Friday, November 16, 2007

Canadians Aren't Happy With Cell Service

It seems Canucks can't make up our minds about whether we're satisfied with our cellular services or not. In 2006, J.D. Power and Associates reported that our level of satisfaction with both service providers and handsets improved from 2005. But the 2007 study is singing a different tune, citing that our satisfaction has decreased "considerably" over the past year (18 points, to be exact).

What's the reason? J.D. Power suspects customer expectations, in general, which I'm not buying. We've seen tons of new 3G technology offerings from every carrier, plus sleek and sexy handset designs. Rogers Wireless even introduced video calling this year, a North American first. What more do customers want? Maybe Canadians are upset because we don't get to snag the coveted iPhone just yet, but there's still tons of other neat options out there!

The other reason cited is cost. "Although an array of new service plan features, bundling options, and ways to reduce package prices have been made available in 2007, customers indicate that they are dissatisfied with the cost of these services," explained Charles Schade, Senior Director of Research at J.D. Power and Associates. That reason I might buy.

Although industry pundits have tried to convince me that service in Canada is actually cheaper than it is in the U.S., any Web search I conduct brings up tons of results from bloggers, consumers, or third-party research sites that beg to differ. The Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association (CWTA) references an Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) study that claims Canadians in fact do have the lowest wireless prices in North America. But, as I mentioned in the October issue of Marketnews Magazine, this excludes "high-usage" customers. I'm no statistical analyst, but I'm pretty sure the high-usage customers represent a significant chunk of the Canadian customer base. In fact, a recent CWTA study reveals that Canadians chat for, on average, 400 minutes per month.

Customer dissatisfaction aside, there are a few carriers and handset manufacturers that received kudos. For the first time in the history of J.D.'s study, Fido topped the list, fueled mainly by its attractive service plan options and pricing structure. Sasktel and Aliant followed at a close second and third spot, respectively. In 2006, Sasktel was first, Fido second, and Aliant fourth (Telus snagged the third spot).

When it comes to prepaid service providers, Sir Richard Branson's company Virgin Mobile took top spot for the third year in a row, followed by Telus and PC Mobile. (Aliant and Telus were second and third, respectively, last year).

What's interesting is that the average monthly fee a contract customer pays per month descreased by $7, from $74 in 2006 to $67 in 2007. Either customers are opting for cheaper plans, or simply not using their phones as often as before.

Congrats to Sony Ericsson, which climbed to the number-one spot in mobile phone brand satisfaction, all the way from fourth place last year. LG, which was ranked number-one in 2006, oddly fell to number-five. Blackberry ranked second, followed by Sanyo, and Samsung, in that order. Blackberry received a gold star for operability, while Sanyo can puff its chest in the durability race.

If mobile phone carriers can get anything out of this study, it's to place greater focus on satisfying customers, both existing and new. Number portability (this is the ability to switch carriers but still keep your existing number) + customer disstisfaction + expired contracts could = lost business. As for the handset manufacturers, keep pumping out those neat and sexy designs, and please run extensive hands-on tests of the phones before they're brought to market: I'm floored sometimes with how the most advanced phones don't get simple functions and button-design concepts right!

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