Like many I suppose, I am trying to get my head around how the operators charge their customers. In many ways they seem to have no idea about how to deliver a consistent brand experience (or even a consistent user experience) and at every point where there is an opportunity to disappoint they take it with willing hands. This post deals with the way voice mail charges are dealt with and in particular when roaming round Europe.
The main issue here is that users (customers really but being treated like users) have no idea about the charges they incur until they have incurred them. Sometimes they are not necessarily unfair, it is simply the lack of knowledge in the hands of the customer that creates such a lousy user experience. Also there is significant inconsistency between the network operators so if you move from one to another the acquired wisdom does not transfer.
Lets take the first example of someone making a trip abroad, taking the mobile with them but not making any calls. On their return home they receive a bill for £9.50 for “usage outside the EU”. Further investigation reveals that the bill has a number of identical call pairs. One of these is to the phone owners number and the other to Voicemail. This was a T-mobile example and it turned out that if anyone called the mobile while it wasn’t in the country incurs two charges. One for letting the caller leave the voicemail and the other to let the owner know they have a voicemail.
These charges are perfectly legitimate but to the average user they may well seem to be crazy. They will no doubt incur a call centre service charge when the phone owner calls in to complain and also leave a nasty taste in the mouth, which in these days of switching is probably the last thing the operators want.
Some costs can be incurred by poor usability or device design. For example some devices make it very easy to press the browser button without knowing it (whilst in a pocket for example). I had a Sony Ericsson that did just this and came with the side button configured to launch the browser app. I quickly changed it but other, less savvy users would perhaps be unable to do so easily and would become frustrated.
Another example with O2. They say that you will also be charged for callers leaving you voicemails – even if the phone is switched off. They recommend that you turn off the voicemail service entirely before going abroad to avoid any unexpected charges. They said that as soon as the phone was picked up roaming in France the voicemailbox was moved to France and therefore you had to pay callers who were calling from the UK and leaving messages. Helpfully the O2 website suggests that you set up a “divert all” command for all voicemail calls and this will do the trick.
Some countries are better regulated. For example in Italy it is a legal requirement that a user is notified when they are about to be charged. This is a great idea in principle as it would appear to improve the user experience by providing an additional confirmation step before a user went online even if a button was pressed by mistake. However research showed it is very off putting for users and made them more nervous.
There is a technical explanation for all this but it is way to complicated fr me and involves Home Location Register (HLR) and Visitor Location Register (VLR). You can read more about this at http://www.mobilein.com/. I found this white paper on their site that explains mobile networking quite clearly.
All our research shows (ours being my company Foviance) that users have not a clue about the way they are charged for mobile internet and for most it is a barrier to entry. The all you can eat packages that include data charges are changing this (and will need to for iDTV also if the red button is to be pressed more than it is) but far too slowly as operators try and maximise revenues rather than focus on building loyalty through delivering a better user experience.