How wireless carriers can save 25% of their lost revenue by improving customer satisfaction

For the first time, as we noted in our inaugural Wireless Service and Cellular Telephone report, we posed the following question to consumers: “How much do you spend, on average, each month for your wireless service?”

A simple question, really. However, when analyzed alongside customer satisfaction and customer retention data, we gain an entirely new perspective on just how much customer satisfaction can impact wireless carrier revenue. This new Customer Segment Value (CSV) model speaks volumes.

Our study breaks consumer spending on wireless phone services into nine different segments:

  • $1-$25
  • $26-$50
  • $51-$75
  • $76-$100
  • $101-$150
  • $151-$200
  • $201-$250
  • $251-$500
  • $501 and above

The model used to analyze this data enables us to differentiate customer groups based on how much each spends on wireless services, as well as the differences in customer satisfaction and customer loyalty. This information, plus sample proportions for each group, gives carriers insight into which customer segments will likely generate (or save) the most revenue with increased customer satisfaction, and where service improvements will most move the needle for those customers.

Here’s what we discovered.

Which wireless customers are more satisfied and more loyal?

Data from the different CSV groups shouldn’t be expected to perfectly reflect actual spend segment proportions for a company, but it does give us a better understanding of what customers in this sample look like from a spending standpoint.

We discovered that, at the industry level, more than 25% of customers fall in the $26-$50 spend range and 55% spend between $1 and $75 on their wireless bill each month. However, under 10% of respondents spend between $201 and $500 monthly, and just 1% spend more than $500 per month (thereby limiting our ability to analyze this data completely).

The data also identifies the leaders and laggards in ACSI and retention across the CSV groups. The “lower spend” segments – $1 to $75 – are more satisfied, more loyal, and have lower churn rates than almost all other groups, with only the very highest spending customers – the tiny proportion of those spending more than $500 each month – experiencing higher churn. For customers spending more than $76 per month but less than $500, ACSI scores and retention rates drop considerably.

The most valuable wireless customers

We then multiply the monthly annual per-customer spend by the number of customers in each CSV group to find the revenue and relative contribution to total revenue for each segment in the sample. If you’re familiar with the 80-20 rule, you won’t be surprised by the results.

The $1-$25 group accounts for nearly 15% of the total customers, yet only contribute 2% to overall revenue. Meanwhile, the $251-$500 group consists of under 5% of the respondents but contributes more than 17% to total revenue. Based on both its sample size and mean customer spend, the $101-$150 segment, which accounts for a little less than 14% of the total customers, contributes the most to the total annual revenue at a little under 19%.

The customer segment responsible for the biggest revenue losses

We then use our churn rate estimate and the per-customer spend estimate for each segment to estimate how much potential revenue carriers lose each year.

Due to its high spend, low ACSI score, and high churn rate, over 20% of potential revenue is being lost from the $251-$500 segment. The $101-$150 group is also losing almost 19% of potential revenue.

As it were, close to 70% of the total revenue lost each year is among customers spending $101 or more per month.

ACSI-wireless-churn

Targeting the top to save 25% of revenue

According to this study, companies can “save” the most revenue lost due to customer defection each year with a five-point improvement to ACSI for the $251-$500 segment – close to 25%. One idea to increase satisfaction: Carriers could provide these customers with a wider variety of plan options, something that’s clearly lacking based on our data.

The same five-point improvement for the $101-$150 spend segment would provide just under 23% in revenue saved, the second largest in annual savings.

There’s more where that came from…

This study focuses on the wireless industry as a whole. However, the CSV model can be used more specifically, and can provide the data for more complex types of Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) modeling.

With this information on spending, companies can better target not only which groups are more or less satisfied and loyal, but also understand which groups are most important to focus on to improve satisfaction and loyalty in a way that will most likely yield the biggest economic return.

Online vs brick-and-mortar: How purchase-channel differences impact customer loyalty

Experts predicted high holiday sales — the best in years — and big-box retailers … missed the mark. This happened despite more retailers than ever concentrating on e-commerce to capitalize on predictions that consumers would spend more than ever online.

So, what happened? Part of the problem could be that retailers invested in the wrong aspects of their customers’ online and brick-and-mortar shopping experiences, unintentionally hurting customer satisfaction and the likelihood a customer will repurchase.

