The first day of 4G World in Chicago started off quietly — due, in large part, to the expo floor being closed off until tomorrow — but Susan McNeice, vice president of the Yankee Group, was there to kick things off with a welcome keynote about defining the 4G customer experience.
As most people know, 4G technology is on the rise and is much further along than it was at this same time last year. “4G is poised to become a large part of wireless technology,” said McNeice, who maintained that it would become a dominant part of the market within a mere one or two years. And with this change, she said, comes a different user experience with a new level of importance.
“The evolution of technology has put customers in the driver’s seat,” said McNeice, who showed off the results of Yankee Group surveys pointing to wireless devices being used for far more than just voice communication. When asked, “Which of the following features are most important if you were to buy a new mobile handset today?” the majority of those surveyed put internet access in their top three, with over one third of them ranking it as their number one most important feature.
Similarly, McNeice showed statistics from their surveys indicating that handsets were being used more for SMS than voice, and forms of entertainment like accessing online communities or social networking sites were ranked high in importance to consumers, as well.
“This is the new reality for consumers,” she said. “So we need to rethink the way we compete.”
Tablets and 4G
It was at this point that McNeice turned her attention to the burgeoning tablet market and how it, too, will affect the 4G customer experience. She pointed out that tablets are projected to be a $45 billion market by 2014, and credited the introduction of the iPad from Apple in January of last year for the skyrocketing numbers.
“In a space of less than two years, we’ve gone from having no market to having global tablet sales for 2011 hitting $27 billion,” she said. To put things in perspective on just how well tablets were fitting into the consumer electronics market, she said that according to their survey, when consumers were asked, “How often do you watch video on your…?” tablet was ranked second, only slightly behind an actual television.
“So the day is coming when people will want to consume media across all of their devices,” said McNeice. “Some would argue that day is already here.”
But now that users are, in a sense, in control and in need of the high-speed connections of 4G to provide that kind of interconnectivity, service providers need to reevaluate their strategies in order to succeed, according to McNeice.
“The days of competing by lowering prices are over,” she said. “This can no longer be a race to the bottom. We believe the customer experience is providers’ last remaining opportunity for competitive differentiation.”
So what can service providers for these wireless devices do to guarantee the satisfaction of the end user? “They need to be transparent, consistent, and dynamic,” said McNeice. This means consistent coverage, quality, pricing, and availability, while actions that affect the connected experience must be rapid, personalized, immersive and competitive. Perhaps most important, though, is that there can be no “fine print” or billing surprises.
But whether or not this is actually executed by the big four service providers — Verizon Wireless, AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile — remains to be seen. “We have not been very good about transparency as an industry,” McNeice admitted. “People don’t want to feel like they need to take their attorney into the store with them.” She added that consumers would even be willing to pay a premium to guarantee a relationship with their service provider is transparent.
McNeice encouraged service providers to keep a holistic view of their customers’ experiences in mind as a means to succeed as we move into the age of 4G. “This will be a journey, not something that you can just do once instantly. It isn’t just your network performance, whether you get the bills out on time, or the number of devices that you provide your service on. It’s all of those things.”
“Without looking at all of those things in their totality,” she said, “you won’t be able to make a good user experience.”