on lucrative customers and disrupt established markets.

According to a new study from the CMO Council and the Customer Experience Board (CEB), free or low-cost interactive digital media channels, social networks, mobile messaging devices, online communities and other forms of content-rich engagement are permanently altering the communications marketplace and redefining customer experience.

The global audit of over 140 industry marketers in the telco, wireless, cable, satellite, broadcast and Internet service provider sectors highlights where and how technology convergence and customer empowerment are bringing rapid and profound change to a once glacial and monopolistic landscape. Entitled “Service Invention to Increase Retention,” the 80-page CEB report finds that incumbent providers believe they must improve processes and systems for customer retention and monetization, enhance service and support, and increase delivery of innovative products if they are to keep pace with changes in today’s communication market. The report now is available for download at www.customerexperienceboard.org.

The huge popularity of social networking and user-generated content is viewed as the most significant digital lifestyle shift impacting the market say 47 percent of survey respondents. In addition, expectations for always-on access to content on every device and more personalized on-demand services and experiences are forcing service providers to re-think their operational structures, product portfolios, customer handling systems, and strategic partnerships and investments.

“Marketers are being challenged to create brand preference and differentiation in a growing and already crowded market,” said Donovan Neale-May, executive director of the CMO Council. “These incumbent communications providers are struggling to adapt to increased innovation, growing price pressures, and heightened competition from new and adjacent market entrants.”

Over 84 percent of respondents to the CEB audit reported the cost of acquiring and sustaining customer relationships is increasing for their companies, and 63 percent are seeing higher rates of customer churn and attrition. The biggest contributors to customer defection are competitive offerings, pricing or fee structures, and inadequate customer service. This is further accenting the need for more adept customer data integration and analytics, better listening, feedback and engagement systems, as well as closer collaboration between IT and marketing groups.

By its own admission, the communications industry is falling down in some key areas of customer experience, including listening and response to core concerns. The biggest sources of customer pain are said to be unmet needs and expectations (59 percent), followed by product/service usability and complexity (43 percent), billing errors (40 percent), as well as quality or relevancy of service or product offerings (32 percent).

Other key findings from the report include:

* More than half of survey participants said their company’s effectiveness in responding to pain needed improvement or was not very good. And all but 11 percent believe they need to get better at customer handling and response.

* Unfortunately, over 50 percent of marketers feel their organization is not culturally or organizationally aligned around the customer. And business practices, billing policies, and personnel are not “customer friendly.”

* Over 35 percent of marketers see deficiencies in IT, back office, or operational systems that subvert marketing claims and fail to meet customer demands and expectations. This, despite the fact that over 60 percent of industry marketers say they provide strategic direction for systems investments and 73 percent expect back office systems to enable faster, more effective control and implementation of marketing of strategies.

* Misalignments between marketing and IT stand in the way of gathering and analyzing customer information, optimizing go-to-market strategies and new product launches, as well as improving customer acquisition and relationship management programs.

* The most common complaints and roadblocks in integrating disparate customer repositories are inadequate or incompatible IT systems or databases, as well as information siloed in different functional areas.

For more information at http://www.customerexperienceboard.org>

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