Who Is The Discount Airline Of The Mobile Operator World?
By Mike Masnick, Tue Oct 05 23:00:00 GMT 2004

The airline industry has been shaken up by the rise of discount carriers who "do things differently" and tend to have much greater customer loyalty. Some are wondering if mobile operators can learn a big lesson. It may take the discount airlines to help.

Russell Buckley at The Mobile Weblog has picked up on a piece at the Brand Cafe wondering who will be the Southwest Airlines of the mobile operator world, noting that both industries seem to have "their commoditized product offerings... dreamt up with two eyes on the competition and none on the customer." While the original piece suggests that the operators will never figure out the need to change, Buckley comes off as a bit more optimistic. He points out that there clearly are mobile operators who don't just price based on competitive pressures, but instead finds a different reason why no operator has yet become so beloved by customers. He says that none of them recognize the importance of a great overall customer experience concerning every part of the mobile phone service experience -- from buying a phone to figuring out service plans to using the service all the way to customer support.

Buckley notes that perhaps it will take MVNOs to come in and force the industry to change -- which seems especially fitting since so many discount airlines are in the MVNO business already (and a few more may be coming soon). Virgin, of course, pretty much popularized the concept of the MVNO, and was already a successful example of a discount airline. EasyGroup, owners of successfully discount airline EasyJet recently launched EasyMobile, with the creative idea of not selling phones at all, but just offering SIM cards to subscribers who are left to fend for themselves when it comes to getting a phone. Ryanair was also planning to launch a mobile phone service, but it's been delayed for the time being.

Either way, this does appear to be the best plan for any MVNO right now. Just as the discount airline carriers have made an art out of keeping their costs low along with a friendly demeanor and superior customer service, MVNOs have an opportunity to force change within the overall mobile operator space by giving subscribers what they want.

New MVNO entrants need to make the whole process easy, not confusing. Just like discount airlines simplified pricing structures, seating arrangements and flight schedules, MVNOs need simplified service plans without too many confusing restrictions. They need to not block users off on their choices with walled gardens and limitations -- just like the discount airlines decisions to offer additional entertainment options. Above all, they need to recognize that this isn't a game of simply signing up new users, but recognizing that an existing customer is the biggest asset the company has and treating him or her with the respect that realization brings. As with the discount airlines, not all such offerings will succeed. The ones that do will discover that the existing players will eventually mimic them (as many old-school airlines now have discount airline divisions copying the Southwest and JetBlue model), but legacy issues have a way of holding those companies back from fully embracing the necessary change until it's too late. There's one lesson that pretty much remains constant across all industries: if you treat your customers badly because everyone else does, it's just screaming out for new entrants who will treat your customers right -- and then they won't be your customers any more.