The new EU roaming regulations (the Eurotariff) has created plenty of work for our marketing and PR folk. But, as the commentator industry competes to stamp their mark on the issue, interpreting and reinterpreting it to push their own agenda, many myths are being promoted.
One of these is that roaming billshock has finally been killed off in Europe. But the truth is that billshock is like an episode of the Walking Dead: you can shoot it, bludgeon it, and stab at it is as much as you like, but it will keep coming back.
Which is why I’m braced for more billshock stories in the Autumn and am sceptical that the regulation will have the impact envisioned. Here’s just a few issues to consider:
- Geography – you could argue that only those with a rudimentary knowledge of geography and geo-political boundaries should be issued with a passport but, to date, this is not the case. Try telling folk that Switzerland, Russia or Turkey are not part of Europe (ie the EU) and the Eurotariff does not apply, and then watch their faces. Even more confusingly, some operators will include countries such as Switzerland in their roaming tariff (eg Vodafone and Three UK) even though they don’t have to. It means customers are back to reading the fine print again, and roaming charges are not something the typical customer scrutinises when choosing a package. This means there’s great scope for them to feel cheated later down the line. What’s more, as customers become used to roaming within Europe without being charged extra, they will also become less wary and will expect to use their phones in the same manner wherever they go. This will lead to some incurring charges for roaming outside the EU. And they’ll continue to get caught out by inadvertent roaming charges when in border areas (eg Greece to Turkey)
- Overages – just as it’s oh so easy to have one-too-many sangrias on holiday, it’s also oh so easy to have one-too-many gigabytes. If customers leave their phones on and have time on their hands, they’re going to burn through data packages that may have been more than adequate at home. The consequence is additional charges they do not understand. These charges may be lower than before, but the very existence of overage charges is going to drive more enquiries and complaints, and fuel dissatisfaction
- Confusion – Many people don’t understand the difference between roaming and international calling. This will fuel more billshock and more enquiries, at least in the short term. I have already corrected several people down the pub who believed that the extra cost of calling other countries (international calling) is being removed by the roaming regulations. People are genuinely baffled why the costs for roaming are being removed, but still remain when you are calling another EU state while you’re at home
- Pricing differences – There are significant differences in pricing between EU states. Customers are cottoning on to the fact that they can buy a cheap SIM in an Eastern European country and use this to ‘roam’ in a Western European country of their choice (where they actually live), in order to pay a much lower charge. Diaspora communities could create a huge problem for operators. The Polish community in the UK, for example, is estimated to be around 1 million strong. Polish nationals could buy a SIM when visiting home and take advantage of the difference in charges between UK national charges and Polish roaming charges to ‘roam’ in the UK. This effect was anticipated and a fair use policy applies – buried as usual in the small print. But it means operators must detect this behaviour and then ban the customer or charge them more. The customer is likely to complain.
These and other issues mean that operators and MVNOs not only face challenges from absorbing the effects of lower retail roaming charges, but also face a customer service time bomb. Getting it wrong will raise support charges, stimulate churn, depress CSAT scores and batter profit margins. Some are poised to benefit – including those with extensive network assets (eg Vodafone), already offer cheap roaming (eg FreedomPop) and those who have pre-empted the situation and previously brought in tariffs that go significantly beyond the EU regulations (such as Three UK’s Feel at Home tariff, which provides roaming at home rates in over 60 countries).
The death of roaming billshock, and the associated complaints, service-handling charges and poor publicity, has been announced prematurely. Get ready for the headlines in the Autumn.