Specific aspects of customer satisfaction matter more or less depending on where customers shop, and because better customer satisfaction leads to increased customer loyalty, retail executives who don’t understand these differences can miss opportunities to maximize their sales. Knowing how best to cultivate customer satisfaction in a multichannel marketplace is an important competitive advantage, especially for executives planning new campaigns that span online and offline channels. Strengthening customer loyalty can help companies expand their market share.

Previously, there had been little research verifying these differences, but we recently dove into our data and uncovered a few key differences in how customer satisfaction is generated in online and offline purchase channels.

One chance to get it right with online shoppers

To start, we found that customers are more sensitive to their satisfaction when shopping online. What do we mean by that? The likelihood a customer will never purchase a product again or will switch retailers following a single unsatisfactory brand experience is much higher online than offline.

This comes down to convenience. With virtually unlimited retailers at an online shopper’s fingertips, it doesn’t cost them much to switch to a competing brand. But the same customer might need to drive 15 minutes out of their way to find a brick-and-mortar substitute — something they might not be willing or able to do.

Moreover, while customer satisfaction can drop for any number of reasons, our research found that perceived value (a measure of quality relative to price paid) drives customer satisfaction more online than in person. This too is unsurprising, given that e-commerce has played a large role in driving down prices across the retail world.

Perceived value is impacted not only by the product’s quality, but also by any extra costs associated with the purchase, if a promotion is running on the product, if it was easy to find and purchase the product, how quickly the product will be delivered (if shopping online), and more. Because it’s easier for customers to conduct price and quality comparisons online than offline, customers hone in on and develop perceived value more so online than they do in stores.

To build customer satisfaction through perceived value, online retailers should have more efficient websites than their competitors, offer easier access to purchase and search history, and provide more product details, photos, and videos.

Online retailers can’t ignore other factors influencing customer satisfaction either, such as overall quality and expectations. By improving each part of the customer’s experience, online retailers can combat the hair-trigger tendencies e-commerce customers have to switch retailers.

Overall quality and customer expectations key for brick-and-mortar stores

Meanwhile, our data show that the customer satisfaction of offline customers is driven more strongly driven by overall quality and expectations. In brick-and-mortar stores, quality products and customer expectations are key to customer satisfaction. The advantage traditional retailers have is two-fold: face-to-face human interaction and a perceived reduction in shopping risk.

When interacting with an in-store sales representative, customers can ask every question they have and receive trustworthy answers in response. Customers can also handle the product they intend to purchase, receiving tactile feedback about its quality.

This finding validates current recommended practices to enhance customer experiences: Create a pressure-free environment to interact with high-quality products, and ensure knowledgeable staff is on hand. Additionally, offline retailers need to focus on sharing reliable product information and maintaining a trustworthy image.

However, brick-and-mortar retailers won’t be able to attract digital shoppers and compete with their online competitors just by focusing on these areas. Keeping in mind online shoppers’ emphasis on perceived value, brick-and-mortar stores must devise a way to one-up online competitors in this regard. That could start with more competitive pricing, though executives should be wary not to fall into the trap of price cutting.

Overall, retailers can develop better customer experiences and drive more purchasing by customizing their approaches to online and offline purchase channels. Even though retail executives face mounting pressure to consolidate channels and adopt omnichannel strategies, they can’t lose sight of the differences as they head into 2019. If they do, online and offline executives alike risk hurting customer satisfaction and losing out on market share because of decreased customer loyalty and repurchase intent.

The above findings generally persist across customer demographics and retail categories. For exceptions, details on methodology, and more results from the research, read the full paper in the Journal of Retailing.

Dip in federal government satisfaction is not just a ‘now’ problem

U.S. federal government services experienced a drop in customer satisfaction for the first time in two years, dipping 1.1 percent to an ACSI score of 68.9 (out of 100), per our latest Federal Government Report.

While this downturn is not a result of the government shutdown, make no mistake: The longest shutdown in U.S. history – at 35 days – has left an indelible mark on the American people – and not in a good way.

President Trump signed a bill to reopen the government for three weeks. However, the Feb. 15 deadline is going to be here before you know it, and the fear of another potential shutdown is most certainly on the minds of the 800,000 federal employees who returned to work on Jan. 28. But it won’t just be those federal workers feeling the impact.

