Why Wireless Number Portability is Essential

4 Mar ’06

I’ve blogged here several times about the damage done to the consumer by Canadian cel operators’ resistance to wireless number portability (finally to be adopted in Canada, but at a snail’s pace). The NYT is running a story today that puts the issue in sharp relief. Gist:

From computer makers to credit card issuers to airlines, customer service is a vital aspect of attracting and retaining business, but few industries do it as poorly as cellphone companies, says Jon Anton, director of the Center for Customer-Driven Quality at Purdue University. Their services are so bad that they “are inefficient at being ineffective,” Mr. Anton said.

Their collective mediocrity is becoming more costly as customers leave each month by the hundreds of thousands. Now that most Americans own cellphones, growth for mobile carriers means not just finding new subscribers but holding onto existing ones. And yet, some 45 million customers, or about 20 percent of all subscribers, switch providers each year, according to the Yankee Group, a market research firm. And sometimes, as in the case of Denise Ferrari, they swear they will never go back.

Customers need little provocation to make an exit. “We’re at the point where getting a phone isn’t a big deal and transferring a number isn’t a big deal,” said Esteban Kolsky, a research director for Gartner, a market research firm. “Once the business is a commodity, as it has become, customer service is the differentiator.”

WNP is still bound to be relatively ineffective in a non-competitive market, but it is a necessary condition to making the market more competitive.

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