Part of the family: Membership-based approaches for operators

June 19, 2017 - Openet

The reason is simple. The quality of customer experience a service provider, delivers, across its entire business operations, remains the last significant competitive differentiator it has. But doing well regarding the share of wallet, net promoter score and overall customer satisfaction metrics is about more than offering the best features and the lowest price. Service providers must focus on giving their customers a reason to belong and therefore pursue a membership and community-based approach. 

Achieving Emotional Connectivity

"Sense of community is a feeling that members have of belonging, a feeling that members matter to one another and the group, and a shared faith that members’ needs will be met through their commitment to be together" (McMillan, 1976)

Whether an individual is treated as a subscriber, a customer or a member will have a huge bearing on their emotional closeness to the brand. People tend to mirror the emotions that are displayed towards them, and individuals will reflect the attitudes that service operators show towards them.

The concept of "belongingness" describes our emotional need to be an accepted member of a group and our deep-seated desire to belong to something greater than ourselves. This concept— expressed through membership and community—can have a huge impact on customer metrics in telecoms.

Membership in Telecoms

In principle, membership-based approaches, while not yet widely adopted, are not new to the telecoms industry. Both O2 Priority in the United Kingdom and 3Plus in Ireland are examples of membership-based services operators offer. The MVNO GiffGaff is well-known for its community-based business, where anyone can become a member by purchasing their products. In fact, in January the company was ranked the best UK service provider for customer satisfaction by The Institute of Customer Service.

Membership-and community-based approaches can serve to strengthen customer loyalty by building a strong connection with members, driving more sales through higher Net Promoter Scores and measurable customer satisfaction. According to Crezeo (2015), 53% of consumers who are part of a social brand community are more loyal to the brand. 

These approaches can also allow the business ready access to customer opinion, which can, in turn, enhance products and services. Members are typically much more willing to offer up ideas and feedback than subscribers. Research from Salesforce found that 86% of Fortune 500 companies report that communities provide better insight into customer needs and 64% state that brand community has improved their decision-making (Crezeo, 2015).

What makes a member?

If a telecommunications service provider is to adopt membership or community-based business models, it needs to consider four main components: membership, influence, meeting needs, and sharing an emotional connection.

If companies treat people as subscribers, their emotional connection with the service provider is likely to be very low. The relationship will be functional, where the operator provides a service to the subscriber and hopes that they will keep generating revenue. However, a membership approach stimulates the highest level of emotional engagement. 'Members’ feel that they are part of something bigger than themselves. 

Influence has to work both ways, with members feeling that they have influence over the brand and the brand having influence over its members. If the individual is better off without membership, then it is worthless to them (or even harmful, as membership typically requires some effort and commitment). 

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