Hutch, Airtel lead the cellular race: TNS Celltrack study

MUMBAI: "Mirror Mirror on the wall, who's the fairest of them all?" With so many cellular network services in the fray, competition is expected to be tough as the companies scramble to live up to customer expectations.

The latest annual study done by TNS Celltrack reveals that cellular service providers, Hutch and Airtel have captured top rankings in meeting customer expectations.


On the other hand, CDMA players Tata Indicom and Reliance Infocomm are still far below in the customers' reckoning and MTNL, the traditional cellular operator has appeared at the bottom of the heap.

The final tally for the top five performers among individual operators has Hutch leading with a TRI*M Index of 99 in Gujarat, the next three operators from Madhya Pradesh - Idea, Reliance Infocomm and BSNL lead with 93, 91 and 90 TRI*M scores respectively. Hutch, Mumbai figures in the fifth slot with a TRI*M score of 84. Reliance Infocomm has done extremely well in MP considering it's way below in the overall ranking.

TNS used its proprietary TRI*M Stakeholder Relationship Management System, wherein the TRI*M Index is a measure of the 'intensity of retention' and takes into consideration both the subscribers' level of satisfaction with the service provider as well as the level of retention and loyalty towards the service provider.

The TRI*M Index of cellular phone subscribers at 70 is distinctly higher as opposed to CDMA subscribers, at 54. And inspite of the CDMA operators' ability to attract customers and grow the customer base substantially in 2003, the CDMA/ WLL operators have not been able to anticipate and meet customer expectations, the study revealed.

TNS zeroed in on 4,921 mobile users using a structured questionnaire across the 13-telecom circles, covering both GSM and CDMA service providers. While the study covered about 75 elements of the subscriber-service provider relationship, the parameters were whittled down to eight broad dimensions namely, network and coverage, value added services, company image, recharging processes and procedures (among prepaid), purchase process, billings and payments, tariffs and pricing and customer care/ helpline. Fieldwork for the study was conducted between November to December 2003.

TNS India Vice President, Stakeholder Management Division Abraham Karimpanal said, "Looking at the performance of the cellular industry over time, we can see that the overall performance was continuously increasing until 2002. However, with the customer base almost doubling from 2002 to 2003, the TR*M Index marginally dropped from 72 to 70 - the service providers need to 'delight' the customers a lot more to retain them."

The cellular circles (in alphabetical order) and the service providers covered in TNS Celltrack Study


Telecom Circle

Service providers

1    Andhra Pradesh

Hutch, Idea, Bharti, BSNL, Tata Indicom (CDMA) and Reliance Infocom (CDMA)

2    Chennai

Bharti, Hutch, RPG, BSNL, Tata Indicom (CDMA) and Reliance Infocom (CDMA)

3    Delhi

Bharti, Hutch, Idea, MTNL, Tata Indicom (CDMA) and Reliance Infocom (CDMA)

4    Gujarat

Hutch, Idea, Bharti, BSNL, Tata Indicom (CDMA) and Reliance Infocom (CDMA)

5    Karnataka

Hutch, Spice, Bharti, BSNL, Tata Indicom (CDMA) and Reliance Infocom (CDMA)

6    Kerala

BPL, Escotel, BSNL, Bharti and Reliance Infocom (CDMA)

7    Kolkata

Bharti, Hutch, BSNL and Reliance Infocom (CDMA)

8    Madhya Pradesh

Idea, Reliance, Bharti, BSNL and Reliance Infocom (CDMA)

9    Maharashtra

BPL, Idea, Bharti, BSNL, Tata Indicom (CDMA) and Reliance Infocom (CDMA)

10    Mumbai

BPL, Bharti, Hutch/Orange, MTNL, Tata Indicom and Reliance Infocom (CDMA)

11    Punjab

Spice, Bharti, BSNL and Reliance Infocom (CDMA)

12    Tamil Nadu

BPL, Aircel, BSNL, Bharti, Tata Indicom (CDMA) and Reliance Infocom (CDMA)

13    UP – West

Escotel, BSNL, Bharti and Reliance Infocom (CDMA)

Interestingly, in case of the GSM service providers (cellular), customers seem satisfied with the 'ability to make and receive calls in any part of the city', however, the service providers have fallen short in meeting customers expectations when it comes to coverage within buildings, in basements or in lifts. The corporate image of the service provider continues to be an important aspect in driving retention and most service providers have been successful in building a positive and favorable image among the subscribers.

The study also revealed that 'Error free' and 'accurate' bills, being promptly delivered is something that the customers seem to be taking for granted and have little impact on retention. On the contrary, non-delivery on these could cause a lot of disgruntlement and unhappiness with the service provider.

Another revelation was that customers seemed very peeved with the amounts they had to pay for local and STD calls. The cellular industry has performed below average in various aspects related to 'customer care / helpline'. These include 'time taken before someone attends to you', their 'ability to resolve complaints/ queries in the first instance', 'overall time taken to resolve complaints', call center personnel's ability to take decisions, 'knowledge of customer care personnel about tariff plans and schemes' and 'the promptness in taking action on complaints'.

While in the case of CDMA subscribers, performance of the network is a key driver for building customer relationships as well. The study said that while subscribers seem satisfied with most aspects of the network, 'coverage while roaming' was something subscribers had to grapple with and was leading to discontent. The subscribers of CDMA services have a positive corporate image of their service provider particularly when it comes to 'a company that is financially strong' and 'being a company that is credible and you can trust'.

The efforts made by CDMA operators in lowering 'entry barriers' and facilitating the 'ease of acquisition', have been acknowledged by the subscribers. However, a big concern for CDMA subscribers was found to be in the area of 'billings and payments'. Subscribers seem upset with not receiving bills promptly and the bills not being accurate or error free. Also the way CDMA operators remind about dues and giving insufficient notice before debarring service for non-payment of dues was making customers extremely unhappy.

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