When Guy Laurence took control of Rogers Communications last year, he vowed to improve the relationship between the company and its customers. The launch of a new wireless service on Nov. 7 is an early step towards that goal, and offers insight into the company’s emerging strategy.
The new service is designed to address the biggest complaint from the company’s wireless subscribers: the cost and complexity of international roaming. Called “Roam Like Home,” it allows subscribers to pay $5 per day to use their Canadian wireless plans while in the U.S., instead of having to purchase a roaming package. After 10 days, there is no additional roaming charge for the remaining three weeks in a month. Only customers on a Share Everything plan, which allows multiple people to share a bucket of data, text, and voice minutes, can access Roam Like Home starting November 10. The service is activated by sending a text, and is currently limited to the United States.
Laurence, who took over as CEO of Rogers (which owns Marketing) last December after heading Vodafone UK, embarked on a cross-Canada tour shortly after he started that involved talking to subscribers. By far the most common grievance he heard concerned roaming. “People say it’s nuts, there are too many plans, it’s too complex, we don’t like it,” Laurence said in a media briefing earlier this week. Anyone who has been saddled with a massive wireless bill upon returning from vacation can attest to the pitfalls of roaming. A company-commissioned survey found 49% of Canadians who travel with their mobile devices simply turn off data roaming when in the U.S.
Laurence implemented a similar service while at Vodafone, and wanted it to be as simple as possible for customers. Ease-of-use encourages people to take advantage of the service, obviously, but it can also engender goodwill toward the company. “There is a breakdown in trust between the consumer and elements of the industry,” Laurence said. Indeed, the Commissioner for Complaints for Telecommunications Services receives thousands of grievances every year. Even though the number of complaints about the country’s telecoms fell by 17% in the most recent year, complaints about misleading contract terms surged by 74%.
“These days, you build trust through simplicity, transparency, and doing what you say you’re going to do,” Laurence said. By presenting customers with a seamless experience, the idea is they will think more favourably about Rogers products and services, and stop fearing that telecom firms are out to hoodwink them with reams of fine print. “I would hope that everything we introduce from now on is as simple,” he said. Laurence pointed to Apple as an example. “They develop everything themselves, and they built the simplicity in from day one,” he said. “That’s why everyone loves Apple.”
One problem the company faces is what Laurence calls “legacy complexity”—meaning old, inefficient ways of doing things. In the past, he’s likened the situation to cold spaghetti: a mess that’s difficult to untangle without breaking. To help deal with it, Laurence established a team focused on reducing complexity in existing products. “It’s going to take a number of years,” he said. “It’s like, how do you eat an elephant? You actually have to bite off one chunk at a time. So you have to ask your customers for their indulgence while you do that, and eventually you get to a new place.”