As the mobile environment increasingly mirrors the internet experience, challenges such as spam and unsolicited content come to the fore. Operators have a chance to address these issues with the benefit of lessons learned from the internet and deploying tools to enable proactive and responsible content control by users.
Chris Newton-Smith explains how operators can invest in proactive control tools to build loyalty amongst users
The mobile phone is playing an increasingly central role in everyday life, acting as telephone, diary, alarm clock, camera, music player and, as handsets and services evolve, Internet and email portal. It is a device that many people now rely on, with some even comparing misplacing or forgetting their mobile phone to a feeling of losing control. As a result of this growing emotional attachment, users are naturally sensitive to actions that either feel like an invasion of their personal space, or conversely, a loss of control over functions and content on their mobile phones.
Users are wary of unsolicited content delivered to their handset, yet a perception of too much monitoring can also feel like an intrusion. By providing users with the tools that enable them to take charge of the content that reaches their phone, mobile network operators have an opportunity to generate customer confidence and loyalty that few are fully capitalising on to date.
Customer churn continues to be a major challenge in the mobile industry today, with users still not associating much brand loyalty with their network provider. Research by LogicaCMG indicates a strong correlation between users of more advanced services and increasing subscriber churn with, over the last three years, 53%of multimedia messaging service (MMS) and 58% of mobile Internet browser service users having switched operator. As advanced services are major revenue generators for mobile operators, these findings suggest that fostering loyalty amongst mobile users is vital to securing future revenue streams.
To build customer loyalty, operators need to provide a service that meets the users’ expectations and addresses the need for safety, security and control. This applies as much to content as to person-to-person messaging that is received on the handset. In particular, operators can learn from the internet, drawing comparisons as well as contrasts, to develop services that provide a flexible and effective control mechanism over content sent and received on the handset. On the internet, where we are almost resigned to a daily bombardment of unwanted messages and spam, users know that they can download software to help control its inflow to a degree. Similarly there are a range of programmes available to monitor and control access to Internet content, for example to protect children from adult material. On the mobile, however, the intrusion is felt more keenly and users are less aware of how they can protect themselves.
Operators have an opportunity to proactively address this growing problem and offer solutions to give the user control over a growing bombardment of intrusive, badly targeted or offensive content.
The increase of spam messages also has an impact on the users’ propensity to download mobile content. LogicaCMG’s research shows that customers are currently more confident with one-off purchases, such as wallpaper and ringtones, and are wary of subscriptions services, where greater revenues lie for the operator. A customer who feels confident that signing up to one premium rate sports clip will not result in receiving a barrage of unwanted content or being charged automatically for further services will be more likely to download more services from the network in the future.
Tackling wider issues of mobile abuse
Mobile network operators face a variety of messaging content issues that can impact on customer experience, and need to have tools in place to detect, filter and block where necessary. This ability to identify not only spam but also the wider range of abuses mentioned, allows operators to recognise premium rate numbers, viruses and even block nuisance messages to combat a growing concern over mobile bullying.
According to research conducted by UK children’s charity NCH, a survey of 770 youngsters found that 14% of 11-19 year olds had been threatened or harassed using text messages. Sociably responsible mobile operators can provide welcome support to anti-mobile-bullying campaigns by offering the tools to children, parents and schools to help control this content being received and spread.
By empowering subscribers to select restrictions on content received or put ‘bully bars’ on certain numbers, the operator is seen to be proactive and responsible. The operator is taking visible measures to protect its subscribers, but the choice is ultimately down to the customer to request this service and set up the ‘blacklist’ and ‘whitelist’ of numbers. While users will shun an overly aggressive approach, they will have a much more positive view of being given the tools and power to be in charge of what content reaches their own phone. An operator that takes this pragmatic approach will grow confidence among its subscribers, stealing a lead in this competitive marketplace by securing customer satisfaction and loyalty.
The mobile marketing mix
As businesses around the world, however reputable, are switching on to the potential of mobile marketing, users are just as quickly objecting to the growth of mobile spam and marketing messages pushed to their handsets. Operators can empower users in controlling the marketing content that they receive.
Operators have access to large amounts of real-time information on the messaging traffic passing through the network infrastructure, enabling them to perform statistical analyses to identify potential occurrences of spam and abuse. By adding the capabilities to their network to perform this analysis, operators can take an overview of messaging traffic to pick out trends, rather than watching each individual subscriber activity.
Taking this one step further, unlike in the internet world, operators also have source information that tells them where messages originate, meaning that traffic can be effectively monitored, and again operators can tackle the origins of fraudulent spam. Again drawing parallels with the Internet, operators can encourage users to ‘opt-in’ to subscriber services and, in the future, introduce junk mail facilities on mobile inboxes. Crucially, operators need to make it easy for people to either tailor preferences to what material they receive, or use the proactive alerts facility for letting people know about unwanted content or messages that are heading for their phones.
With content control, the operator is able to observe messaging behaviour in real-time, just as banks are increasingly monitoring financial transactions, to spot fraudulent activity and enable intervention to stem abuse quickly and effectively. As well as tackling this growing problem, the initiative helps operators to enforce security, privacy and service access controls to meet the GSM Association code of conduct requirements1.
Highlights of the GSM Association code include anti-spam conditions in all new contracts with third party suppliers, a mechanism that ensures customers buy-in to services and clear information on how to stop services. The code aims to provide customers with the relevant information and resources to put them back in control. Operators are advised to ensure that a policy is in place that prohibits the use of the mobile network for initiating or sending mobile spam, and advises operators to deploy tools for detecting and dealing with international cases of mobile fraud.
Empowering the user
With all of these tools enabling control over the content received, from targeting information from third parties which is relevant to the user, to controlling offensive messages and preventing download of adult content to children’s mobiles, end users can manage their own experience. LogicaCMG’s recent research showed that 90% of mobile phone users admit to being influenced by marketing promotions offered by their network provider2 so these are clearly useful incentives, but to continue this boost in revenue intake operators need to be sensitive to the preferences and demands of the individual users.
Operators clearly have advantages of information over internet service providers, enabling them to monitor and manage the content delivered to their customers. Operators also have the opportunity to provide tools for personalisation and customisation, empowering the user with control over the content received on the handset. For operators looking to develop loyalty and minimise churn, this is vital to developing a closer relationship with the user and provide a service over which they feel in complete control. It also allows the customer to respect their operator for taking responsibility and proactively tackling growing social issues of mobile spam, bullying and inappropriate content. By modelling content control on behaviour patterns and by providing options for certain services, the customer will be able to benefit from a user-friendly experience on all levels.
2 Independent research commissioned by LogicaCMG