Michael Manzo is Chief Marketing Officer of Openet. He joined Openet in 2006 and has served as chief marketing officer since January 2007. Prior to this, Mr Manzo served as Vice President, Global Marketing.
Prior to joining Openet, Mr Manzo served as a consultant in the Enterprise Solutions Groups at Nokia Corporation from 2005 to 2006. From 2003 to 2005, Mr Manzoheld executive positions at Traverse Networks, Inc., a developer of enterprise mobility solutions for unified communications which was acquired by Avaya. From2000 to 2001 he served at OmniSky Corporation, a provider of wireless data applications and services for users of mobile devices which was acquired by Earthlink. From 1999 to 2000 he served at Telocity, Inc., a developer of interactive online services which was acquired by DirecTV Group. and from 1996 to 1999 in Notify Technology Corporation, an independent software vendor specializing in wireless mobility solutions and services.
Michael.Manzo holds a B.A. in Journalism from University of New Hampshire.
The issue now is not just ‘bill shock’, when travellers receive high data roaming bills when they return home - it is now the fear of bill shock. There is great confusion of what data roaming is and how it is charged, which results in subscribers switching off their devicesaltogether. Instead, timely communication of usage information and personal-based capping (as imposed on operators in the EU) will bring peace of mind to travellers. This encourages customer-operator contact that can be used further for ad-hoc promotions that are triggered by actual usage
If you are an iPhone, Blackberry or Android smartphone owner and you’re planning a foreign holiday any time soon, be warned, you could quite easily return home to find yourself facing an unexpectedly large bill. EU travellers, travelling within the zone, are protected to some degree by regulations limiting the charges that carriers can level. However, once outside the relative safety zone of Europe, there is no such protection and the cosseted Europeans face the same dangers that non-EU travellers face everywhere: data roaming.
Something as simple as opening an email, tweeting or checking a map of the local area using your smartphone can cost huge amounts. Last year, the European Union moved to combat the problem by capping the amount that the network carriers can charge for data roaming within its borders at €50 per month. However, this cap only applies to the fortunate citizens of countries inside the EU. If you’re an EU resident who travels beyond the protection of Brussels or a non-EU citizen, you run the risk of racking up a massive bill.
Part of the problem for consumers, of course, is ignorance. Over 60 per cent of Britons admit to being ‘confused’ about data roaming and nearly two-thirds of UK mobile users are not fully aware of what the term ‘data roaming' actually means, according to a recent report by GoodMobilePhone.co.uk. The study reported that just over a quarter the people surveyed believe that the phrase ‘data roaming' refers to the ability to access the web while abroad, via a mobile network. While just over a half of respondents thought the phrase was a technical term referring to the ability to access emails while on the move.
The GoodMobilePhone survey is just one of many consumer awareness stories that have helped to raise the profile of mobile phone bill shock. Which? Magazine, one of the most widely regarded consumer titles in the UK, revealed recently that data roaming on an iPad or tablet PC could be up to 1,000 times more expensive than any equivalent 3G internet use in the UK and even more expensive outside of Europe.
As a result of these combining factors, many mobile subscribers now avoid using their phones and data dongles while travelling abroad due to high perceived costs and a lack of understanding of roaming charges. Given that operators are looking at mobile data as a growing source of revenue, it is vital for them to address customers’ fear of bill shock.
The EU regulations mentioned above mean consumers will automatically receive a warning when they reach 80 per cent of the chosen limit and that operators should do a better job at informing subscribers of the costs of data roaming services when they enter a member state.
In today’s crowded marketplace, nurturing customer loyalty is of vital importance to a mobile operator but despite the central role they play, operators are becoming less and less visible to the subscriber. Recognition, influence and loyalty have slowly migrated to other parts of the value chain, namely device manufacturers and content providers. In reality, most people are only reminded of their mobile operator when their bill is delivered. Mobile operators urgently need to create a more active engagement with their subscribers to increase the visibility and relevance of their services.
Operators should encourage individuals to use their mobile devices when abroad by educating users on roaming data bundles and providing more transparent billing options, not just before they leave home, but also when they start using their service abroad. This will give subscribers certainty as to their costs and comfort in using their service.
The need to inform and educate subscribers about usage is increasingly recognised. Operators have been moving towards an informative, educational type of engagement, providing visibility of network usage. They can make a lot of useful information available to the subscriber, including where their billing or family plan spending stands at any given moment, which service plans they currently have, how far into consuming these plans they are and how much is left. They need to make it easy for people to discover the information, to engage with their plan and manage the use of promotions.
Unfortunately, complexity is still an issue. The rise of the smartphone has opened up myriad ways of using a device. In response, operators have introduced more sophisticated and complex data plans in an attempt to become more customer-centric. However, having so much choice brings confusion for the customer, as mobile service provider offerings become fragmented and complicated, with thousands of products and rating plans and all manner of bolt-on services and promotions. To help subscribers feel informed, in control of their options and comfortable that they are selecting a plan that meets their needs the operator must simplify the choices and make them easy to access.
Informing and managing dozens of options on behalf of customers can be a logistical nightmare and very costly. Most methods currently in use are not convenient for the customer – push-based marketing via mail, SMS or customer service representative are intrusive, and having to log into a portal and navigate a customer care website is inconvenient and cannot deliver time sensitive notifications, such as high spend alerts.
If operators are to sell more segmented offers and empower customers with more flexible service plan options, personalisation must go further than just displaying basic account information. Rather than just inform, the operator should be looking to provide control – bring opportunities and promotions triggered by actual usage, which can be changed in real time. For example, real-time ability to spend loyalty points, to set and monitor parental controls and frictionless purchasing of new services. This hails a move towards self-personalisation, the next step in a more symbiotic customer-operator relationship.
Subscriber Engagement Engine, a single platform that integrates with multiple nodes that hides complexity. It is subscriber and service aware, not only giving end users real-time visibility into their usage but enabling them to directly control, manage and self-personalise their services, balances and spend. Operators need to harness their back office intelligence to deliver promotions that subscribers can purchase and have provisioned immediately.
As a mobile user can you imagine a scenario where in 30 seconds you can check exactly where you billing plan stands, review what telecom services you can buy with the loyalty points you have earned using your mobile, purchase a new bundle, configure the service options for one of your kids or decide whether to accept a recommendation you just received from a friend about a new service. All of this will be on a mobile application which has your operator’s logo on it. Configuring your plan and buying add-ons will be as important as checking your credit card or bank account online – something most of us do every few days. The capabilities are already there, they just need channelling in a new way in order for operators to transform the customer experience and become truly relevant again.
Consumers will welcome steps to protect their wallets from unexpected bills as there is still confusion regarding the cost implications of mobile phone calls or data roaming charges when travelling abroad. Users don't understand the charging structures used by mobile operators.
The EU regulations offer operators a push in the right direction, giving them the opportunity to take the moral high ground by making it easier for customers to manage their mobile phone bills. Central to avoiding bill shock is the timely communication of usage information. Consumers should be able to set-up thresholds for different services and manage balances in real time, so that whenever a specified threshold is reached, spend alerts can be sent, and usage restrictions applied, with configurable options to override a limit.
It is time for the mobile industry to take in hand the best interest of their customers by providing greater transparency and simple billing options. Instead of mandating limits to customers, service provides should create tailored services that allow peace of mind for mobile subscribers when travelling.