The arrival of the monthly wireless bill is like a trip to the dentist for many consumers; they hope for the best, but have a sneaking suspicion they will soon be drilling deep in their pockets to pay for that extra text message or call.
The FCC recently released the findings of a survey on the consumer mobile experience, finding that some 30 million Americans have experienced “bill shock,” a sudden increase in their monthly bill that is not caused by a change in their service plan. More than a third of people who took the survey said their bill jumped by at least $50, and 23 percent said the increase was $100 or more.
In response to this consumer pain, the FCC is currently considering preventative measures to scrub the industry free of the surprise fees that inevitably rot a consumer’s confidence in their wireless provider. The universal billing guidelines would impose regulations to force transparency from carriers on a number of often confusing billing issues, including overages and early termination fees.
But the wireless industry shouldn’t wait for such a measure to become mandatory. Proactively providing the tools and information consumers need to manage their wireless services is not only responsible, it also creates a level of trust between the consumer and the carrier.
And the solution is as simple as SMS. Pushing out proactive text messages when customers are about to exceed their monthly allotment of minutes, data or messages will not only help establish or grow a healthy relationship with the subscriber, it also opens the door for additional monetization opportunities through up-selling services (“You’ve exceeded your monthly messages for four months. Upgrading could save you $5.00 per month. Text YES if you would like to upgrade now.”) or special, personalized promotions (“As a valued MLB mobile subscriber, you qualify for one year of NFL Mobile at a discounted rate of $5/month. Reply Y to order.”). Moreover, it opens up the communications channels so customers can respond with their own questions about account balances, due dates and upgrade eligibility.
It’s obvious that text is one of the primary ways consumers are communicating today — in 2009, some 1.5 trillion SMS messages were sent. Providing consumers access to the information they need on the most convenient channel — the mobile phone — can lead to increased satisfaction and, more often than not, increased stickiness.
A number of large carriers currently offer SMS access to important billing information through “star” or “pound” features. And they’re seeing this ease of access paying off. One large carrier using such customer self service features sees more than 60 million text inquiries from subscribers per month. And the rewards extend beyond just customer satisfaction. That carrier is estimated to save approximately $22 million per year in call center deflections alone — not to mention the additional opportunity to sell new features or plan upgrades.
Even with the concerns over budget in the current economy, SMS is easy to implement and often requires little to no hardware installation or upgrades from the wireless providers. Mobile customer service through SMS is easy and cost-effective to implement, puts subscribers at ease and can lead to increased revenue opportunities.
Consumers today are picky and quick to move to new providers if they detect a decaying relationship. In fact, “bill shock” is a primary reason subscribers defect. So it’s up to the operators to be proactive about billing transparency and not wait for the FCC to fill that cavity.
Tom Cotney is president and CEO of Air2Web.