Search for:
Customer Behavior

Why Does Choosing a Mobile Plan Have to Be So Complicated?

Saying that selecting a mobile plan is a challenge seems like an understatement. While carriers’ websites have certainly improved and have become more transparent in recent years, trying to figure out which network, device and plan is the best deal is still a consumer nightmare.

After my current telecom contract ran out, I had the option to either renew it or switch to another provider. Given that many telecom providers have entered the market in the last years, I wanted to give all of them a fair chance and started my quest to find the best carrier and offer.

It was a long process to say the least.


The industry shake-up

In the past years, the telecom industry has been in for a shake-up. New players have entered the market and consumers’ usage has shifted toward data and away from traditional services such as voice and texts. The rise of cheaper or free services and applications for communication, such as Whatsapp or Skype, are eating away revenue.

Joseph Natale, the Vancouver-based company’s chief commercial officer at Telus Corp., Canada’s second-biggest wireless operator says that, “Over the time, voice and text will become features attached to your data plan”.

Telecom companies have to identify and grow new revenue streams. Fierce competition means they have to continuously innovate and provide new products that go beyond the traditional bundle packages.

For example, after years of rumors and anticipation, the broadcaster Sky officially launched a new mobile phone service, Sky Mobile in 2016. The pairing offers mobile voice and data services through a wholesale partnership with O2, giving customers a ‘quad play’ package which combines TV, broadband, fixed-line home phone and mobile.

“Right now mobile contracts are inflexible and confusing and we all know people are buying more data than they need to avoid those extra charges”, said Sky UK chief executive Stephen van Rooyen ahead of the launch.

Sky’s SIM-only mobile service, provides a simple plan structure that targets consumers looking to make savings on their data spend and promises the “most flexible” tariff.

While making offerings easier and more transparent is certainly something consumers appreciate, winning and retaining customers, is not only about simplifying offerings, as this may not always be feasible or the smartest way to go.

Telecom operators need to place a strong emphasis on actually helping consumers figure out the right plans to choose by

  • Communicating benefits clearly: make it easy for customers to understand the value of products and services
  • Giving customers what they really need: show customers that they’re getting the best deal that’s perfect for them and reflects their needs, usage and habits
  • Providing a quick process: provide a convenient digital experience that lets customers identify and choose the best offer quickly


What Do Telecom Customer Expect?

Download the free Guide – Digital Advice for Telecommunications

In the UK, the industry is dominated by four big players; EE, O2, Vodafone, and Three.

During my search for the best deal, I evaluated all of them and discovered 4 key elements that played an important role in the decision-making process, influenced my final decision (even more than the price), and were crucial in helping me choose the mobile plan that was just right for my needs.

I have become something of an expert on the good, the bad and the ugly choosing experiences. Here, I am sharing some of my observations with you:


1)  Homepage and Navigation

With all telecom providers, my search started by scanning their homepages and using the top menus as starting points.

The best experience was provided by Three, as I was immediately able get an overview of the site and identify the correct path to follow.

Three homepage

In addition, the Three website offers visual cues and simple goal-related questions that facilitate browsing the site:

Three website

While the other sites offered a similar setup, I was quickly hit by information overload and had to put in more effort to figure out which link to click.

An effective navigation is one that is simplified, clear and clutter-free.

It is one of the most important things you can do to make your website friendly for your visitors – in particular, for first-time visitors and novices. Limiting the number of menu items as much as possible and not overcomplicating things also greatly improves how your business is perceived.


2) Comparison Tables

Once I had figured out the right path, all 4 providers led me to a page that features plan comparison tables.

From my viewpoint as a novice and explorer, these tables were either overcrowded or overly complicated, and therefore not helpful in this early stage of my decision journey.

Three ranks the lowest in this department. The cluttered and wordy table left me even more confused. Not to mention odd use of the borrowed term “all you can eat” for unlimited minutes and texts.

The tables displayed in list form make it difficult to make sense of the different options. In many cases it was not possible to quickly spot the differences between plans.

Mobile plan comparison table
The difference is in the finer detail – the included services


When it comes to usability, EE certainly wins out with a slick and dynamic table. It allows filtering by monthly budget and sorting by features such as included data and minutes. The plan descriptions are clear and make it at least a bit easier for users to understand the value they would get for their money.