The millions of everyday citizens that interact with the nine federal departments and agencies that closed their doors during the shutdown felt the effects too. And while data collection for our 2018 report ended before the shutdown began, we can expect the effects to be reflected in the satisfaction marks come 2019.

That doesn’t necessarily bode well for the federal government.

What did the government shutdown impact?

Thirty-five days doesn’t seem like much in the grand scheme of things. But a lot can happen in that time.

Thanks to The New York Times’ government shutdown timeline, we have a running list of what took place between Dec. 22 and Jan. 25. Without getting into everything, it’s clear the effects of the shutdown are far-reaching, extending well beyond those experienced by federal government employees.

For example, the Department of Interior scored a 78 in our latest report. This ties for the highest among federal departments. However, national parks fall under Interior, and the shutdown has not been kind to these landmarks.

We’ve seen injuries at places like Big Bend National Park, where a man fell and broke his leg. He was carried to safety by fellow park visitors and a park ranger, but the park had limited rescue services because of the shutdown. Other services, like road maintenance and trash pickup, were suspended by the National Park Service back on Dec. 30, creating unsafe, unsanitary, and unpleasant conditions.

During the shutdown, the Smithsonian museums and the National Zoo were closed. As was the National Gallery of Art. And then, of course, there are the airports.

Many Transportation Security Administration (TSA) workers and controllers began calling in sick instead of working without pay. At best, the disruption caused inconveniences like longer lines at security checkpoints; worst, it caused chaos and safety violations. Miami International Airport closed a terminal on Jan. 12 because it didn’t have enough security screeners. On Jan. 25, New York’s La Guardia Airport ceased allowing inbound flights due to delays, causing air travel congestion along the Eastern Seaboard. And on Jan. 2, a passenger flew from Atlanta to Tokyo with a handgun.

These are merely some of the incidents that took place during the shutdown. And just because the government is back open – at least for the next three weeks – most people aren’t simply going to forgive and forget all the turbulence, especially with the lingering ramifications.

Future costs of the shutdown

The shutdown is over for now. The consequences of that shutdown, however, will be long-lasting.

The National Taxpayer Advocate, a government watchdog group, told House staffers that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) will likely need 12 to 18 months to recover from the shutdown.

The IRS has millions of unanswered taxpayer questions to deal with. It needs to hire thousands of employees for this tax filing season, and it needs to make up lost time when it comes to training workers. But the IRS is just one department that’s feeling the pressure.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs needs to issue grants to prevent food shortages and a health care crisis, and the National Park Service has an amenities problem on its hand. This is likely only the beginning.

The federal government shutdown cost the economy $11 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Most of that loss will be recouped once the shutdown ends and folks return to work, but the CBO estimates that $3 billion is “permanently lost.”

Although our 2018 report was not influenced by the shutdown itself, satisfaction in the federal government was already heading south. Even with the government back up and running (for now, anyway), it’s almost impossible to look at all that’s happened without expecting a lingering ripple effect throughout the rest of 2019.

Think you know your customer? Maybe not.

Every manager knows that happy customers mean better business. But despite decades of in-depth research, elaborate customer satisfaction monitoring systems, and extensive customer service support teams, managers still struggle to understand their customers’ desires and needs, leading them to make misguided decisions that can hurt their business.

From misinterpreting data to undervaluing what drives purchasing decisions, our research shows managers get more wrong about customers than they get right.

Managers think they know their customers

Managers might want to think twice about how well they understand their customer. Even some highly confident managers don’t understand all the levels and drivers of customer satisfaction.

In the aggregate and on average, the managers we surveyed significantly underestimated their customer’s propensity to complain, and thereby failed to address the customer’s complaints. Additionally, they overestimate their customers’ satisfaction and loyalty while misunderstanding what drives both customer expectations and perceptions of value.

With the importance most companies place on customer feedback, how can these misunderstandings be so widespread? Managers should look to the type of feedback they’re measuring, to start. Not all feedback is useful (no matter how pretty those 5 stars on Yelp appear).

For example, what does having a high average review score tell you about your customer? Many managers make the mistake of blissfully accepting a positive review, but either don’t take the time or don’t have the data to understand why the customer gave them a particular rating. When implementing customer feedback monitoring systems, managers should emphasize specifically catered feedback that will provide relevant insights into their product and service decisions.

