By Warwick Hill, Communications Sector Leader, IBM Global Business Services UK & Ireland.

Despite operators making huge investments to improve customer loyalty, it seems such spending is not yielding results.

IBM’s latest global telecommunications survey, launched last week, reveals that customer perception of their operator is relatively poor. Despite this, consumers do not engage with their providers about sources of dissatisfaction.

The survey of approximately 13,000 consumers in 24 countries shows that over half of customers do not bother complaining to their provider when experiencing network problems.

In Europe, the figures are even higher with 69 percent of UK, 67 percent of Dutch and 63 percent of Swedish customers not taking the time to complain.

The survey highlights that consumers’ perception of network availability and reliability is lower than what actual measurements indicate.

In the UK, for example, only 79 percent of people surveyed said that they can make mobile voice calls most of the time, while 60 percent indicated that they can connect to the mobile internet most of the time. Around 15 percent said that they have dropped calls or disconnections most of the time.

Given this dissatisfaction it is surprising that most consumers are not willing to complain to their provider, but consumers globally said that it is “too much hassle” to get through to the call centre (45 percent) or that complaining will not make any difference (44 percent).

A third reason consumers gave (29 percent) is that they have to wait too long to reach someone in the call centre.

Worryingly, around one quarter of consumers surveyed indicate that they have problems in understanding the invoice or believe they do not get services for which they pay.

When questioned on billing accountability, only 48, 57 and 68 percent of consumers in Japan, Brazil and Korea, respectively, believe that the invoice is accurate most of the time. This figure for Sweden is 85 percent.

Clearly, operators have some way to go to simplify their tariffs and educate their consumers around the propositions on offer.

We also asked consumers to what extent they trust operators to manage their identity and personal information and to retain their privacy.

We asked this in comparison to other organisations with which they are regularly dealing, such as banks, healthcare organisations, internet information providers such as Google, social networking sites and government/local authorities.

The results are very country specific. In the United Arab Emirates, operators are positioned as number one on the list of “most/moderately” trusted companies. In Russia, the Czech Republic, Greece, Mexico and China, operators are number two. In the Netherlands, operators ranked number seven.

While consumers might not be connecting with operators, they are definitely connecting with other consumers.

In this case the European figures mirror the global trends – in the 12 European countries surveyed 86 percent of customers are likely tell their friends and family about a bad communications experience and 80 percent will avoid providers associated with poor experience – the highest rate (94 percent) was in Sweden.

Although consumers do not always let providers know about problems, they are quite likely to share their story with others via a variety of new digital communication channels.

The implications of these results are profound. Consumers are increasingly less interested in their provider websites, retail stores and traditional communication methods.

Rather they prefer to proactively exchange information about their provider with friends and family or gather it via internet search or social media sites.

Operators need to question the continued spending levels for these traditional channels and find ways to exploit social networks without destroying their neutrality.

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