Mobile plan interactive comparison table


Comparing pros and cons of different products is a cognitively demanding process, which is why you want to make sure that users can easily scan differences and similarities.

When more than 5 items need to be compared it makes sense to give users control by adding mechanisms such as filters or sort functionalities. Wherever possible, define unfamiliar terms and replace vague features by something concrete to improve the experience.

However, my observation is that these plan comparison tables are better suited for more experienced users with enough time on their hands.


3) Help me Choose Tools

While comparison tables enable the clued-up consumer to quickly select their desired plan, the novice is left bewildered.

The tables with all the different plans lined up contributed to my confusion as they didn’t clearly explain what they include. And, I wasn’t in the mood for browsing many different pages and reading loads of marketing texts.

Furthermore, to be able to use these tables effectively, users need to already know how much data they will need and how many minutes they will make phone calls each month. Trying to navigate plan tables created some nagging questions such as, what’s a megabyte worth? How many do I really need? Should I opt for the cheaper, smaller data plan and risk paying hefty overage charges should I exceed my allotment? Or should I go for the unlimited plan and end up overpaying.

A 2011 US-study by BillShrink found that Americans overpay $336 per year due to plan confusion and them miscalculating their use of voice minutes, texts and data. And consumers instinctively know this, which adds anxiety to their choosing and selection process.

Three, O2, and EE offer the chance to work out exactly which plan the customer needs.

By clicking on a button on the sidebar within the plan overview page, users can start an interactive plan advisor. Instead of asking users to specify the monthly data and minutes they need, they can answer simple questions about their expected usage patterns.


Interactive Mobile Plan Advisor
Interactive Mobile Plan Advisor


Question about the user’s lifestyle, budget, and preferred phone brand are used to identify the package that’s right for the individual user.

Interactive Mobile Plan Advisor: Final Results

Interactive plan advisors are particularly useful for novices who want to consider you as a carrier but are not sure where to begin looking.

These solutions quickly show them the closest match based on their needs, explain why it was suggested, communicate the benefits they would get, and increase decision confidence.

Want to help your telecom customers choose the right plan and package? Start your free SMARTASSISTANT trial and see how you can build an interactive advisor in a few steps!


4) Support & Troubleshooting

Before making my final decision, I had a look at the carriers’ customer service offers. In the past, I have been used to spending hours on the phone, being put on hold, getting transferred, dropped calls and frequent store visits because of some technical issues I could have fixed myself had I been given the right instructions.

Therefore, I compared their self-service and guided troubleshooting options. I wanted to know how the companies fared with providing support to solve an issue such as spotty coverage.

  • O2 Gurus, offer free help and advice online, via live chat, in-store and on Twitter. After a quick tweet with my question, a clear answer was tweeted back within minutes.
  • Vodafone and EE both offer a comprehensive knowledgebase for a variety of questions. While Vodafone provided an answer to my (fictitious) problem after I employed the search, on EE, my question would have required a phone call or a store visit.
  • Three impressed with a knowledge base that was easy to navigate. They provide clear step-by-step instructions to identify the cause and solve the problem.

Self-service and guided troubleshooting options

Self-service is better service. In general, I would have expected to see dynamic guided-troubleshooting or self-service features, similar to the help-me-choose tool.

Finding the right answer requires users to be patient enough, which admittedly is not always the case. For customers, the ideal service experience includes prompt and effective responses to queries, outstanding service and fair resolution of complaints. More interactivity would greatly improve the service experience.


In conclusion…

The telecommunications industry has a reputation for being overly complicated and unnecessary complex. The proliferation of products and services results in customer confusion rising and satisfaction declining. Customers are not sure if they’re with the best carrier and got the best value for money. And these doubts affect customer loyalty.

There is a huge opportunity for companies that identify and remove customer pain points to deliver a more seamless experience. The biggest of them being: Choosing the right product.

One thing is clear; the easier you make it for me to understand the value of your offer and help me choose the product that’s just right for me, the more likely it is that I’ll choose you over the competition – quickly.


Join our community of 70,000+ marketing professionals, sales reps, business leaders, and executives.

Hanna is a freelance journalist and writer from a dead-end county in deepest England who has come to Berlin to seek her fortune and write about the future. Avid internet enthusiast and night owl.