26 September, 2019

Delivering Consumer Value in Digital Times

Evolving Landscapes in European Telecommunications Services

Executive Summary

European Telecommunications: a changing sector

The European telecoms sector has evolved significantly over recent years – it is a sector characterised by evolving service, improved trust and enhanced customer relationships. This study, while recognising the complexity of delivering sophisticated telecoms services, provides facts and figures on an often untold story: the comprehensive and growing value consumers receive from telecommunications services – realised as a direct result of strong competition between providers, innovation and considerable ongoing investments in networks and services. Already there are signs that investments in new areas and initiatives around customer innovation are paying off. Consumers in several European countries already report more positive perception of the sector, and feel increasingly satisfied by
what they get. Telecoms operators rank highly on important issues such as privacy, data protection and consumer trust reflecting the fact they for a long time have been guardians of particularly sensitive and confidential data. Some of the largest European operators feature among the highest in international accountability indexes – demonstrating the attention they are putting on data governance and transparency related practices.

Consumer value: the “new networks” effect

The sector has seen record levels of investment both in terms of network and services for consumers, and operators are taking this further still by investing in the networks of the future which will underpin a whole range of new innovative services and even industries. Against this backdrop consumers increasingly benefit from faster speeds and availability of innovative services. As a result of these network investments and enhancements, operators are set to deliver dramatically increased value to consumers in the near future by enabling services they use and ask for the most.

A changed customer interaction 

On top of the value coming from higher quality services, we observed the providers’ enhanced focus on the customer. Operators have focused their attention towards evolving customer interaction, experience and satisfaction as a competitive tool. They are improving the ways in which they interact and engage with and serve their customers, using the potential of new technologies to facilitate the solving of any problems that may arise in the customer experience, and are significantly increasing customer satisfaction as a result. This is reflected by the enhancement of customer care and the creation of a seamless, omni-channel customer experience to make sure nobody is left behind. Online portals, chatbots and AI, which allow customers to solve problems or interact with their provider more quickly at any time of the day, are a good example of what the sector is doing to
give consumers more control.

Beyond simplistic headlines: recognising complexity

The increasing use consumers make of telecommunications services and the reliance they have on them is likely to heighten consumers’ perception of any problems they experience, and the detriment that comes from them. The complexity of the ecosystem too does not help, as consumers may not always be able to identify at which level a problem has occurred (e.g. issues with an internet service, or with a device, or with another network) and tend to quickly place blame with their provider of connectivity. Often many perceived connectivity problems actually relate to the service being used (e.g. social media platform), which is a result not of the network or device being used to access them. Put simply, as the use of connectivity increases, so too does the likelihood to experience some problems. However, when things do sometimes go wrong, they get noticed. In such situations, operators are striving to avoid lengthy disputes with customers by turning to goodwill and compensation. While some studies and surveys1
may suggest the sector is characterised by relatively low levels of customer satisfaction, a high volume of problems, and a high number of complaints as a result – they tend not to consider more than traditional indicators of price and ignore the focus of telecoms operators putting consumers at the heart of what they do, at times going beyond what regulators and policymakers require of them. As this study shows, looking beyond the usual set of indicators is crucial when making an assessment of the sector, especially insofar as the results of surveys and reports often inform policy decisions and direction. Having a comprehensive and objective view of how the sector is evolving is of key importance to pursue sound and evidence-based future policymaking.

Whereas room for improvement always remains, especially in highly evolving sectors, we can see the progress being made. Prices are falling and consumers are getting more value from the services they use. The offers available to
them, whether standalone products or bundles are becoming more tailor made, with additional products (e.g. video content, music streaming, cloud services) commonly available alongside connectivity and communications services. Compared to regulated utilities (such as electricity, water, and gas) the sector is offering lower prices, more choice, and better customer satisfaction.

© ETNO 2019
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