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Who Is Buying Your Wireless Products?
Don't let the early birds fly away

They’re termed “early adopters.” They’re the early birds who snap up the latest wireless devices like Apple’s breakthrough iPhone. These high-tech consumer electronics’ enthusiasts are critical to a new product’s success because their opinions can often make or break a new product based on their satisfaction with its reliability and its ability to live up to its claims. If you make and market these gadgets, you must ensure they don’t fly the coop – and if they do, that they leave content.

Discontented early adopters quickly can become detractors, determined to pass along their unpleasant experiences with a new device. In today’s world of instant communications, their unhappiness becomes known – and passed along to others – immediately. Wireless carriers must consider this especially worrisome since (there is a time lapse) a period of time usually passes between when early adopters buy a new device and when the “early majority” of buyers snap it up.

Consider what happened when AT&T introduced the Nokia E62 Symbian smart phone. Despite its vibrant and sharp screen, full QWERTY keyboard, powerful applications, and solid call quality, early adopters spread the word that it didn’t have a camera option and it sometimes proved sluggish when switching between applications. Consequently, it suffered lethargic sales.

Or look at Motorola’s experience with its ROKR E1 (“rocker”) mobile phone, the first to integrate with Apple’s iTunes music player. The phone was widely anticipated, but soon after its September 2005 launch, heavy criticisms from early buyers left sales below expectations despite a huge marketing campaign. The early adopters complained that only 100 songs could be loaded at a time, that transferring music to the phone proved painfully slow, and that the phone’s digital camera was subpar.

Early Adopter “Churn” a Problem
What unhappy early enthusiasts do is ditch the devices that disappoint them, contributing to customer “churn,” or turnover. Customer churn related to poor data-service quality remains a major obstacle for wireless carriers today. For instance, a study of 1,859 British mobile phone users by Tickbox researchers found that one-of-four mobile subscribers in the 16-to-34-year-old age range – many of whom are early adopters – are considering changing operators.

Fifty-four percent of that demographic reported problems with advanced mobile services and 27 percent have unresolved problems. One of three is unhappy with customer-service levels and nearly half say they have given up calling customer service.

For wireless operators, this kind of feedback from device enthusiasts makes user satisfaction and loyalty key priorities. With the market in the U.S. worth an estimated $130 million, any tiny change in market share can represent hundreds of millions of dollars.

Consequently, wireless carriers must provide proactive customer care to decrease churn and keep early adopters content. The best way is to solve session quality problems as they occur, even identifying and isolating a problem and fixing it before early adopters recognize a problem occurred. The answer rests with technology that allows carriers to monitor their mobile data networks effectively and efficiently.

About Bruce Peterson
Bruce Peterson is founder and chief executive officer of Velocent Systems Inc., whose customer experience monitoring solutions help wireless carriers keep track of the experiences of a device's critical early adopters.

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