The data has the answers, but you still don’t

Implementing a customer satisfaction monitoring system – such as market research or consumer data collection and analysis — to evaluate customer feedback and communicate the data throughout the organization is a solid first step in understanding customer satisfaction and motivations. However, for many organizations, these systems often don’t live up to their potential. There are two reasons for this:

  1. Some managers aren’t exposed to the data these systems collect.
  2. Some managers receive the data, but they misinterpret and misunderstand it.

Both cases result in frustrated customers, falsely confident managers, and ultimately, the loss of business. Monitoring systems only work if managers have access and training to accurately interpret the data.

Additionally, to extract all the benefits from monitoring systems, managers should inspect the current extent and nature of their customer perception level to help minimize any manager-customer disconnects. This baseline will uncover the holes in understanding and facilitate more informed decisions to close them.

Once managers understand where lapses in data and interpretation are occurring, they can take corrective actions that make sense for their business, and ultimately, for their customers.

Going beyond what the customer wants

Understanding what your customer wants is the first step, but to truly bridge the gap in manager-customer misunderstanding, managers need to take it a step further. Beyond what your customer wants, why do they want what they do?

In many oversaturated and competitive markets, like retail, simply knowing what your customer wants isn’t enough anymore. There are five, 10, even 100 other firms selling the same exact product or service for a better price. And yet, the more expensive option might sell better and produce more satisfied customers.

Why? Lower prices are not the deciding factor in winning over the customer. Instead, quality drives customer satisfaction and loyalty, along with perceived value and customer expectations. So before scrambling to stay competitive in the short-term by reducing prices, managers need to take the time to find out why the customer feedback says what it says.

Learn from Netflix’s mistake. In 2011, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings pushed for a premature split between hard copy DVDs and the company’s new streaming service — a move that resulted in 800,000 fewer subscribers and more than a 25 percent stock plummet. The split not only divided customers, but required them to pay for both services separately. Turns out, the new business model combined with the price increase was enough to warrant a “no” from the “Are you still watching?” prompt.

Hastings apologized a few weeks later, admitting he was overconfident in the push to streaming and assumed that the divide had already been presented to customers via feedback platforms (clearly, it had not), and that the price increase wouldn’t come with backlash (wrong again).

Following this misinterpretation, Hastings made a swift recovery by focusing on why the remaining customers were interested in streaming services over DVDs, leading to an amazing comeback in 2012 that’s held up through today.

Making the change

Winning over customers is about more than implementing fancy monitoring systems and simply relying on the data without context; it’s also about understanding the customer’s desires and needs, and — as a manager — checking your ego at the door.

With the plethora of data available today, it’s easy to misinterpret information and direct precious resources to well-intentioned but needless tasks. To avoid making this mistake, it’s time for managers to reassess data, determine key drivers of customer satisfaction as well as complaints, and fix gaps in interpretation and information sharing. If managers make the effort now, they’ll have happier customers — and better bottom lines — in the long run.

Forget millennials. Here’s the generation most impacting your bottom line

By this time next year, Generation Z will outnumber millennials globally, accounting for nearly 32 percent of the population. While millennials have recently been in the spotlight for having unreasonable expectations and supposedly “killing” industries, it’s consumers born after 2000 that are likely to have more of an impact soon.

With the oldest members (ages 18-20) of this massive generation now in the market as consumers, there a few things companies should keep in mind as they try to woo this digital-savvy demographic.

Be prepared for a harsh critic

Younger consumers have never had a reputation for being particularly optimistic when it comes to satisfaction. Gen Z customers appear to be overwhelmingly negative in their response to new products and services; in fact, almost every variable the ACSI measured in 2017, including loyalty and perceptions of quality, proved Gen Z ranked the lowest.

Most notably, these young consumers were 10 percent less satisfied than the Silent Generation, and 4 percent less satisfied than millennials, who have a reputation for being critical consumers. To overcome this trend, companies will need to work harder to prove the worth of their products and services over competitors’ offerings to young shoppers. Growing up with digital conveniences like Amazon and phones that also function as wallets has fostered higher expectations for convenience and value among Gen Z.

Customers that don’t know how to properly complain

Aside from the general negativity associated with Gen Z consumers, an underlying problem is that these consumers often don’t productively complain about their dissatisfaction. Our data consistently shows customers who complain to the provider of a product or service generally have a better experience, in part because they have an opportunity to see the issue resolved and also because they feel their issues are being heard.

Yet, instead of calling or emailing customer service, Gen Z tends to take to social media to express their frustrations. This becomes problematic when consumers tweet or post without tagging or messaging the company directly. Not all corporate structures have the resources to search for and respond to indirect customer complaints on social media. As a result, they have fewer opportunities to address the customer’s experience directly, salvage customer satisfaction, win back the customer’s loyalty, or manage their reputation. Customers, in turn, miss out on a chance for resolution.

For example, earlier this year 20-year-old celebrity Kylie Jenner complained about the newest Snapchat update to her 25.4 million Twitter followers, many of whom belong to Gen Z. The tweet received over 73,000 retweets and 5,000 replies, many of which conveyed the tweeter’s plans to delete Snapchat altogether or to stick to other social platforms until an update was made. In the aftermath of Jenner’s post, Snapchat, Inc. lost $1.3 billion of its market value.

While a single tweet from a celebrity isn’t typically enough to influence satisfaction overall (and we can’t say Jenner’s tweet was solely responsible for Snapchat, Inc.’s stock plummet), the example shows the impact Gen Z could have on company bottom lines.

A problematic generation, or a problematic age?

Before companies across the country redirect their concern over the impact of millennials toward Gen Z, they should think back to being an 18-year-old shopper. The “problem” with 18-20-year-old consumers may not be that they belong to a digital generation raised with more conveniences, but instead that they’re too young to be a well-informed buyer. Perhaps it’s time to consider that this might happen again … and again and again, as each new generation reaches the early stages of adulthood.

Members of the Silent Generation and Baby Boomers tend to be the most satisfied customers because they’ve spent years shopping, which has shaped them into a much wiser customer than they may have been in their late teens and early 20s. More practice in purchasing leads to better habits, including research before buying, which ultimately leads to a higher level of customer satisfaction. They also tend to have more disposable income and therefore less stress associated with each purchase, whereas younger consumers with less income may be more significantly impacted by their purchasing decisions, and could be more critical of companies because of that added burden.

The fact that Gen Z ranks the lowest in satisfaction should still be taken as a warning sign for companies. But before scrambling to please the youngest consumers entering the market time and time again, it’s worth considering that the real answer to achieving satisfaction in the younger generations might be to give them some time.

Great Customer Service Harder to Find in Federal Agencies

Just two years ago, customer service was a strong point for the U.S. federal government, with citizens giving the courtesy and helpfulness of staff a rating of 80 out of a possible 100 points. The American Customer Satisfaction Index—which applies the same rigorous, scientific methodology to measuring satisfaction with both private and public sector organizations—deems scores of 80 or above as excellent.

This once-excellent customer service has diminished since 2012, down 6% according to the ACSI’s annual report on citizen satisfaction with government, but without the benefit of other aspects of agency performance—such as the critical website channel—improving to anywhere near the 80 mark. In fact, website satisfaction has failed to improve at all—staying flat at a benchmark of 72 in 2014, or 3% below its 2012 level. Other aspects of the citizen experience have downgraded further. The process of applying for and receiving services falls to a low score of 68, while the clarity and accessibility of information provided by agencies drops to 69.

15jan-citizen-experience

As in the private sector, customer service is often the first casualty of cost-cutting and poor service leads to less satisfaction. The overall score for citizen satisfaction with federal government is down for a second year, reaching a new low of 64.4.

15jan-citizen-sat-fed-gov-services

The downturn in citizen satisfaction comes amid cutbacks in agency budgets and fewer federal workers. As reported in January, reduced funding for the IRS could mean longer wait times for callers this tax season, delays in refunds for paper filers, and perhaps even a total agency shutdown later in the year.

If cuts are going to be made to the people delivering the services, then part of the solution is paying more attention to websites. ACSI data show that citizens are much happier when services are offered electronically. In the case of the Internal Revenue Service, satisfaction is dramatically higher for taxpayers who file electronically (76) than for those who file on paper (56).

Read more »

Federal Computer Week: Satisfaction With Fed Customer Service Worst Ever »

The Washington Post, Federal Eye: Index Shows Americans Increasingly Unsatisfied
With Federal Services »

MarketWatch: Americans Hate the Federal Government Now More Than Ever »

Federal Times: Satisfaction With Agency Services Continues to Fall »